At the end of May, we published a white paper titled The Curious Contradiction of Millennial Individualism that used Neuroanalytics™ research to explore the differences in wearable technology purchase decisions between millennials and non-millennials. In a nutshell, the research uncovered that millennials place a higher value on belonging to a group and forming a connection with others while generation Xers and baby boomers place a higher value on individualism, defined as “shaping your life how you wish.”
As we look at the UK’s historic decision to withdraw from the European Union, commonly known by the borderline-obnoxious portmanteau of “Brexit,” the difference between belonging and individualism seems to take on less of a nuanced interpersonal preference and more of a stark dichotomy. It was truly a question of belong or stand alone. And when you look at the demographic breakdown of how the UK voted, our insight into the motivational drivers of millennials and non-millennials appears to be eerily spot on.
An overwhelming amount of young millennials voted to remain in the EU, and older millennials (typically defined as those born 1984 or later) still voted very clearly in that direction. Those 50 and older decidedly preferred leaving. The older the voting block, the more adamant their desire to stand alone and craft the future they want for themselves. The younger the voter, the greater their desire to connect with those in Europe and belong to something.
Of course, pundits from both sides can take this information and write their own narrative – age can provide wisdom and toughness or create myopic overconfidence and stubbornness, depending on one’s perspective. But we’re not here to discuss the wisdom of the Brexit – as marketers, we’re less concerned with what decisions people make and more concerned with why they make them. And this insight into millennial and non-millennial thought processes uncovers a wealth of opportunity.
When you’re deciding how to position your product or service, think about which audience will deliver a higher market value and tweak your messaging to resonate with that audience’s motivational mindset. For a greater nuance, appeal to the aspirational nature of individualism – proactively shaping one’s life, or the preventative mindset of inclusion – not wanting to be left out.
For example, if you’re selling hatchets and want to attract 45+, your headline might be, “build the furniture you want, just like your grandpappy did.” But if you want to appeal to the plaid-festooned millennial (after all, hatchets would be used by small lumberjacks), you might lead with, “don’t be left alone and weaponless in the zombie apocalypse.”
The scientifically surprising and somewhat demoralizing truth is we don’t make decisions in life by weighing pros and cons and choosing carefully, we make them by reacting in a way that aligns to our deeper motivations. That goes for hatchet purchases or international policy, whether we like to admit it or not.