Merrick, NY—Despite being branded as “entitled” from a collectively coddled upbringing, Millennials are far more likely to be community minded and concerned with the welfare of others than their Boomer parents or Gen-X predecessors. The best way to win their hearts—and wallets—may not depend on how you reach them, but on how you support the causes dear to them.
Both Boomers and Millennials are highly narcissistic, but the trait manifests itself differently in each.
Seven years ago in 2006, a landmark study called The Cone Millennial Cause Study, a major research project focusing on the up-and-coming generation, identified some key traits of each generation of consumers in the marketplace. Understanding these differences helps marketers tailor their messages to resonate with their desired audience, but more importantly, subsequent studies continue to prove the Cone analysis on target.
The key traits are:
- Boomers, the original “Me” generation, were pampered children of stay-at-home mothers in the prosperous post-WWII era. They rebelled against the “establishment” as youths, challenging centuries-old mores and set the stage for the societal shifts we now take for granted: racial and gender equality, women in the workforce (and as important jewelry buyers) and even the recent rulings on gay marriage. But their focus on self-improvement and self-actualization inherently puts the family unit in second place, says the Cone study.
- Gen-X, the group born between 1964 and 1978, came of age in an era of great change in the family structure. Many were latchkey children of divorce (from those self-actualizing parents) who saw their family as a source of conflict, not comfort. As a result, this generation tends to be more self-reliant than community-minded.
- Millennials, by contrast, grew up valued and protected in a child-centric culture where the family is a source of comfort and support. In contrast to the hands-off parenting that drove Gen-Xers to become highly self-reliant, parents of Millennials often hover protectively over even adult offspring.
The generation gap that divided Boomers from their GI-era parents has all but disappeared. Boomer parents and their Millennial children have more in common than any previous generations did, says Cone, and while a recent article in Time magazine called the Millennials the “Me Me Me generation” their narcissism—as evidenced by social media—is more about believing that everyone is interested in what they’re doing than it is about putting themselves first.
Quite the contrary. The Millennials are the most civic-minded generation since World War II, says the Cone study. The Fourth Turning, a historical analysis that tracks generational behavior since the founding of the United States, predicted this would be a Millennial trait even in 1999—when the oldest Millennials were barely entering adulthood.
As a whole, says the Cone study, more than 80% of Millennials engage in pro-social behavior to some degree, whether that’s by volunteering, donating, boycotting, or supporting a cause through purchasing and fund-raising. And because of technology’s inherent role in their lives, Millennials’ definition of “community” extends far beyond the borders of the town in which they live. They’re more aware of world events than previous generations, and more concerned about global inequities. They want to know that the products they buy not only do no harm either to those who make them or to the environment, but they also want to know that those products are beneficial.
Millennials are more than ready to reward those companies who comply: according to Cone, 83% of their survey respondents are more likely to trust companies who do good, 79% more likely to purchase that company’s products, and 74% are more likely to pay attention to that company’s message because it has a deep commitment to a cause. They also consider a company’s social and environmental responsibility when deciding where to shop and what to recommend to their friends.
And they’re equally willing to punish companies that don’t comply: Cone says 45% would refuse such a company’s products or services, while 42% would actively encourage others to boycott it as well.
Philanthropy has always been a crucial element in luxury jewelers’ business strategy. Many work the charity circuit on an almost weekly basis while others become known for their dedication to one particular cause, but rare is the retailer who isn’t involved in his or her community to some degree. It’s no secret this is a huge part of what gives luxury jewelers a leg up over online competition, along with a renewed consumer commitment to eating and shopping local.
But it doesn’t hurt to take an occasional pulse-check to make sure the causes that are dear to you still resonate with the customers you want to build. Occasionally survey your clientele—especially your younger clients and bridal customers—to see what charities they care about and support, and if you find a recurring theme, consider getting involved. You can still support your favorite cause on a private level if your business only allocates a certain amount of funding for philanthropy. After all, reaching