We recently had the great pleasure of dining with some Millennials as part of our research
on the generation’s eating habits that are transforming the food industry. Innovaro, a market research company that provides insights about new market opportunities to its subscribers,
has been gracious enough to incorporate our findings in a report it published on the topic. Without violating any of Innovaro’s copyrights or our guests’ privacy, we want to share a couple of brief vignettes on what transpired that night at a great Middle Eastern restaurant in Washington, D.C.
Forty percent of Millennials are non-white and 20% have an immigrant parent. Their eclectic tastes in food reflect these demographic characteristics. Growing up they shared food with peers who came from vastly different backgrounds with a wide variety of cuisines and spices. Far more than the members of older generations when they were young, Millennials are adventurous eaters, willing to try something new at least once and more comfortable with a wider variety of taste temptations. At our dinner, an African-American female Millennial was eating a plate of steak tartare and recommending it to her peers as something she had recently tried and really liked. A white German-Catholic male eagerly downed hummus, babbaganouch and tabouli and remarked how marvelous it was to be able to eat foods no one in his neighborhood in Cincinnati had even heard of when he was growing up, let alone ate. A white male with a Finnish last name, remembered how he used to eat out in different neighborhoods in his home town of Ishpeming, Michigan in order to experiment with different ethnic cuisines. He heartily recommended Cornish pasties to his peers should they ever find themselves in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Millennials bring this same taste for adventure into their cooking habits, albeit with a strong dash of social media. The Millennials we dined with had all used YouTube videos to figure out how to prepare something at home. The process began with an Internet search for recipes, then a quick trip to the store to buy the ingredients, and finally cooking it with their iPad next to the stove for easy reference. Preparing a “nice” meal was not a frequent occurrence, but reserved for special events or celebrations that warranted the investment of time. Only a few had learned to cook from their parents, whose food preferences tended to be much narrower than their own.
The Millennials we dined with loved to watch the Food Network and its clones. The show, “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives” represented the perfect blend for them of cheap food, unique to its locale (Millennials are very into “locality”), that could be eaten as part of a fun experience. Almost every one of them could remember watching cooking shows growing up and many had taken cooking courses to learn how to do what they had seen on TV.
Having been raised by fathers who were as much involved with parenting as their mothers, Millennials are much less likely to believe that gender should play a role in other activities in life. So perhaps the biggest difference from older generations when it came to food and cooking that we observed with our friendly focus group was that there was no distinction between the males and females on this topic. Welcome to the Millennial food era.
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Innovaro Global Lifestyles report, Millennials and Food,
after you register with very basic info on this page:
In order to be successful with Millennials, television will need to become more like the concerts and theme parks that provide Millennials with the type of social experience the generation craves. By creating a space that Millennials can enjoy immediately and personally with those who join them at the event, as well as while tweeting about it on their smart phones to hundreds more of their friends and followers, concert promoters such as Live Nation and theme park owners like Disney have found a way to maximize the revenue generated from the content that they fully control in such venues.
Sports and final episodes of reality or drama programs are currently the closest television programming comes to this type of widely shared event. Without much promotional support initially, the notion of encouraging fan participation through live reactions via social media has become increasingly commonplace. The potential of this approach was demonstrated by the chart-busting ratings received by NBC’s broadcast of the London Olympics, which fully embraced social media in its coverage of the Games. But that is just the beginning of what networks will need to do to make all their programs “Event TV.”
Not surprisingly, the most cutting-edge deployments of this new strategy are coming from those distributors, such as Netflix and YouTube, which are completely disconnected from the tether of broadcast technology. By encouraging such social uses of highly polished productions as “binge TV” viewing or audience determination of plot development, these non-traditional buyers of video content are offering new ways to connect with Millennials.
But the keys to this magical money kingdom are actually held by companies not currently thought of as natural partners by those in the television industry. Google, Facebook, and other social media providers, along with device distributors such as Apple and Amazon, are seeking to lock their customers into the use of their proprietary cloud services. The ultimate goal of these companies in creating branded “personal content clouds” is to offer an entertainment experience where each person’s music, movies, television shows, books, video clips, photographs and more can be mixed and mashed up to create a concert or amusement park ride tailored to each customer’s individual preferences are shared in real time with whoever they like. The first “traditional” television network which recognizes the potential of this new form of entertainment by partnering with one of the major players in personal databases and bringing that network’s programming into the cloud service provider’s “theme park” will gain a first-mover advantage in this new marketplace.
The determination of Millennials to share everything is creating a world where social media will drive broadcast media. Even though television executives have traditionally been reluctant to give up their control over content, it’s time for them to recognize reality and partner with those who will control a new world of entertainment in the Millennial era.
The latest from the men who wrote the book (literally!) on the developing impact of the next generation and the ones to come …
Even though both Generation Xers and Millennials are often portrayed as “digital natives” because of their access to the earliest versions of digital technology when they were growing up, the real digital natives are actually members of America’s youngest generation: PLURALS.
So named by the communications research and consulting firm, Frank N. Magid Associates, because of the great diversity of its racial and ethnic profile, the members of this generation have been immersed in digital technology since they were born. Members of this generation, who today are middle schoolers or younger, are demonstrating a comfort level with conducting their lives online that puts their older siblings (Millennials) and parents (Generation X) to shame.
According to Magid’s research, 59 percent of Plurals are already using Facebook at least weekly. Twenty-eight percent of them tweet just as frequently. Sixteen percent of Plurals also maintain a weekly blog.
Their commitment to social media is evident in their use of check-in sites or location-based apps, such as Foursquare, which are used by 16% of the generation. About a quarter of all Plurals report shopping in a brick-and-mortar store using their cell phone to check product information or compare prices, mostly through the use of QR codes. And about a third of plurals send pictures to their friends from their cell phone of what they are doing while they are shopping.
In comparison to teenage and twenty-something Millennials, Plurals are also much more likely to live all of their virtual lives on mobile devices, with 69 percent of America’s youngest generation reporting that they use a cell phone regularly. Even more (79%) own a personal digital media player, and 60 percent now own or regularly use an mp3 player, higher percentages of usage than are found among Millennials. Forty-one percent of Plurals play games on their mobile phones at least weekly, compared to 39% of adult Millennials. Meanwhile, the percentage of Plurals using a tablet has risen to 43% from 13% in just one year.
Plurals are also likely to accelerate the trend of video content moving to mobile and online platforms. Forty-two percent of them report watching a full length TV show online, and about half that number use their cell phone to watch live TV during a typical week. The percentage of Plurals who watched full-length movies using that device almost doubled in the last year to 40 percent, while about a third of them use their phone to watch other forms of video at least weekly.
Generation X rightfully prides itself on its technological savvy and celebrates its ability to use personal computers and the Net. Millennials are the most facile users of social media. But both of these older generations will have to make way for Plurals and their desire to absorb the most sophisticated forms of content in a mobile environment whenever and wherever they want to.
Entertainment and media firms will have to alter their time-honored business models to accommodate the needs and wants of America’s true digital natives, the Pluralist Generation, when it takes its place in the prime, young adult, target demographic in the next few years.
Based on the continuing rise in the popularity of Facebook, which adds another 100 million users about every six months, and the overall increase in the percentage of those users who have unfriended someone, more than a half a billion people experienced the sting of rejection on the site in 2011, compared to approximately 158 million in 2009. Some of this increase may simply be a reflection of the larger universe now involved in managing their friendships. The odds of wanting to hold onto all of your friends, after all, are likely to decrease as the group gets larger and larger.
But another reason for this increase may be the shifting generational demographics of Facebook users. Today, more than half of Facebook users are over 35. In 2009, that group represented only one-third of all users. As older generations catch up with the proportion of Millennials (born 1982-2003) participating in Facebook, the site's users are less likely to share the Millennial penchant for openness, sharing, and group-oriented behavior.
Fifty and 60-year old Boomers (born 1946-1964), for instance, as well as even older members of the Silent Generation (born 1925-1945), are more concerned with preserving their privacy than younger generations are. Given Facebook's increased emphasis on sharing everything, older users are likely to exercise more control over their friends list and limit them to those people they feel particularly close to or trust more.
While need for privacy may also be of concern to Generation X, sandwiched between Millennials and Boomers, their generation brings an entirely different sensibility to social media. They see it as yet another technological tool to make life easier to manage. Their concern for efficiency and speed may well lead them to drop friends whose utilitarian value, at least on Facebook, is no longer apparent, especially as the universe of potential friends expands.
The commercial implications of this increase in unfriending activity present a problem for Facebook. Its pending IPO depends on increasing the amount of revenue per subscriber that the site generates. This now lags significantly behind that of other social media sites such as Google. Advertisers hope that with new features, such as Timeline, and a renewed focus on helping major brands target their advertising by Facebook, they will begin to see more bang for their online bucks.
However, it may become difficult to fulfill this hope as the universe of Facebook users begins to approach the earth's connected population. Even though studies have shown Facebook users to have more close relationships than other Internet users, the distinction between Facebook users and everyone else will continue to erode as the two populations merge into one. At that point, everyone will be engaged in the process of limiting their friends to those they really care about and billions of people will experience the sharp but momentary pain of being unfriended.
Originally published in Good News
March 26, 2012
Most members of the Millennial generation (those born between 1982 and 2003) believe viral videos can make a measurable difference in the world. And despite its creator's recent tribulations, the most viral video in Internet history, Kony 2012, is giving them a chance to prove they're right.
Within five days of its release, the video—created by the California-based nonprofit Invisible Children about Lord's Resistance Army head and indicted war criminal Joseph Kony—had been seen by 80 million people, a major step toward creating global awareness of Kony’s crimes.
The video's tagline stated mission is to "make Joseph Kony famous," but the larger goal is to help capture Kony by the end of this year. Until then, the video’s producers want everyone interested in the cause to join the publicity effort by putting up posters and stickers about Kony on April 20. While it remains to see whether the efforts will pay off in this case, all of these tactics to translate virtual interest into physical action are hallmarks of earlier successful organizing efforts that demonstrated the emerging power of the Millennial generation.
The most well known example of this strategy was the 2008 Obama campaign’s use of a Facebook-like website, MyBarackObama.com, to enable millions of supporters to organize in their communities by providing them with tools and information about other like-minded voters in their neighborhood. Crucially, the campaign also made sure that everyone involved understood what they needed to do offline. Registering to vote and turnout activities were emphasized almost as much as making a donation. The result was an outpouring of support among Millennials, two-thirds of whom voted for Obama. Their votes turned what would have been a narrow victory into a large mandate for change.
There have been other examples of linking online and offline organizing, though the English language currently has no word for the concept. (One suggestion, “onff line,” has failed to catch on.) In 2004, the Howard Dean campaign popularized the concept of a “money bomb” posting a graphic of the progress it was making toward its fundraising goal that "blew up" when the goal was reached. The idea was wildly successful and has led to many variations that capture its essential elements—a clear goal and a deadline for taking action.
Most recently, Wikipedia’s one-day site blackout to protest the SOPA and PIPA bills, demonstrated just how powerful such a dramatic technique can be in altering the behavior of an entrenched establishment. The effort drove Millennials, more than any other generation, to flood Congress with tweets and emails, causing dozens of Senators and representatives to withdraw their support for the legislation.
In the case of the Kony 2012 video, the awareness campaign was carefully planned to take advantage of Millennials’ fondness for social media and their desire to change the world together. The video campaign initially targeted 20 “culture makers,” including George Clooney, Angelina Jolie, and Ryan Seacrest. The video drew about 66,000 viewers on the first day of its release, but exploded after Oprah Winfrey, another of the culture makers, tweeted it to her 10 million followers. That day, the video had about a million views.
As a result of the coordinated campaign, 40 percent of all Millennials said they had heard “a lot” about the video one week after its release, according to a Pew Research survey, twice the percentage of any other generation. Of that group, half learned about it from social media, and almost two-thirds from some online information source. Of the millions of tweets the awareness campaign generated, more than two-thirds said something positive about the video.
But not everyone was impressed. As the campaign gained notoriety, others—mostly baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964—began to weigh in about the need to listen to true experts on the topic before signing on to a cause based on one video. Members of often-cynical Generation X, those born between 1965 and 1981, expressed skepticism about the nonprofit’s motives; questioned its leaders' salaries (which are quite modest by charity standards); and demanded a transparent audit of Invisible Children’s books. The reactions of older generations reflected the traditional ways entrenched interests have defended themselves from sudden disruptions to their world and challenges to their power. Millennials, who place their faith in the wisdom of the group and have little interest in being lectured at by experts who have not been able to resolve the world’s problems, are unlikely to be dissuaded by the pushback.
Janessa Goldbeck, a Millennial who is the former field director for the Genocide Intervention Network and is currently pedaling her bike across America as part of her “Make US Strong” campaign to support international development, succinctly explains the critical role social media plays in organizing efforts by her generation. “We have to build political will, which means organizing both online and offline," she says. "Social media platforms lower the barrier to entry and provide people with mechanisms to connect and get involved—hopefully for the long haul.”
This online-offline approach strikes Boomers like Malcolm Gladwell and Thomas Friedman as weak imitations of the street demonstrations of their youth, but during the last five years it has elected a president and stopped the entertainment industry from working its usual will in Congress. By the end of this year we will know if it has also been successful in bringing a war criminal to justice.
Two weeks after the video went viral, the European Union and the United States announced their financial support for an African regional force of 5,000 troops with authority to cross borders and track Kony and his army down, putting the offline campaign right on track to achieve Invisible Children's goal.
Is technology hurting or helping Millennials and future generations?
Recently, Pew Research published the findings of its survey of over 1000 technology experts on the possible effect on the Millennial Generation of growing up in a media saturated, hyper-connected world. We were flattered to be included in their sample of experts, but would nevertheless urge caution in over-interpreting the results.
Pew was careful to point out that the results have no statistical validity since the survey was not a random or probability sample of the population. In survey research terms, Pew used a “Delphi survey” approach, where, just as the ancient Greeks did in seeking guidance from that oracle, questions were posed to the experts in the hope that they would divine the right answer. To allow for ease of tabulation, the questions asked tended to be in pairs with each respondent asked to agree with one of two contradictory choices. Even with those constraints, many experts, including us, responded with long explanations of why they either didn’t pick one of the two choices presented, or did so with caveats and disclaimers. Fortunately, Pew reproduced all of these comments in an appendix to their report for those who wanted to explore the answers to each question in more depth. As if that weren’t enough to mitigate the impact of the findings, on most items the experts were about evenly split between the two alternatives from which they were asked to choose.
There have been a few, more statistically reliable studies of the impact on Millennial personalities or thinking patterns of specific elements of the digital technology revolution now occurring. Those that have focused on video games have uncovered results that directly contradict the conventional wisdom about one of the Millennial Generation’s favorite forms of entertainment.
For instance, a study by cognitive neuroscientist, Daphne Bavelier, found that the type of violent games that most worry parents had the strongest beneficial effects on the brain. As psychologist C. Shawn Green points out, “videogames change your brain,” but so does learning to read or playing a musical instrument and the vast majority of the research doesn’t attempt to compare the impact of gaming to other forms of intense, mental activity.
One study at Michigan State University’s Children and Technology Project did find that the more middle school students played games the higher they scored on standardized tests of creativity. By contrast, the same researchers found that using cell phones or getting on the internet using a PC had no effect on creativity, which would make playing games the preferred hyper-connectivity environment for Millennials’ parents to immerse their children in if they want them to become more creative.
Pew itself has done research on the impact of another aspect of hyper-connectivity, social media, on personality and behavior and reached different conclusions than some of the experts in this Delphi survey.
While 42 percent of the experts surveyed agreed with the proposition that Millennials will “lack deep-thinking capabilities; face-to-face social skills; and depend in unhealthy ways on the Internet and mobile devices to function by 2020,” the other 55 percent of the Delphi experts chose the opposite proposition. The answers of the optimistic majority seem to be more aligned with the findings of other Pew surveys on the nature of those who constantly check their Facebook page.
One Pew study, for example, found that someone who uses Facebook several times per day averages 9 percent more close, core ties in their overall social network compared with other Internet users. Pew also found that heavy users of Facebook get about half the emotional benefit that someone might get from being married. Internet users in general score three points higher in total support, six points higher in companionship, and four points higher in instrumental support than the average American on a scale of 100 for each social dimension.
But a Facebook user who uses the site multiple times per day tends to score an additional five points higher in total support, five points higher in emotional support, and five points higher in companionship, than Internet users of similar demographic characteristics, including age. While this data is not exclusively focused on Millennials or how their brains function, it does suggest that so far, at least, the pernicious effects of hyper-connectivity that so many older people fear may have more to do with their own reaction to the technology than any solid research-based findings.
One major impact of the rise of social media, however, is directly reflected in the opinions of the experts interviewed by Pew. Unlike the broadcast media architecture of radio and television that older generations have grown up and experienced for a lifetime, Internet based social networks do not depend on gatekeepers at the center of the communication process to determine what or when people should hear or know something. In the world in which Millennials were raised, anyone can share any information with anyone they choose, however they wish to do so and whenever they want to. This has caused Millennials to prefer the opinion of the group, even when it is made up mostly of strangers, to the opinions of experts, regardless of their credentials or position of authority.
For the youngest generation of Americans, the wisdom of crowds is something in which they believe and practice. Perhaps, that is why so many of the experts Pew interviewed were so worried about the impact of all this new technology. What’s not clear is if they were more worried about Millennials’ future or their own as “experts.”