Those Meddlin' Kids!

Dec 5, 2018

I'd like you think about your kids, imagining them at age 25, 30, 35. What will they do differently than you? What life choices will they make that are different from the ones you and your spouse made?

In some ways, my kids are very different from me and my wife. They make smarter choices on the food they buy, or the places they want to eat. Healthy ingredients, organic, non-GMO, and more occupy their thoughts.

And I doubt my kids will want to live in a suburban neighborhood, with a large house and long commute. I doubt they will own as many cars, or buy as large a car as their parents.

Lifestyle Choices

The statistics say my kids aren't alone. Today's young families have a vision for their future that is more urban, smaller, simpler, healthier, more experiential. Roughly 60 percent of families in their 30s or younger choose multi-family housing, when their parents didn't at their age. They are twice as likely to pay a premium for organic products in their local grocery store as older generations. And they are 75 percent more likely to save up for vacations, concerts, or sporting events than saving up for a new car.

In fact, younger Americans are looking for ways to NOT own a car. Avoiding parking fees, maintenance, monthly payments, and gas is becoming a lifestyle status symbol the way being able to afford a BMW or Cadillac was a status symbol for their parents or grandparents.

What makes their aspirations so poignant is that the lifestyle they seek is the lifestyle my grandparents enjoyed: mixed housing and community services like retail, grocery, parks, all within walking distance; heavy reliance on public transportation, or a vision of walking to school, work, or the local market; neighborhood services, with intensely unique and personal experiences (versus the suburban chain homogenization of my Baby Boom generation). They even want a modern equivalent of the milkman, though their version may drive an Uber car and deliver from Amazon.

These behavioral drivers are the key to understanding the consumer demands over the next 30 years: personalization versus commoditization; local versus national; experiential versus homogeneous.

Digital Expectations

If younger families want the lifestyle of their great grandparents, they also want the convenience of a digitally-powered everything. In every aspect of their lives, they have come to expect direct access to information, immediate connection to products and services, and social endorsement for everything in their lives.

Digital technology helps shoppers buy on their terms. It helps them make smart choices and to engage directly with manufacturers, suppliers, and health care providers. The individual—backed up by the most powerful computing technology any generation has ever used—becomes powerful.

From selecting doctors’ appointments using an application to soliciting bids for insurance to sharing vacation tips, the modern digital shopper is redefining an old established word: convenience. To them, instant access, direct ordering, immediate feedback, and same-day delivery are minimum standards for families whose adults work long hours, pay back ridiculously high student loans, negotiate a complex world of health insurance, and have no opportunity for, nor memory of, an era of pension plans and retirement accounts.

Economic Challenges

Much stands in the way of their dreams. The cost of education for them and for their children is a major inhibitor. And a college education, or even an advanced degree, are less and less likely to be a guarantee of financial security. And the neighborhoods, warehouse apartments, and urban single-family homes they dream of are either not available or priced beyond their vision.

Economically, this emerging generation is as challenged as any group before. Most believe they will achieve their dreams through secondary, entrepreneurial income. And in fact, they are doing it. More people start and sustain small business ideas than ever before as digital technology has made the cost of launching a business essentially within anyone's grasp.

Changing How We Think of Service

For those of us in service, manufacturing, and retail industries, these changes mean we need to rethink how we will serve these emerging generations. For the last 50 years, our businesses have been getting bigger to grow. We've consolidated brands and rolled small chains into big ones; we've used standardization to lower costs and aggregated supply chains to ensure maximum efficiency.

These changes mean we need to rethink our core definitions of service, marketing, and merchandising. And,  "What if we let our kid design a store?" could be the right question to ask. It might lead us to more personalization, more intimate merchandising, more customization, less homogenization, and greater, more memorable experiences. And certainly, we would have to rethink the supply chain through the attribute of the modern version of convenience.

And thinking like your kids think isn't just a theoretical challenge. If you're a Baby Boomer, hold on—the generations coming are bigger than we ever were, and they are more connected, more empowered, and more powerful than any generation in the history of the USA. They will be a greater economic force than we Baby Boomers ever were.

So, listen to your kids. Build your services, your brand, your store as if it was meant for them. Because very soon, it will be!

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