Outdoor Retailer Summer Market '06: Learn the Millennial mindset to do better business

Selling to consumers isn't a one-size-fits-all business. Neil Howe, author of "Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation," described the differences between generations at the OIA Breakfast at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, as attendees chuckled among each other at their own and others' characteristics. "You may think your generation has reshaped the youth experience," Howe said, "…until the next generation comes along."
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Selling to consumers isn't a one-size-fits-all business. Neil Howe, author of "Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation," described the differences between generations at the OIA Breakfast at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, as attendees chuckled among each other at their own and others' characteristics.

"You may think your generation has reshaped the youth experience," Howe said, "…until the next generation comes along."

The breakfast, on the first morning of Summer Market Aug. 10 and sponsored by SmartWool and the Outdoor Industry Foundation, not only painted a picture of each generation's personalities, likes and dislikes, but Howe also related them to the outdoor industry, explaining how both retailers and manufacturers can use the information to help them develop product or sell to the Millennials.

Although the years covered by various generations can vary depending on the trendcaster, for Howe the breakdown is:

>>Millennials -- born in and since 1982, making them age 0 to 24.
>> Gen Xers -- born between 1961 and 1981, making them ages 25 to 45.
>> Boomers – born 1943 to 1960, making them ages 46 to 63.
>> Silent Generation – born from 1925 to 1942, or now ages 64 to 81.
>> GI Generation – born from 1901 to 1924, and now ages 82 to 105.

According to Howe, the 1970s were all about breaking conventions (thank you, Boomers, who were a lot of the people in the room), the 1990s were about taking care of yourself "in a world where the rules didn't seem to protect you anymore," while for the Millennials, it's all about culture wars.

From oldest to youngest – the Millennials -- here's how Howe described each generation, its characteristics, how to sell and market to it and, more importantly, how to reach them and convince them the outdoor experience is worth it … on their terms.

GI Generation
Their parents fussed over them, and they were the ones who created the beginnings of the outdoor industry. Outdoors was, to them, what you did in campgrounds. This was the era when government-run parks were gaining in popularity and you drove to them – and the outdoors experience – in a car.

Silent Generation
This group was well-behaved and risk-adverse. It was all about getting married and having kids (earlier than most other generations). The Silents accelerated the growth of the outdoor industry, developing breath-through technology and gear – sort of "James Bond meets camping," as Howe put it. These were tech geeks who pioneered things like GPS.

Baby Boomers
The Boomers, as such a large group, have been "fussed over" by the media since they were born, Howe said. They were hippies and yuppies. They were all about individualism and being self-sufficient. There were moralists where things were simply right or wrong. This group will, as he said, grow old very differently.

The Boomers "pushed the outdoors to its maximum growth" and, with that, reshaped the experience. Going outdoors was escapist, self-oriented and anti-convention, even a spiritual experience. It was less about "what you build and do as what you feel or became," he said. Boomers were and are still buying the experience, and are often less interested in how a device works as what it means to that experience.

Gen X
Howe pointed out that many of the "evil child" movies such as Exorcist, Damien and Halloween) came out in this era, a time when child-rearing was not protected. Kids were "annoyances" and were thought of as evil and tough. They were raised to be self-sufficient and were economically dynamic.

This brought challenges to the outdoors since they were all about things being fast-paced, urban and pragmatic. Leisure time needed to be efficient, modular and action-oriented. They want to get in fast, have the experience, and get out to the rest of their lives. Both money and time are limited.

Millennials
This youngest age group – the one the audience is looking to reach -- is a group of kids that were cuddled, coddled, and called little treasures. This was the era of those "Baby on Board" signs in cars. Forget evil child movies. This era brought cuddly cute baby movies. Adults tended to treat these youngsters differently, Howe said. They were all about protecting them and asking the government to protect them. This generation is not, therefore, one of risk-takers, for example, the rate of teen pregnancy has gone down. These are also planners and trophy kids that are about being in a group and team and awarding everyone in it. Key words to describe the group are, according to Howe: special, sheltered, family-oriented, team-playing, pressured and conventional.

1. Special – Millenial parents have to also be sold on products for the kids, who have a lot, know a lot and expect a lot. Since they have been treated as extremely special all their lives, they expect a lot in return when it comes to quality and service. They also want to leverage the collective good of everybody.

2. Sheltered – These are protected kids! The generation has been all about product safety and making no-risk the acceptable path. To gain them, play up sweeping opportunities to solve energy problems, youth issues and health problems. "The nation really is watching," he added.

3. Family-oriented -- This generation trusts its parents and shares their values; they don't invest in risk and may often still live at home. The parents don't mind since they are so overly protective of them. The kids also assume that everybody shares these values. They are into big family vacations, and marketers must market to the parents to win the youth.

4. Team-playing – Millennials live in a globally connected world. Think of omnipresence of IM, chat rooms, cell phones, pagers and PDAs. All of this is somewhat Orwellian to Boomers; however, Millennials take it for granted that they are always connected and in fact want to be. Disconnecting (for very long) isn't a good thing to them.

5. Pressured – This is the generation with pervasive asthma. Why? Because of stress even as little ones. Kids have planners and live with tightly planned lives filled with teams and games and schedules. They have destinations and expect their lives to be mapped and planned. They squeeze things into small time windows that are blocked out. They don't like failure or mistakes. They do like programmed, structured activities and expect to get feedback on their progress. Mostly, they can't do activities on their own.

6. Conventional – This stems partly from their need for safety, nurtured by their protected upbringing. When it comes to products, they want to spend money wisely and demand high-quality, well-made stuff. They also don't really care about celebrity promotions. They want activities to be planned and then integrated into their mainstream lives and want in and out quickly. They also want activities to be part of all the other things they do in their lives and tie in with their family and friends.

To listen to a 5-minute SNEWS® podcast on Millennials, taped live from the Industry Breakfast, click here.

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