Talking About Generations

Asia Research held its Q3 Singapore breakfast seminar in September: ‘Talking about Generations’. The seminar focussed mainly on the Millennial generation, but addressed a range of products and categories and discussed how the new generation of consumers is different. It was also the first seminar where Asia Research looked at political opinion polling.


Millennials are “the most studied and talked about generation”, and much of the interest in this age cohort is because they are a new generation in terms of their ‘spending years’ and hence are of interest to brands. The seminar attracted insightful papers from a range of independent global agencies.

\"\"Karen Schofield from Join the Dots presented a paper entitled ‘Millennials – are they who we think they are?’ Her paper discussed whether the ‘labels’ given to generations are useful or not. Karen argued that by understanding the macro-environment that people grow up in and the factors that shape their thinking and behaviour, brands can obtain a better understanding of their needs and, with it, the appropriate product offering.

Karen pointed out that Millennials are growing up in a different world, in which their spending years are taking place in the environment of the post-global financial crisis era. This means consumers have different expectations: for example, a switch from material possessions to a desire for authenticity, autonomy, and greater social-mindedness.

We need to understand what motivates people, including the need for happiness. In applying their  Happiness Model to Asia, Join the Dots reassessed the Drivers of Happiness, and added Health and Security, aspects that were taken for granted in developed markets (e.g. in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs) but today have new meaning.

Join the Dots’ paper showcased a study they undertook among Millennials in Singapore and Hong Kong. These markets are thought to be quite similar in terms of the economy and business, but Hong Kong clearly has heavy Cantonese cultural influences, whereas Singapore is more multi-cultural.

Singapore and Hong Kong Millennials were compared using three main dimensions. First, Karen spoke about Achievement: Millennials in both markets have been brought up to be competitive and have gone through a challenging education system. But today, some status symbols are no longer so important. In Singapore, for example, “cash, condo, car, and country club” are being replaced by a desire for “creativity, compassion, confidence, and contribution”. In both markets, this manifests itself in a change of career aspirations, with Millennials wanting to work in start-ups, co-working spaces, and entrepreneurialism, following the idea of “determining your own direction”. Failure (often associated with start-up businesses) is also becoming more culturally acceptable.

The other dimensions were Meaning and Relationships. Millennials want to be heard more and to cause change. In Hong Kong, they are seeking more local identity and are willing to express this publicly, as has been seen in the political protests over recent years.

Millennials are finding it difficult to develop relationships in urban cities, and high living costs are having an impact on people’s willingness to get married and start families. Millennials are delaying marriage so that they can save, and Hong Kong has the highest proportion of Millennials in the world still living at home (84%).

The implications for brands are that they need to offer more freedom and flexibility, as well as ‘immersive experiences’. Self-expression is important, meaning that Millennials will back brands that allow them to express their opinions and provide a framework for sharing. Examples of brands adapting to Millennials are Ascott Ltd, which provides co-living spaces designed for sharing, “designed by Millennials for Millennials”; C-Trip, a Chinese online travel agent that communicates the meaning of “freedom”; and Tiger Beer, with its “uncaged campaign” designed to resonate with Millennials. SKIM presented a case study on the telecoms market. Lester Sualog presented a global study undertaken by SKIM, designed to gain a better understanding of Millennials within the telecoms category. His paper stated that the “universal truths” of Millennials are that they want “a good time”, “good looks”, “good friends”, and “good feelings”. They are always on the go; they often make quick “binary choices”, with few shades of grey.

\"\"This has implications for the way we need to survey Millennials. In wanting to understand their reactions to concepts, SKIM implemented mobile-based surveys that involve simple ‘swiping’, (e.g. swipe left for ‘not interested’ and right for ‘interested’), a bit like the Tinder dating app. Their approach also measured reaction time (e.g. a quick swipe means a definitive view), essentially tapping into the System 1 impulsive reaction which, apparently, is even more important with Millennials.

The conclusion of the study is that Millennials need their service providers to get the basics right, and they are very open to switching to other brands if the basics are not delivered. They certainly need strong visuals in the context of the message, and they reject plain-text advertising.

\"\"YouGov presented their paper on ‘The Unpredictable Generation’, again with reference to younger consumers and how it can be difficult to predict their impact on voting in elections.

Over the last two years, opinion polling has not had a very good record in predicting voting outcomes, particularly when the race is very close. The best examples are Brexit, Donald Trump’s victory in the US elections, and, more recently, the UK general election, where the incumbent government was expected to win a sizeable majority, but instead lost their majority and just about managed to hang on to power.

A lot of research has been undertaken into polling accuracy. For example, the Pew Institution in the US studied non-probability sampling and tested this with nine different online polling companies. Most of the panel companies use similar polling methods, but their accuracy depends on how vigorously they weight the sample.

YouGov used a different approach to predict the outcome of the UK general election based on a weighting method called Multi-Level Regression and Post-Stratification (MRP). YouGov predicted a ‘hung parliament’ (i.e. no party with an overall majority) three weeks before the actual result. Their approach received a lot of criticism, ridicule, and was even called irresponsible by commentators at the time. But they later needed to eat their words when YouGov became one of the only pollsters to get the election result right.

When the results of the election were in, the MRP approach had predicted the correct result for 95% of the constituencies contested on the day of the vote.

The YouGov paper explained that MRP is a “bottom-up” approach to weighting. It starts with the micro-geography from individual constituencies and builds up a national picture, but also factors in historical data on voting behaviour.

With its analysis of the results, YouGov demonstrated that socio-economic class (SEC) is no longer a predictor of voting intention or political ideology, and in fact this has been somewhat reversed in recent years, with those of lower SEC actually voting more for the Conservatives. However, age is a huge predictor of voting intentions, with Labour attracting more of the youth vote; it was only the 40+-year-olds who managed to save the Conservatives.

\"\"The final paper from Piers Lee at BDRC Asia, ‘Generational Marketing – are we missing the point?’, was voted Best Paper of the event. Piers argued that generational marketing can be misleading, a distraction, and most importantly result in missed opportunities. Piers, who introduced himself as the oldest speaker at the event and said he was “standing up for the older generations”, argued that the obsession with Millennials is driven by the fact that they have grown up with technology, but technology is affecting all of us, and often different generations use it in the same way.

His most significant argument was that corporations are obsessed with Millennials as the new generation of consumers, but seem to be neglecting the older generations who, by virtue of aging populations, are far more numerous than Millennials, and also have far more spending power.

In the post-event survey, 65% of attendees rated the ‘Talking about Generations’ event as ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’ (95% including ‘good’), and 72% said they were likely to attend future events.

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