How do demographics affect digital uptake? Being a millenial is not about age, it's an attitude.
It is not uncommon to hear the stereotype that your average millennial will communicate without looking up from their phone (…perhaps while sipping an iced coffee and brunching on avocado on toast).
Texting or social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or Snapchat might be the first thing that spring to mind when you think about millennial communication. 79% of 19-34 years olds check social media sites for personal reasons while at work at least once a day and- I don’t mean to tell tales- 14% admit to doing so on at least 10 occasions. However, while this reflects how millennials keep in touch with their friends, it doesn’t prove that this group wants to interact with businesses in the same way.
Millennials will soon enter the prime earning years. This year, they will overtake baby boomers in consumer spending and, in the US, it is estimated that their investable assets will grow by $11.3 trillion by 2030. By 2022, this generation will make up over 40% of the workforce and so if- and it is a big if- their needs and expectations really are different, organisations need to be responding now.
Is age a marker for preference?
In addition to serving customers at a reduced cost, the drive towards digital transformation has been somewhat fuelled by the perception that organisations will soon have to cater for a new generation of customers- a generation who have never lived without the internet and are unlikely to remember a life without a smartphone.
Young people have traditionally been the demographic who have most readily adopted new digital platforms. Having grown up in a connected world, millennials don’t have to consciously acquire the digital skills required to navigate self-serve platforms on websites or mobile applications since these are already engrained in them.
What’s more, the digital nature of their lives can mean they are more demanding than older generations in terms of the functionality and digital content they expect from organisations. But some sectors have failed to meet this, with 71% of US millennials reporting that they’d rather go to the dentist than listen to what their Bank is saying to them.
According to Dimension Data research, when asked ‘what is your favourite channel for interacting with an organisation’, 23.7% of respondents aged 25-34 answered ‘mobile application’, compared to just 6.3% of those aged 35-54. But while there is no doubting that millennials use technology more than Boomers of Generation X, does this really mean that they exclusively want technology?
Although a straightforward divide between different generations might be viewed as the common cause of fluctuation in digital uptake, the reality is that a preference for digital channels is affected by many more variables than just age alone.
‘Being a millennial’ is not just about demographics, it’s a mindset
Demographic segmentation can be useful. It’s much easier to obtain this information than, say, personality traits or income levels. But factors other than age can make a substantial difference in the degree of digital engagement, particularly behaviours and attitudes.
In their ‘Empowered Customer Segmentation’, Forrester seeks to group customers according to how they react to new products, service and technology, rather than on demographics alone. They identify 5 broad categories;
- Progressive Pioneers- 23% of US Consumers
Lead the demand for product and experience innovation.
- Savvy Seekers- 16% of US Consumers
are among the first to learn about innovation and exhibit high rates of new product engagement.
- Convenience Conformers- 32% of US Consumers
opt for products and services that enhance convenience only after they have become widely available.
- Settled Survivors- 12% of US Consumers
evolve at a glacial pace and are motivated by adaptation, rather than trendsetting.
- Reserved Resisters- 16% of US Consumers
Interestingly when focusing on the specific demographics within these categories, it is not as simple as an increase in average age as you move down the list towards the digitally unengaged. Although some categories conform to traditional notions, for example 39% of ‘Reserved Resisters’ are 65+, the overall picture is much more nuanced. For example, 43% of ‘Progressive Pioneers’ are aged 30-39, a significantly higher proportion than 18-29.
Though this study focused on US adults, we also see huge differences geographically. In Urban China, ‘progressive pioneers’ make up 57% of the population, while In the UK, just 9% of the population fall under this category. What’s more, in the UK, the average age of the 17% of the population that makes up the ‘Savvy Seekers’ category is 38, suggesting that young people in their teens or 20s are not necessarily the most engaged in new technology, products and services.
The bottom line
Whether your customers are ‘Progressive Pioneers’ or ‘Reserved Resisters’, they all ultimately want the same thing: to have easier, faster, and more straightforward interactions with organisations. For some customers, technology will help facilitate this, but for others it will prove to be more of a headache.
The problem is that the great variation in customers and their potential journeys means grouping by demographics obscures the real picture. Though not insignificant, demographics fail to take into account a number of important variables, such as the nature of the customer journey, the customers ability to manage digital platforms and their attitude to new technology.
Even if it is the case that millennial’s first preference is for digital technology, the nature of their journey- particularly if it is complex- can affect this decision. The significance they afford to any particular transaction can also have an impact on whether or not they chose a self-serve platform. So while we often hear that the next generations are driving us towards a ‘humanless’ customer experience, generalising in this way is likely to overlook the reality.
The bottom line is that organisations that allow their customers to dictate their own journey will ultimately generate long-term wins. Whether your customer is 25 or 65, organisations should provide a range of channels and then facilitate a seamless movement of customers through their journey. The reality is that grouping by demographics oversimplifies a much more complex picture, and while organisations who push customers down the self-serve route might appease the average customer, there is a very real risk of losing those on the margins.
 Adestra, 2016 Adestra Consumer Adoption & Usage Survey
 Capco, Acquiring the Millennial Customer
 American Bankers Association, Millennials and Banking
 Source: Forrester Data Consumer Technographics® North American Online Benchmark Survey (Part 1), 2017