Marketers around the world are focused on how to reach millennials. But the real drivers of change over the next decade or so will be their younger siblings and children—the centennials, born from 1997 onwards and now experiencing their first taste of independent purchasing power and navigating their first steps into the workforce.
Nowhere will that change be more dramatic than in Asia.
By 2030, there will be more than 700 million Asian centennials. That’s 55% of the global centennial population, and more than double the population of the United States.
For many Asian centennials, it can feel like the world is against a teen’s success—sometimes literally, in the case of the environmental stressors that bedevil many Asian countries—especially as this persistent struggle is all Asian centennials have ever known.
In a world where structural concerns, rather than innate capability or drive, is often what holds them back, their starting point is usually “we,” not “me.” They’re sophisticated and savvy social media/digital users. Wary of its ills, seeking authenticity and connection above all, they are also strategic and creative in its employment.
Unlike millennials, they are deeply engaged by the changing world. They’re aware and involved at ever earlier ages, driven to fix the problems and, in the process, to build a better future for all, not just their own generation.
Asian centennials come with a completely different attitude toward change. While millennials may have been blindsided by their own good (or bad) fortune in their adulthood, centenniels can anticipate the future that is waiting for them—and their values, attitudes and behaviours show they’re taking it upon themselves to try and shape that future as early as possible.
Brands talking to Asian centenniels need to consciously shape their strategies to match these new values around change. Here are four major strategy shifts that brands should think about.
1. Are you going through “we” rather than just speaking “me"?
Do you have a perspective on how your brand’s benefits need to change for this generation? If you already know what their community needs, what stake are you putting in the ground to deliver concrete change?
While talking to centennials, brands have traditionally focused on self-expression, fitting in, or standing out. For this generation, however, these self-oriented values are less valuable than community-oriented ones that guarantee a brighter future.
Moreover, it’s crucial to translate good intentions into solid actions. If you aren’t risking a future with them, expect to fade into the woodwork at best or be ridiculed at worst. For example, 78% of Indian centenniels say they feel anger over how big businesses maximise profit at the expense of community and consumers.
2. Are you providing solutions or tools that help them compete, despite their (currently) low purchasing power and knowledge?
What tools and services are you providing that help them supersede their current limitations? Give them access to tools and products without demanding the financial capital or know-how of their older counterparts. Xiaomi is now the top smartphone brand for Chinese centenniels, offering home-grown quality within their reach, while Apple is now only the eighth most popular smartphone brand for them—as opposed to the fourth most popular with everyone else in China.
3. Is environmental activism already non-negotiable for your brand?
If your brand is already focused on sustainability, what are you doing about it, not just in terms of CSR but even in your supply chain and production cycle? Are you prepared for the competition coming from environmentally-friendly, high-quality alternatives?
Centennial consumers no longer see organic/good-for-the-environment products and stances to be mutually exclusive from premium products with effective ingredients.
Transparency is becoming a must have for brands and companies and consumer options are diversifying. It will become increasingly difficult for brands with eco-unfriendly systems, ingredients and positioning to even enter the consideration set.
In India, MTV recently launched a project working with young people called #dunkthatjunk. Volunteers clean abandoned urban spaces and transform them into music venues. With comments on Facebook like ‘Let’s everyone act like this’ and ‘Waiting for the revolution #dunkthatjunk’, it has proved a huge hit with centenniels and generated over $2 million worth of coverage over six months.
4. What does your tech and digital strategy help turn into reality?
Can you go beyond digital content that simply entertains to apps, services and knowledge that help centenniels bridge their resource gaps?
Stand out from the crowd by focusing on driving real change, rather than momentary likes. Rappler (a Filipino local news outlet) has created Social Good, an annual forum that explores ways to use social media to drive real change. Last year’s summit featured 13-year-old Isabel Sieh, who learned to code at 10 with tools online. She recently founded the Philippine chapter of Girls Who Code to inspire other girls to code as well.
“I could be doing lots of other things but the reason I do this is because ever since I started coding, it changed my thinking,” she said. “Coding can help solve world problems. The internet has brought so many communities together and it just gives everyone the opportunity to create.”
What change will you create?
As the older members of this generation enter the workplace and rapidly increase their spending power and influence, we will witness the emergence of a consumer landscape shaped by their belief in making an impactful change to the world around them. Brands that want to ally themselves with this generation will have to become real agents of change themselves and will need to continue to take a stance on relevant social and political issues.
Katherine Diaz is senior consultant with Kantar Futures.