Mar 1, 2017

‘Millennials’ is a buzzword, not a catch-all

A broad gap in lifestyle and attitude exists between those born in the 80s and 90s, and if brands want to be well received, they should not try to speak to them all at once.

‘Millennials’ is a buzzword, not a catch-all

Generational differences within young adult consumers groups in ASEAN countries were laid bare as Hakuhodo Institute of Life and Living ASEAN (HILL ASEAN) revealed findings from its latest research in Bangkok last week.

“Millennials” are especially prominent in ASEAN countries, where booming populations make for large majorities of young people. However, HILL ASEAN’s detailed research found that due to dramatic social and economic shifts—as well as major events like the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis and the advent of social media—it is impossible to understand such a broad age group as a single entity.

The Millennials - One size fits all? A gap in ASEAN generation forum put the spotlight on oft-overlooked nuances of generational marketing

“One of the most striking take-homes from this research is that adopting a catch-all approach to reach millennials is unlikely to pay off,” said Goro Hokari, institute director of HILL ASEAN. “Up until now, study of this age range has tended to focus on what is going on in the present moment. By applying sei-katsu-sha and reflecting on the overall life experiences of our study subjects, we have managed to discern a more nuanced picture.”

At its core, HILL ASEAN is committed to sei-katsu-sha, a philosophy that takes a 360-degree view of people as fully rounded individuals—rather than as one-dimensional consumers. This approach was very much on display in its comparative study of 1,800 millennials born in the 80s and 90s in six ASEAN nations: Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, and Indonesia.

Industry leaders from across the ASEAN sector joined together in Bangkok to offer regional insights

The term “millennial” is a broad term referring to the young adult consumer group. With their fresh values, fluency in digital tech, and social media alter egos, they are a world apart from previous generations and are notoriously difficult to reach through traditional marketing. The research itself classified those born in the 1980s as curators and those born in the 1990s as convergenators.

Navigating the generational gap

The two groups have differing outlooks on opportunities digital media presents. Curators use the Internet and social media as a simple “stage” for creating different personas. For convergenators the ever-expanding possibilities of digitalisation and globalization have been absorbed more fully into to their lives—the virtual world is just another part of reality, yet it still needs to emerge as an authentic experience to fully resonate with the group.

Simply put, curators seek self-expression through different digital outlets. It’s a relationship that carries a lot of implications, but it’s more straightforward than the convergenator’s approach, which often blurs the lines between the real/virtual world, work/life balance, and even before/after buying a product.

The marketing implications of such designations are vast. The study concluded that brands speaking to the curators of the 80s should act as stage producers—enabling their target audience to embrace the selves they seek to project to the world. Convergenators of the 90s, on the other hand, respond to what the research classed as an “honest buddy” approach with brands—always available to offer support.

For curators, presenting items, experiences and opportunities with social media potential (high on the ‘like’ spectrum) is key. Exclusive event invites and loyalty initiatives will also garner significant engagement. Curators should shine as the central character of their own story—for them, it’s not just about being special, it’s about having a voice in both the digital and real-world conversation.

Appealing to convergenators is all about now. Real-time responses on social media through the Sei-katsu-sha Data Management Platform are a great example. While their older counterparts might view such engagement as a novelty, the later half of millennials embrace such developments. Specialized content, retargeting efforts, the individualization of products and services—as long as it maximizes the ability for self-expression in the moment, convergenators are in.

Generational lines have been drawn in the sand, and marketers need to know how to navigate them. It’s no longer viable to speak to ‘millennials’ as a target audience, the term is simply too broad to accommodate the distinct histories, lifestyles and opinions contained within it. 

“It was really eye-opening for me personally to see how comfortable our 1990s group is with the virtual world,” concluded Hokari. “Many of them feel that it is interchangeable with the real world. Those born in the 1980s, however, tend to be a little more reticent—engaging with social media, but keeping the virtual world at more of an arm’s length. It has been fascinating exploring this subject, we hope these sei-katsu-sha findings shed some light on the differences between these two very distinct groups.”

For more on HILL ASEAN and their ongoing research visit

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