The recession deprived many young people of a launching pad into career jobs and financial adulthood. And that means they also aren’t launching into some of the major investments that have traditionally been part of the American Dream; such as purchasing a first car or a first home, or starting a first retirement account.
“Because the economy has hurt them so badly, they’ve had a delayed adulthood,” says Dan Schawbel, founder of Millennial Branding in New York, which conducts market research on the workplace and consumer expectations of this age cohort. “They don’t reach a salary of $42,000 until the age of thirty at this point; there’s $1.2 trillion in student loan debt; fifty percent of them are unemployed, underemployed or have given up on their job search completely; 21 million are living with their parents.
“They’re in debt,” says Schawbel, who has just published a book on Millennials' job prospects, titled "Promote Yourself: The New Rules of Career Success." “They’re getting married later, getting cars later. In order to make ends meet now, they have to have as few expenses as possible.”
If these consumers delay big-ticket purchases for years to come, or never make them in numbers comparable to the Boomers and Gen Xers before them, it could have a profound effect on the economy in the future.
Still, brands still have to at least try to interest young consumers in purchases such as new cars, starter homes and condos, or major household appliances. Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist at Golden Gate University and author of the book "Gen BuY: How Tweens, Teens, and Twenty-Somethings Are Revolutionizing Retail" has some advice for marketers.
“What people have is a showcase of who they are,” Yarrow says. Millennials express their identity through their clothes, their appearance, the objects they have around them.
She says new homes are a tough sell—especially in the high-priced hip cities where young people like to live. But furniture shouldn’t be.
“Ikea is perfect for this generation,” she says, “because it has an extremely low price point, it’s really customizable, it’s what you put in it, what you paint on it, how you make it yours.”
Yarrow thinks cars that will be more attractive to young people if the marketing focus is on environmental values and green fuels. “Because it’s not just transportation,” says Yarrow, “it’s also a way of saying who you are to other people.”
Dan Schawbel says the experience of learning about a brand—whether from the brand itself, or from friends and through social media, is crucial for this generation.
“They want interactive experiences,” says Schawbel. "So before you show them the product, before you connect with them, put stuff online that shows this is what you’re getting, here’s the experience, here’s why it could be valuable.”
But he also offers this caveat: “Even if you have a great experience, make the product look really good, you can tweet from the dashboard, all of that—it comes down to how much can Millennials even afford.”
At the moment, that’s not very much.