Millennials Challenge Stereotypes, But Are Rapid Tech Adopters

April 17, 2012

bcg-tech-adoption-generations-april2012.jpgUS Millennials (aged 16-34) are a heterogeneous group, displaying varying characteristics and habits that defy many casual stereotypes, including the ones hoisted on them by non-Millennials (aged 35-74), says the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) [pdf] in an April 2012 report. In fact, while Millennials see themselves in generally positive terms – “tech-savvy,” “hip,” and “cool” – their more elderly counterparts see them in part as “spoiled,” “lazy,” and “entitled.” Yet while BCG’s research shows there are many different sides to the Millennial generation, one thing seems clear: they are quick to adopt new technologies. In fact, compared to non-Millennials (aged 35-74), they are more likely to report using MP3 players (72% vs. 44%), gaming platforms (67% vs. 41%), and smartphones (59% vs. 44%), and less likely to use desktop computers (63% vs. 80%) and basic cell phones (46% vs. 66%).

The report notes that as a result of this technology adoption, Millennials are much more likely to multitask while online by constantly moving across platforms. Indeed, according to an April study from Time, digital natives switch their attention between media platforms (i.e. TVs, magazines, tablets, smartphones, or channels within platforms) on average 27 times per hour, compared to 17 for digital immigrants.

Millennials Use Internet as Social Platform

Not surprisingly, the BCG survey found that Millennials are much more likely than non-Millennials to be engaged in online activities such as rating products and services (60% vs. 46%) and uploading videos, images, and blog entries (60% vs. 29%). This trend is probably a reflection of Millennials’ propensity for rapid technology adoption. According to an April 2012 study from IBM, early technology adopters are more likely than mainstream consumers to contribute user generated content (90% vs. 71%), be members of social networking sites (88% vs. 73%), and use mobile information services (88% vs. 57%), among other activities.

Millennials Have Varying Characteristics

Looking at the behavior of the 4,000 Millennials it polled, BCG identified 6 distinct segments within the survey population. The largest group, making up 29% of the population, was dubbed “Hip-ennials.” These young adults are cautious consumers, globally aware, charitable, and information hungry. They are female dominated and have below-average employment. The next-largest group, “Millennial Moms” (22%), are family-oriented, digitally savvy, and confident, with a high degree of online intensity. They skew older and have the highest income of the groups.

By contrast, “Anti-Millennials,” who make up 16% of the population, are locally minded, conservative, do not spend more on green products, and seek comfort and familiarity over excitement and change. This group tends to be slightly more female, Hispanic, and from the western US.

“Gadget gurus,” who account for 13% of the total, may fit more of the digital native stereotype. This group is successful, wired, free spirited, confident, and has the greatest device ownership. “Gadget gurus” are male dominated, have above-average income, and are typically single.

The smallest groups by share are “Clean and Green Millennials,” who are impressionable, cause driven, healthy, green, and positive, and “Old-School Millennials,” who are not wired, cautious consumers, and charitable. The former is male dominated, the youngest of all groups, and more likely to be Hispanic. The latter is also more likely than the average to be Hispanic, though is made up of an older crowd.

Other Findings:

  • Millenials are more likely than their older counterparts to use a mobile device to read user reviews and to research products while shopping (50% vs. 21%).
  • Millennials are also more likely to explore brands on social networks (53% vs. 37%), and to favor brands that have Facebook pages and mobile websites (33% vs. 17%).
  • This younger generation is more likely to be buy items associated with a cause (37% vs. 30%) and to volunteer its time (31% vs. 27%).
  • In contrast to the BCG report, which showed a clear preference for new technology among Millennials, the IBM report claims that age-based segmentation does not apply when looking at types of digital personalities. For example, aging traditionalists fit into the “Efficiency Experts” category of digital personalities, who see the adoption of digital devices and services as a way to make life easier. These traditionalists fall into the category by virtue of sending email instead of letters, accessing video on demand at home, and news content online. Even so, results from a Pew study [pdf] released in April shows that some age differences to apply. Data from that study indicates that among the digitally-connected, 18-29-year-olds are far more likely than those over 65 to buy a product online (70% vs. 56%), use social networking sites (87% vs. 29%), and bank online (61% vs. 44%).

About the Data: The BCG results are based on a survey conducted with Barkley and Service Management Group of 4,000 Millennials and 1,000 non-Millennials in the US. The IBM data is from a survey conducted in 2011 among 3,800 consumers in 6 countries: China, France, Germany, Japan, the UK, and the US. The data point regarding technology adoption excludes respondents from China. The results in the Pew report are based primarily on data from telephone interviews conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International from April 26 to May 22, 2011, among a sample of 2,277 adults, age 18 and older. Telephone interviews were conducted in English and Spanish by landline (1,522) and cell phone (755, including 346 without a landline phone).

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