Zooming in on the South African Millennial

Posted: September 16, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 11.49.25 AMBy Mark Mbugua: Account Director at Y&R SA’s Johannesburg Office

Cosmopolitan South Africa recently revealed the results of their #CosmoMillennials survey during events in Cape Town and Johannesburg. Partnering with Joan Snyder Kuhl, a New York-based Millennial expert and consultant, the survey of 3 400 respondents elicited over 34 000 open-ended responses with the aim to better understand the South African Millennial.

Broadly speaking, a Millennial is someone born between 1980 and 2000. The term was coined by demographers Neil Howe and William Strauss in 1991. But there has been a recent resurgence in interest around the term in the marketing world. In today’s world, with the lifespan of trends becoming shorter and shorter, why is a 20-year-old buzzword the subject of articles (such as this), seminars, and conferences around the world?

Simple – Millennials have come of age. They are no longer the fodder of only academics and futurists. The majority of them are now economically active and they are not scared to splurge. In the U.S. they spend $60 billion annually, and when you extrapolate these figures to the 2.5 billion Millennials worldwide, you understand why they are now a strategic priority for brands, employers and governments across the globe.

The South African Millennial is no different. Cosmopolitan’s survey found that of the 19.5 million Millennials in the country:

  • 78 per cent are employed, and therefore economically active.
  • 96 per cent have a bank account.
  • 62 per cent have bought something that was out of their budget.
  • 62 per cent are saving for something.

So what is the common thread that binds Millennials together? The Cosmo survey cites the most significant difference between Millennials and the preceding generation is their relationship to technology and globalisation.  Simply put, they are hyper-connected. Almost half (45 per cent) use a cell phone/smartphone and PC/desktop/laptop on a daily basis. More than half (55 per cent) of South African Millennials check a social media site, browse the web, use an app, and make a call/text on their phone more than 20 times a day.

For brands, this has led to a complete upheaval of consumer communications. Around 74 per cent of South African Millennials choose to connect with companies on social media. This interaction can’t be superficial either; Millennials expect to see their feedback reflected in a company’s products and services. They demand an all-engaging brand experience across platforms and events. In the shopping environment, brick and mortar locations no longer suffice; brands must also be available online and on mobile devices. Locally, some of the brands that the survey identified as satisfying this high maintenance group are Coca-Cola, Lipton Ice Tea, Woolworths, McDonald’s, Nando’s, KFC, Nike and Cadbury. Noticeably, all are mega-brands with huge budgets, but perhaps a more significant binding thread is how adaptable they have been to the evolution of media and technology, without sacrificing the single-mindedness of their brand propositions.

Employers are also being forced to come to grips with Millennials, considering they will constitute 50 per cent of the workforce by 2020 and 75 per cent by 2030. Millennials were raised by Baby Boomers, who imparted on them the mentality that they can achieve anything they set their minds to. This upbringing has created a highly ambitious group – locally, 31 per cent expect to be promoted after one to two years in their current position. Interestingly, the survey showed that along with money and lifestyle, South African Millennials ranked the social impact of their work equally as high – something that does not correlate with global findings.

Being a Millennial myself, I found the findings of the survey stimulating. The fact that South African Millennials align so seamlessly with their foreign counterparts, is perhaps the ultimate testament to the flat world we grew up in. More than ever before, young people across the world are consuming the same media, through the same devices, interacting with the same brands and even chasing very similar dreams. This perceived homogeneity should not, however, fool brands into thinking they can speak to Millennials in one voice. Within this wide age range exists a universe of differences and nuance. If we as communicators and marketers forget this, it will be at our own detriment.