From Status to Access: Urban Millennials and Mobile

The Motorola Timeport 2way pager by Stony2BroadwayIt was almost a rite of passage, but the rules that governed growing up in New York City in the late 80s/early 90s were unflinching: Once one hit adolescence, one needed a beeper.

Of course no one really “needed” one, but no one wanted to be deemed “disconnected” or “off the grid.”  For most, beepers were desired less for their functionality (at least for us lawful citizens) and more as status symbols– there existed an inherent need to identify with the larger, connected group.  Even if your social circle was restricted to your 8th grade classmates, we still had a way to get at them (or in modern digital social vernacular, “poke” them)… should they needed to get got at for whatever reason.

Since then, this underlying need of urban America to be constantly connected hasn’t changed much at all.  As the technology has matured from archaic numerical pagers to chic two-ways (oh, how I miss my Timeport) to mobile phone ubiquity to the current smartphone craze, the underlying cultural drive has shifted as well.

The Motorola Timeport 2way pager by Stony2Broadway

The Motorola Timeport

As technology and information become more accessible the role it plays in our lives is shifting dramatically.  We not only rely on our gadgets to simplify life or manage connections between individuals, but also to maintain a connection to information, even as we’re away from home or work. In this context, urban consumers’ mobile communication “need state” can be understood as having evolved from demanding status…to demanding access.


Why Mobile: Traits of Urban Millennials

“This generation is always ‘on’ and strapped for time as they move through a life stage distinguished by unprecedented upheaval and personal change.”

-Mike Doherty, “Millennials Could Be Your Next Growth Opportunity

The Millennial Generation, defined by Pew Research first generation to come of age in the new
 millennium (1980- ), totals about 46 million Americans.  They are the first generation to experience the Internet as an omnipresent, culturally defining force.

The older end of the Millennial spectrum is finally coming into their own, after living through a historic economic downturn that forced many to cut back on spending.  (Worth noting, that although consumers economized on cell phone plans, the penetration of smartphones actually increased substantially during the recession.)  With the dust finally settling, and with the economy (fingers crossed) on the up and up, it’s these digital natives who are poised to lead the recovery albeit through adjusted purchasing habits & behavior.

Urban Millenials, for the sake of this argument, are generally considered to be more informed and discerning than their general market counterparts, and tend to prefer “premium” experiences, so long that they enhance their lifestyles. Understanding the growing segment of Millennials who subscribe to this sensibility has consistently been a challenge for brand marketers, and for good reason: the overall consumer landscape is traditionally volatile and the practice of looking to standard cultural drivers (entertainment, fashion, etc.) to forecast behavioral and consumer trends has become increasingly difficult with the traditional media landscape melting. Under the assumption that those of the urban mindset usually live at the forefront of cultural trends, the issue is compounded dramatically. This said, marketers’ strategies for reaching these consumers are in need of a fine-tuning- the capability is there, but the thinking has to catch up. One thing we understand as consistent with this group is their affinity for culturally-relevant, progressive content; this needs to be considered at the heart of any consumer-facing communications program.  In the ongoing quest for authenticity, the true value-add for consumers is in how constructive the brand (or its experience) is to their dynamic -their reality-, and not how intent said brand delivered was on delivering something comparable to a throwaway show flyer.

Consider the above as “exhibit A” in the case for mobile as a top-of-mind consideration to connecting with young, urban consumers. In a recent piece on Mobile Marketer reported that multicultural mobile consumption “outdistances the general market almost 2-to-1”, and that “they text more, have more unlimited plans, download and purchase more content, etc.” than their general market counterparts. A number of variables could be attributed to supporting this behavior, but the key here for brand marketers is to aggressively act on this reality and harness the growing power of this rapidly evolving medium to deliver the right messages in the appropriate context.

Reaching Out

Gen Y is accustomed to instant gratification and demands the latest and greatest gadgetry; a tech lifestyle is a need, not a want.”

-The New Consumer Behavior Paradigm: Permanent or Fleeting?, PriceWaterhouseCoopers 2010

This past Saturday, Apple’s iPad was made available to scores of early adopters and, if nothing else, set the stage for what could eventually become the next urban marketing paradigm. If, over the course of the next few months netbook/tablet penetration is anything as expected, then two things are apparent: the media landscape will see even more mobile content consumption, and that said content will be permanently consumed in a more intimate, immersive context.

The mobility represented by the smartphone, and now the netbook/tablet, has the potential to effectively deliver against a brand’s communication objectives. It also ushers a growing capacity to not only reflect and associate with the consumer’s culture and lifestyle, but to actually integrate within it.

One example of this is through the rising popularity of “lo-so” (local social networking) and microblogging – currently popular within urban hubs.  Both are entirely dependent on mobile technology.  Both are instrumental in redefining the level in which brands and consumers interact.  The inevitable mass adoption of smartphones and netbooks/tablets will only amplify the level of brand-consumer engagement, and as a byproduct, consumer-product-content discovery.

Of course, this is but one isolated example of the impact that on-the-go devices will have; the evolution of dynamic, interactive content and its implications for urban publications, discovery, and connectivity are tremendous things marketers need to be attuned to in the forward 12 months.

Defined by their sense of discovery and infinite curiosity, contemporary urban America is often referred to as the “generation of change.” Their insatiable need for connection not only plays a role in their psychographic makeup, but also the way they perceive the value of products and services and, in turn, recommend them to their peers. The advent of newer mobile devices will allow for the delivery of filtered content, desired utility and instant gratification- three necessary deliverables for urban consumers- offers opportunity for brands that can take advantage of the new devices that dominate their lifestyles.

We’ve come a long way from “hit me on the hip”.