Boston Consulting Group predicts “the end of consumer marketing as we have long known it.”

Boston Consulting Group recently conducted a survey of American consumers to see how their spending habits and approach to brands differs by age group.

Millennials GenXers Baby BoomersThe results give us a quantifiable measure of the differences in outlook between three major age groups:  Millennials (age 18 to 34), Gen-Xers (age 35 to 49), and Baby Boomers and older consumers (age 50 and up).

The survey findings led BCG researchers to declare that Millennials’ perspectives are characterized by a “reciprocity principle.”  By this, they mean that these younger consumers expect “mutual relationships” with companies and their brands.

This isn’t so very surprising considering the ability of the Internet and social media platforms to provide an easy platform for airing their opinions.

A positive brand experience may prompt consumers to take favorable “public” action on behalf of the brand.

A disappointing experience most assuredly will prompt vocal criticism via product or service reviews, social media, blog posts, and leaving comments.

digital-multitaskingAnd the juicier the commentary, the more likely it is to go viral.

The BCG survey found that younger consumers are far more prone to participate in the world of “reciprocity.”

The differences were pretty dramatic when asking respondents in the different age groups whether they agreed with certain statements:

“Brands identify who I am, and my values.”

  • Millennials:  ~44% agree
  • Gen-Xers:  ~38%
  • Boomers and older:  ~33%

“People seek me for knowledge and brand opinion.”

  • Millennials:  ~51% agree
  • Gen-Xers:  ~42%
  • Boomers and older:  ~34%

“I’m willing to share my brand preferences online or on social media.”

  • Millennials:  ~55% agree
  • Gen-Xers:  ~43%
  • Boomers and older:  ~28%

Evaluating the survey findings, the BCG report posits that Millennials are “the leading indicators of large-scale changes in consumer behavior.”

Rather dramatically, BCG also concludes that this particular generational transition is “ushering in the end of consumer marketing as we have long known it,” and that the linear framework companies have used for decades to manage brand image and engagement is headed out the window.

“… Marketers must embrace the reality that marketing is an ecosystem of multidirectional engagement rather than a process that is controlled and pushed by the company,” the BCG report states.

My personal view is that the Boston Consulting Group’s conclusions are probably on-target … but the question is the degree.

I don’t think many major brands are going to simply cede control of their marketing and messaging to the cyberspace or the social cloud.  They’ve worked too long and too hard on their brand image and identity to give up that easily.

For more on the survey findings and conclusions, here’s BCG’s summary article.

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