Marketers have long believed the path to adulthood represents a key point of market entry
for consumers across a wide range of categories. Brands that can build connections during this time of transition will win out on long-term loyalty gains.
However, no one could have predicted just how profoundly shifts in society, culture and technology would disrupt this path to adulthood. Today’s young consumers are now experiencing an ever-evolving set of new milestones and behaviors that are very different from the traditional markers and timelines of generations past.
For example (earmuffs, Baby Boomers!), 74 percent of people aged 18 to 45 believe that marriage is not permanent and 40 percent believe it’s not possible to support themselves with a traditional nine to five job. The traditional pillars of adulthood are dead and gone and we are witnessing a new world order of growing up.
On one hand, not following a pre-determined script can be liberating for young people and open up new opportunities as they come into their own as adults, but the vast majority feel overwhelmed by having more choices and find it harder to be an adult today versus their parents’ generation.
So what has changed and how can marketers connect with young consumers on this brave and uncertain journey?
Widespread feelings of being adult-ish
It might not be surprising that 74 percent of people aged 18 to 24 consider themselves a "kidult" – part kid, part adult. However, what might surprise you is that nearly 60 percent of people aged 35+ would say the same thing about themselves and add that they wish there was an "Adulting 101" class that taught them basic skills to be self-sufficient.
Brands who focus on 18 to 24 as the only demo entering into adulthood will miss out on connecting with other groups still grappling with becoming an adult, as well as teens looking to get ahead of the curve. Expand your point of market entry beyond the traditional demo set to reach critical audiences.
Today’s parents are ill equipped to offer relevant advice
Parents once served as trusted experts and advisors, but 70 percent of Gen Z consumers say their parents have a hard time giving them advice about the future because traditional systems have been so significantly disrupted.
Digital sources like search and online reviews are trusted at similar – and in some cases increased – levels to those who know us best, our friends and family. In particular, people seek out digital sources when they want to learn about their stuff, their money and themselves. Around 85 percent of our respondents admit that they regularly Google "how to do" something and 56 percent agree that they learned a majority of their life skills online.
There is an opportunity for brands to fill the void left by experts of the past. They should develop an online content strategy that builds credibility and trust with emerging adults by offering authentic, empathetic and utilitarian advice.
Declining traditional family structures lead to tech-fueled support
Over the past 20 years, there has been an 80 percent increase of people living alone across the globe and the percentage of households that represent traditional, nuclear families has shrunk by half (40 percent of all families in 1960 to just 20 percent today). Despite this shift, the mundane yet time-consuming day-to-day tasks of life still exist. There are still meals to cook, homes to clean and small repair projects to handle.
With the traditional support system of marriage dwindling, emerging adults are leaning into tech and the sharing economy to create new support systems. Think TaskRabbit as today’s handyman husband. However, our research revealed that hiring out certain tasks can actually leave people feeling anxious and embarrassed vs. empowered and savvy. A total of 73 percent those surveyed report wanting to be self-sufficient and not hire out; note the popularity of "Tasty" videos to teach fun and new ways to experiment with cooking.
Brands looking to connect with this demo should decide whether their brand will instruct or outsource. Is it better to "do" for your audience or to "teach" them to do it for themselves?
As you can see, there are a lot of trends and changes taking place that are leaving people 18 and up – regardless of their age – feeling unprepared and anxious about adulting. Brands have a real opportunity to connect with this audience if they can expand their thinking beyond traditional tactics of the past.
Alyson Stevens is SVP/director of data sciences at Publicis Media. Her team’s recent research study "Adulting: Where Are All the Grown-Ups," conducted in partnership with BuzzFeed, uncovers the new path to adulthood and how brands can connect and guide people on their journey.