The future of average: why millennials and Gen Z are striving for the unique

Demographics and generalisation have long been a key part of marketing, but, as technology changes the consumer's relationship with brands, are they still helpful?

A generation is emerging that is uncomfortable with the conspicuous consumption of the past; a generation for whom 'more' doesn't necessarily mean very much.

Generation Z are constructing their own individual identities, which have nothing to do with 'norms' or definitions.

I'm talking about Gen Y and Z, of course. Gen Y (or millennials), in particular, were the generation that watched their parents and elders blow up everything they had accumulated in a cloud of credit, and, in a fairly blase way, bankrupt the planet financially, morally and ecologically. The millennial has seen what it means to 'have everything' and to 'lose everything'.

As ever, what is classed as luxury is whatever happens to be scarce. For the millennial, while entertainment, content, affordable fashion and so on are ubiquitous, other things are harder to come by. What is scarce for them? Time, honesty, authenticity, wellness, individuality.

In a world that was designed by the previous generations to endlessly produce, to grow, to be bigger, and to operate en masse, millennials are discovering that the things they value are unique, more expressive, sustainable, and exclusive - they increasingly don't 'do' average.

Personalised produce

That is why they view luxury as things that are, rather narcissistically, perhaps, co-created. If millennials can inject their personality and perspective into a product, then it's going to be at the very least 'un-average', and, possibly, unique.

This makes things more meaningful, and no one can ever take that away from them. For them, a luxury is something that demonstrates not wealth and status, but their own uniqueness - their experiences, their ideas, their story. And for Generation Z, this is even more of a focus. They are constructing their own individual identities, which have nothing to do with 'norms' or definitions.

That is why there is going to be an explosion in the number of co-creative, collaborative, customisable services that allow for consumers to express their own stories, character, or design ideas - within a product, or through a brand.

Burberry, Pringle, Nike and other mainstream brands are dipping a toe in the water, but the more authentic and exciting offerings are going to come from independently minded start-ups like Knyttan, Upper Street, or United Nude, which are themselves unique, rather than mass.

Normality for hire

Consumption patterns are no longer defined by traditional demographic segments such as age, gender, location, income, family status and more

If the new consumers can't create their own version of something, then they won't invest in something average; they would probably rather hire it - bags, jewellery or a designer dress just for that night's event. In a way, that again makes the experience unique.

This demand-side shift is mirrored by the supply side, where brands have started to acknowledge that the era of the demographic is over. Generations Y and Z just don't see themselves as 'average' or want to be communicated to as such.

Thanks to tech platforms where the power of profiling and preference-collection is accepted, these digital consumers also expect communication to them to be uniquely targeted. Consumer-insights firm Trendwatching calls this Post-Demographics, and explains that "consumption patterns are no longer defined by traditional demographic segments such as age, gender, location, income, family status and more".

In short, 'average' is just not 'me'. And desirable items won't be the things you seek to acquire because other people you aspire to be like also have them; they will be the things that are unique to you. In the future, these things will be products that were made possible only by you, because they were co-created - rather than commissioned - by you. What could be more scarce than you? You are unique. And in time, what we will come to desire is a product range of one.

Professional futurist Tracey Follows created the planning foresight team while chief strategy officer at JWT. She now runs her own strategic foresight consultancy, AnyDayNow, and is a member of the Association of Professional Futurists and the World Future Society. @tracey_lou.

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