By Michael Gaffney
Sometimes called generation Y or millennials, this group is a digital native powerhouse that is rewriting how goods are sold and purchased. There’s no exact science to defining a generation, but researchers and marketers generally put people born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s in this category.
Whereas the previous generation’s young people spent every waking moment at the shopping mall, millennials are speeding the online shopping revolution, eschewing brick and mortar retail to shop how, when and where they want, using the mobile and online tools that they’ve grown up with.
So, if these consumers are shopping online so frequently, collectively they must have an opinion on online privacy. Are millennials less concerned about privacy than older generations? Are they willing to share their personal information or cooperate with businesses online if there is an advantage for them such as a deal?
In truth, it’s a bit more complicated than that. Millennials think differently about privacy compared to older generations. ‘Millennial Rift’ is the term coined by researchers at the USC Annenburg Center for the Digital Future that refers to the differences in perceptions and value of privacy between the generations. Jeffrey Cole, in a 2013 survey, goes so far as to say that “Online privacy is dead – millennials understand that while older users have not adapted.”
I find Cole’s use of the word ‘dead’ a rather poor choice of words as the word dead is typically understood as lifeless and not coming back. Based on survey results in that same report (and similar findings elsewhere), I find it difficult to believe that millennials espouse that privacy is dead and not coming back. In fact the same study found that 70 percent of millennials agreed with the statement “No one should ever be allowed to have access to my personal data or web behavior,” compared to 77 percent of older generations. Doesn’t sound to me as though privacy isn’t valued by this group, instead, other data points would indicate that the giving up of personal data needs to be incentivized for this generation to participate. Millennials surveyed were much more likely to share personal data, such as location, in order to receive coupons or deals from nearby businesses.
Marketers need to better understand how millennials perceive privacy differently and how that information should impact digital marketing strategy. A strikingly different tone from the 2013 USC study was the 2014 study, ‘Millennials Care More about Privacy than any Other Generation,’ conducted by Contagious and Flamingo, two trends and insight consultancies. There were three key findings in that study: one, millennials are 28 percent more likely to switch products or services because of privacy concerns than the rest of the population; two, 54 percent of millennials in the U.S., and 48 percent in the U.K., have stopped using a product or service because they were worried about the way it was using their personal data; and three, millennials are more likely to pay a premium to protect their privacy.
If marketers want to attract and keep millennials as customers, they will have to balance that generation’s willingness to share information for deals or coupons that are relevant to them with both the conviction and actions necessary to protect that shared private information.
(Image: Flickr, Gonzalo Díaz Fornaro, link)