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Millennial Preconceptions, Part I: Millennials Don’t Drink Like We Used To

There are some incredibly prevalent preconceptions about Millennials, which you are sure to have heard and likely to have used: They have delusions of grandeur. They are entitled and impatient. [Insert your preconception here.]

In this blog series, Charlotte Burgess, Director at C Space EMEA, explores the nuances behind these bold statements and looks at the implications for brands. Each post ends with advice for brands to develop more relevant products, services, and communications for Millennial consumers.

What is a Millennial? It’s a big question, and a big category ripe with big generalisations. As marketers, we want to categorise and simplify. Our clients ask us to uncover the stories that sit behind the data to create a more nuanced picture of what is really going, to give them a competitive advantage.

In the course of our client work we have spent a lot of time with this cohort. We’ve been part of their WhatsApp group conversations, created online communities to observe their habits over time, been to their student halls, their homes for dinner, met their kids, their friends. During my keynote at this year’s Millennial 20/20 Summit in London, I shared some of our observations, gave some examples of brands who are resonating with this audience, and made some suggestions for how you might do the same.

Anyone from the age of 18 to 35 is a Millennial – equally they could be a student, a young professional, or a young parent. My suggestion is that the life stage is a bigger determinant of behaviour than age, and our observation at C Space is that they are adapting the linear life stages (study, travel, get a job, buy a house, get married, have a child) to suit them. Indeed, these life stages might not happen in traditional order, and many happen much later, if at all.

So let’s use this to explore a few of the sweeping statements that are made about Millennials and share a more nuanced picture of what is really going on. Part 1 of this three-part blog series looks at student-aged Millennials and focuses on the idea that they don’t drink alcohol as much as we used to.

While it’s true to say that there has been a shift in behaviour, what we are seeing is that it’s the location – not the habit – has changed. It’s called the pre-drinks; a post recessionary phenomenon which is now here to stay.

Consider Tom. On Wednesday night, he’s going out with his mates to Deansgate Locks. They go to Revolution bar every Wednesday, and they typically meet at Tom’s house for pre-drinks (he is part of a six-person house – it’s the biggest amongst his friends).

On Tuesday morning, Tom messages his WhatsApp group of friends to confirm the time and place, then heads out to buy a crate of beers. He’s buying mainstream lager brands, looking for the best value deal, and is drawn to a good promotion. He sees 24 bottles of Becks for £15 – he’s in!

His mates will come round with their own drinks, but, depending on the night, they typically will bring a bottle of vodka or beers. People buy alcohol for their own consumption, not really for sharing.

Tom can’t remember a night out that didn’t involve the pre-drinks! And he’s certainly not alone. What started out as a post-recessionary phenomenon is now becoming a mainstay occasion in its own right. And whilst perceived price is the main reason given, when we dug a bit deeper we found that people prefer this pre-drinks environment – it’s inherently social and allows people to properly catch up with friends before the party moves to a bar or pub.

Implications for brands:

  • On-trade (e.g., bars, pubs, restaurants) is decreasing, so there is lot of potential to reach this audience in the off-trade (e.g., independent retail, grocery)
  • Drinking games have a huge role to play as you increase the tempo
  • This is a promotion-driven group, so they can be swayed by discounting in supermarkets; their search for volume has given rise to large-volume beer crates or kegs and wine boxes (think “party-in-a-box”)
  • This is a fickle segment whose primary purchase driver is price. Students have always been price sensitive, but current economic factors have made this even more pronounced. Depending on whether you can compete with the low prices of white label, it may be worth thinking about how to engage or convert them in their final year as they make the transition to young professional and establish new habits.

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