Archive for the 'Generations' Category

Americans value money and brains over looks

We recently posed a question on a national poll which required Americans to make an interesting choice:

If you could have one of the following, which would you choose?

  • I would have more money than I have today
  • I would be smarter than I am today
  • I would be better looking than I am today

This is a provocative cocktail party question. How would you answer it? How might your answer change depending on your life stage – would you answer it differently 15 years ago or 15 years into the future?

Across all ages (18+), 61% of Americans choose more money. It would be interesting to pose this question internationally to learn if this finding reflects American culture and capitalism or if this result reflects something universal to all people. Overall, 26% of US adults choose being smarter and 12% choose being better looking. So, it can be said that Americans value money and brains over looks.

We should note that there wasn’t a gender difference in the results. Males and females were just as likely to say all three options. There were a couple of interesting racial differences. Hispanics were least likely to say they would like more money and most likely to say they would like to be smarter. Blacks were as likely as others to say “money” but were more likely than others to say “better looking” and less likely to say “smarter.”

But, by far the largest and most interesting differences in this question related to the generation of the respondent. We’ve seen the Millennial generation maligned quite a bit recently, hearing that they are entitled and a bit lazy. We’ve never quite believed that, as the perception that a youth generation is disrespectful and lazy has been true since before the term “generation” was coined.

For instance, this is a quote from Socrates, and is about 2,400 years old:

“Children today are tyrants.  They contradict their parents, gobble their food, and tyrannize their teachers.”

Mark Twain, late in his life, had this to say about children:

“When a child turns 12 you should put him in a barrel, nail the lid down, and feed him through a knot hole… When he turns 16, plug the hole.”                                              

One of the more cynical (and unintentionally humorous) quotations about children came from Clarence Darrow, almost a century ago:

“The first half of our lives is ruined by our parents and the second half by our children.”

But, back to our poll question.  There are currently five living generations:

First birth year

Final birth year Current youngest member

Current oldest member

Silent

1925

1942 75

92

Boom

1943

1960 57

74

Gen X

1961

1981 36

56

Milllennials

1982

2004 13

35

Homelanders 2005 2017 0

12

Which one do you think would be the most apt to choose “more money” in our question? We’d presume that most people would predict it would be Millennials. But, in reality, it is Boomers who are most likely to say money:

More Money Smarter Better Looking
Silent

54%

37%

9%

Boom

71%

19%

11%

Gen X

65%

26%

10%

Milllennials

52% 31%

17%

There are fascinating generational differences in this table.  Howe and Strauss have developed an excellent generational theory, and one aspect of it is that a generational cycle recurs through four archetypes. So, typically, a current youth generations will have a similar type and outlook as the oldest living generation. This theory is supported by the table above. It is the oldest (Silent) and youngest (Millennials) generations that are least concerned with money and relatively most concerned with being smarter.

Boomers come across as the most money-obsessed generation, which is interesting as they are in a life stage where personal net worth tends to peak. 71% of Boomers would prefer more money to being smarter or better looking.  Of course, with all generational conclusions, it could be more of a life stage issue at work – Boomers are currently between 57 and 74 years old and perhaps pre- and early-retirement are particularly money-centric life stages. But, we suspect that if we had conducted this poll over time Boomers would have been highly concerned with money compared to other generations throughout all life stages.

Finally, these results underscore a point we like to make with clients. It is challenging to fully understand a generation unless we widen the sampling frame and interview other generations as well. Had this question just been asked of Millennials, we may have concluded that money was an overriding concern for them. It is only when comparing them to other generations that we see that they value intelligence and smarts more than others.

Battle of the Brands is available for purchase!

boxing-glove

How does your brand compete with others in the battle to win today’s youth?

Crux Research has conducted a syndicated study of 57 youth-oriented brands that is available for purchase on Collaborata.  We have a “data only” option for sale for $4,900 and an option including a full report and consultation/presentation for $9,500.

Brands that succeed with Millennials can enjoy their loyalty for years to come. This study’s 13- to 24-year-old group is often given short shrift by brands that have a more adult target. That can prove to be short-sighted thinking. Teens and young adults not only spend significant amounts of their own money, they also influence the spending of parents, siblings, and other adults in their lives. They are the adult shoppers of the future; building a relationship with them now can translate into loyalty that lasts their lifetime. This study shows you exactly where your brand fares among this critical cohort right now and what you need to do increase young consumers’ engagement with your brand.

More information about this study can be found here.

Objectives for our “Battle of the Brands” project are as follows:

  • Compare and contrast the relative strengths across a variety of measures of 57 youth-oriented brands.
  • See how your brand is “personalized” — learn where it statistically maps across 32 brand personality dimensions.
  • Discover how the 57 brands fare on the key measures of Awareness, Brand Interaction, Brand Connection, Brand Popularity, and Motivation.
  • Take away key insights into why some brand succeed, while others struggle, with these Millennials and Gen Z consumers.
  • These brands have been selected from a wide range of categories, including social causes, media and entertainment, retail, technology, and consumer packaged goods.

Become a co-sponsor of this actionable today! Increase your brand’s youth standing tomorrow.

Will Young People Vote?

picture2

Once again we are in an election cycle where the results could hinge on a simple question:  will young people vote? Galvanizing youth turnout is a key strategy for all candidates. It is perhaps not an exaggeration to say that Millennial voters hold the key to the future political leadership of the country.

But, this is nothing specific to Millennials and to this election. Young voters have effectively been the “swing vote” since the election of Kennedy in 1960. Yet, young voter turnout is consistently low relative to other age groups.

The 26th Amendment was ratified in 1971 giving 18-21 year olds the right to vote for the first time. This means that anyone born in 1953 or later has never been of age at a time when they could not vote in a Presidential election. So, only those who are currently 64 or older (approximately) will have turned 18 at a time when they were not enfranchised.

This right did not come easily. The debate about lowering the voting age started in earnest during World War II, as many soldiers under 21 (especially those drafted into the armed forces) didn’t understand how they could be expected to sacrifice so much for a country if they did not have a say in how it was governed. The movement gained steam during the cultural revolution of the 1960’s and culminated in the passage of the 26th Amendment.

Young people celebrated their new found right to vote, and then promptly failed to take advantage of it. The chart below shows 18-24 year old voter turnout compared to totalvoter turnout for all Presidential election years since the 26th Amendment was ratified.

picture1

Much was made of Obama’s success in galvanizing the young vote in 2008. However, there was only a 2 percentage point gain increase in young voter turnout in 2008 versus 2004. As the chart shows, there was a big falloff in young voter participation in 1996 and 2000, which were the last elections before Millennials comprised the bulk of the 18-24 age group.

It remains that young voters are far less likely to vote than older adults and that trend is likely to continue.

A Math Myth?

math_symbols_m

I just finished reading The Math Myth: And Other STEM Delusions by Andrew Hacker. I found the book to be so provocative and interesting that it merits the first ever book review on this blog.

The central thesis of the book is that in the US, we (meaning policy makers, educators, parents, and employers) have become obsessed with raising rigor and academic standards in math. This obsession has reached a point where we are convinced that our national security, international business competitiveness, and hegemony as an economic power rides on improving the math skills of all our high school and college graduates.

Hacker questions this national fixation. First, raising math standards has some serious costs. Not only has it caused significant disruption within schools and among educators and parents (ask any educator about the upheaval the Common Core has caused), but it has also cost significant money. But, most importantly, Hacker makes a strong case that raising of math standards has ensured that many students will be left behind and unprepared for the future.

Currently, about one in four high school students does not complete high school. Once enrolled in college, only a bit more than half of enrollees will graduate. While there are many reasons for these failures, Hacker points out that the chief ACADEMIC reason is math.

I think everyone can think of someone who struggled mightily in math. I personally took Calculus in high school and two further courses in college. I have often wondered why. It seemed to be more of a rite of passage than an academic pursuit with any realistic end in mind for me. It was certainly painful.

Math has humbled many a bright young person. I have a niece who was an outstanding high school student (an honors student, took multiple AP courses, etc.). She went to a reputable four-year college. In her first year at college, she failed a required math course in Calculus. This remains the only course she had gotten below a B in during her entire academic life. Her college-mandated math experience made her feel like a failure and reconsider whether she belonged in college. Fortunately for her she had good supports in place and succeeded in her second go round at the course. Many others are not so lucky.

And to what end? My niece has ended up in a quantitative field and is succeeding nicely. Yet, I doubt she has ever had to calculate the area under a curve, run a derivative, or understand a differential equation.

The reality is very few people do. Hacker, using Bureau of Labor Statistics data, estimates that about 5% of the US workforce currently uses math beyond basic arithmetic in their jobs. This means that only about 1 in 20 of our students will need to know basic algebra or beyond in their employment. 95% will do just fine with the math that most people master by the end of 8th grade.

And, despite the focus on STEM education, Hacker uses BLS data to show that the number of engineering jobs in the US is projected to grow at a slower rate than the economy as a whole. In addition, despite claims by policy makers that there is a dearth of qualified engineers, real wages for engineers have been falling and not rising, implying that supply is exceeding demand.

Yet, our high school standards and college entry standards require a mastery of not just algebra, but also geometry and trigonometry.

Most two-year colleges have a math test that all incoming students must pass – regardless of the program of study they intend to follow. As anyone who has worked with community colleges can attest to, remediation of math skills for incoming students is a major issue two-year institutions face. Hacker questions this. Why, for example, should a student intending to study cosmetology need to master algebra? When is the last time your haircutter needed to understand how to factor a polynomial?

The problem lies in what the requirement that all students master advanced math skills does to people’s lives unnecessarily. Many aspiring cosmetologists won’t pass this test and won’t end up enrolling in the program and will have to find new careers because they cannot get licensed. What interest does this serve?

Market research is a quantitative field. Perhaps not as much as engineering and sciences, but our field is focused on numbers and statistics and making sense of them. However, in about 30 years of working with researchers and hiring them, I can tell you that I have not once encountered a single researcher who doesn’t have the technical math background necessary to succeed. In fact, I’d say that most of the researchers I’ve known have mastered the math necessary for our field by the time they entered high school.

However, I have encountered many researchers who do not have the interpretive skills needed to draw insights from the data sets we gather. And, I’d say that MOST of the researchers I have encountered cannot write well and cannot communicate findings effectively to their clients.

Hacker calls these skills “numeracy” and advocates strongly for them. Numeracy skills are what the vast majority of our graduates truly need to master.  These are practical numerical skills, beyond the life skills that we are often concerned about (e.g. understanding the impact of debt, how compound interest works, how to establish a family budget).  Numeracy (which requires basic arithmetic skills) is making sense of the world by using numbers, and being able to critically understand the increasing amount of numerical data that we are exposed to.

Again, I have worked with researchers who have advanced skills in Calculus and multivariate statistical methods, yet have few skills in numeracy. Can you look at some basic cross-tabs and tell a story? Can you be presented with a marketing situation and think of how we can use research to gather data to make a decision more informed? These skills, rather than advanced mathematical or statistical skills, are what are truly valued in our field. If you are in our field for long, you’ll noticed that the true stars of the field (and the people being paid the most) are rarely the math and statistical jedis – they tend to be the people who have mastered both numeracy and communication.

This isn’t the first time our country has become obsessed with STEM achievement. I can think of three phases in the past century where we’ve become similarly single-minded about education. The first was the launch of Sputnik in 1957.This caused a near panic in the US that we were falling behind the Soviets and our educational system changed significantly as a result. The second was the release of the Coleman Report in 1966.This report criticized the way schools are funded and, based on a massive study, concluded that spending additional money on education did not necessarily create greater achievement. It once again produced a near-panic that our schools were not keeping up, and many educational reforms were made. The third “shock” came in the form of A Nation at Risk, which was published during the Gen X era in 1983. This governmental report basically stated that our nation’s schools were failing. Panicked policy makers responded with reforms, perhaps the most important being that the federal government started taking on an activist role in education. We now have the “Common Core Era” – which, if you take a long view, can be seen as history repeating itself.

Throughout all of these shocks, the American economy thrived. While other economies have become more competitive, for some reason we have come to believe that if we can just get more graduates that understand differential equations, we’ll somehow be able to embark on a second American century.

Many of the criticisms Hacker levies towards math have parallels in other subjects. Yes, I am in a highly quantitative field and I haven’t had to know what a quadratic equation is since I was 16 years old. But, I also haven’t had to conjugate French verbs, analyze Shakespearean sonnets, write poetry, or know what Shay’s Rebellion was all about. We study many things that don’t end up being directly applicable to our careers or day-to-day lives. That is part of becoming a well-rounded person and an intelligent citizen. There is nothing wrong with learning for the sake of learning.

However, there are differences in math. Failure to progress sufficiently in math prevents movement forward in our academic system – and prevents pursuit of formal education in fields that don’t require these skills. We don’t stop people from becoming welders, hair-cutters, or auto mechanics because they can’t grasp the nuances of literature, speak a foreign language, or have knowledge of US History. But, if they don’t know algebra, we don’t let them enroll in these programs.

This is in no way a criticism of the need to encourage capable students from studying advanced math. As we can all attest to whenever we drive over a bridge, drive a car, use social media, or receive medical treatment, having incredible engineers is essential to the quality of our life. We should all want the 5% of the workforce that needs advanced math skills to be as well trained as possible.Our future world depends on them. Fortunately, the academic world is set up for them and rewards them.

But, we do have to think of alternative educational paths for the significant number of young people who will, at some point, find math to be a stumbling block to their future.

I highly recommend reading this book. Even if you do not agree with its premise or conclusions, it is a good example of how we need to think critically about our public policy declarations and the unintended consequences they can cause.

If you don’t have the time or inclination to read the entire book, Hacker wrote an editorial for the NY Times that eventually spawned the book. It is linked below.

Is Algebra Necessary?

 

Congratulations to Truth Initiative!

Congratulations again to our client, Truth Initiative!  Last week Truth won 4 Effies and 2 Big Apple awards for its anti-tobacco campaigns.

Read more about these wins here:  truth campaign grabs 4 effies, 2 big apple awards.

Asking about gender and sexual orientation on surveys

When composing questionnaires, there are times when the simplest of questions have to adjust to fit the times. Questions we draft become catalysts for larger discussions. That has been the case with what was once the most basic of all questions – asking a respondent for their gender.

This is probably the most commonly asked question in the history of survey research. And it seems basic – we typically just ask:

  • Are you… male or female?

Or, if we are working with younger respondents, we ask:

  • Are you … a boy or a girl?

The question is almost never refused and I’ve never seen any research to suggest this is anything other than a highly reliable measure.

Simple, right?

But, we are in the midst of an important shift in the social norms towards alternative gender classifications. Traditionally, meaning up until a couple of years ago, if we wanted to classify homosexual respondents we wouldn’t come right out and ask the question, for fear that it would be refused or be found to be an offensive question for many respondents. Instead, we would tend to ask respondents to check off a list of causes that they support. If they chose “gay rights”, we would then go ahead and ask if they were gay or straight. Perhaps this was too politically correct, but it was an effective way to classify respondents in a way that wasn’t likely to offend.

We no longer ask it that way. We still ask if the respondent is male or female, but we follow up to ask if they are heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, etc.

We recently completed a study among 4-year college students where we posed this question.  Results were as follows:

  • Heterosexual = 81%
  • Bisexual = 8%
  • Lesbian = 3%
  • Gay = 2%
  • Transgender = 1%
  • Other = 2%
  • Refused to answer = 3%

First, it should be noted that 3% refused to answer is less than the 4% that refused to answer the race/ethnicity question on the same survey.  Conclusion:  asking today’s college students about sexual orientation is less sensitive than asking them about their race/ethnicity.

Second, it is more important than ever to ask this question. These data show that about 1 in 5 college students identify as NOT being heterosexual. Researchers need to start viewing these students as a segment, just as we do age or race. This is the reality of the Millennial market:  they are more likely to self-identify as not being heterosexual and more likely to be accepting of alternative lifestyles. Failure to understand this group results in a failure to truly understand the generation.

We have had three different clients ask us if we should start asking this question younger – to high school or middle school students. For now, we are advising against it unless the study has clear objectives that point to a need. Our reasoning for this is not that we feel the kids will find the question to be offensive, but that their parents and educators (whom we are often reliant on to be able to survey minors) might. We think that will change over time as well.

So, perhaps nothing is as simple as it seems.

“I wish that I could be like the cool kids”

In today’s digital environment, marketers are often seeking a viral way to spread news about their product or to stoke a trend. Traditional thinking was that trends spread predictably. Trends were seen to launch on the west coast (usually from urban environments), spread to the east coast, and eventually make their way to middle America and a mass market. This is why so many “cool seeker” or “trend seeker” researcher panels were established. By connecting to the cool kids in the right environments, marketers could get an early sense of what was going to happen next and get on board for the ride. They could seed ideas with the right audience and let nature take its course.

The Internet has largely blown up this paradigm. It has become a great “leveler” of youth trends. Now, a trend can start anywhere, become viral seemingly randomly, and spin out of control quickly. A geographic center of trends is hard to pinpoint if it exists at all. In research, “trend seeker” panels have become more of an oddity in market research – and have been supplanted largely by online communities of teens from across the country.

How can a communications and “connecting” technology (the Internet) have such a profound impact on how innovations and trends take hold?

Innovation diffusion to the mainstream has been the subject of academic study for some time.  Perhaps the most seminal work in the field came in 1962 when Everett Rogers published The Diffusion of Innovations. This book has been required reading at MBA marketing programs for more than 50 years.

In this book, Rogers outlines a classic theory. Innovators (2-3% of the population) start using a product. Early adopters (10%-15%) see what the innovators are doing and jump on board quickly. Next, the early majority (30%-35%) jumps on board as the hype around the product peaks. The late majority (30%-34%) gets on board. Finally, eventually the laggards (10%-15%) join in.

For decades, this thinking caused marketers to focus a disproportionate effort on the innovators – the 2%-3% of the population that supposedly spark new trends. This concept is the underpinning of why marketing dollars flow towards young people, urban consumers, minorities, etc. as marketers hope to start a chain reaction through the Rogers segments. Why have we had such a focus on youth marketing? It isn’t because they have a lot of money to spend, as compared to other age segments they don’t.  It is because marketers feel they are influential.

New media and viral marketing has made this thinking even more prevalent. If we can just reach the influencers, we’ll let loose a viral effect and sell a lot of product. Unfortunately, this thinking is a good example of applying an old paradigm to a new world.

Even in the pre-Internet past, this thinking tended to work more on a “fad” than a “trend” level. To illustrate this, in presentations I often ask the audience to write down what they think the most successful marketing brands and products have been in the past 10 years that are youth-oriented. I pause, and then list them out on a whiteboard. Typical responses are as follows:

  • The iPhone
  • Harry Potter franchise
  • American Idol
  • Barbie
  • National Football League
  • Various Boy Bands

I then point out that franchises like these, which have hit it incredibly big with youth, all have one thing in common. They didn’t diffuse to the mainstream in the Rogers fashion. They didn’t start by being popular with cool kids. Rather, they found a way to go directly to the mainstream. Oftentimes, they got there by being shunned by the cool kids.

I believe the rise of the Internet will eventually (once they catch on) cause marketers to stop thinking in the traditional way about how new trends diffuse to the mainstream. The introverted kid in the Midwest who has a popular blog is fast becoming more influential than the hipster on the street in Los Angeles. Marketers will find more direct tributaries to the mainstream, and the cool hunter research panels that still exist in the market research industry will disappear.

Millennials as Entrepreneurs?

shark-tank-sharks

A few years back, I followed a symposium speaker who described how today’s youth generation (Millennials) were likely to be highly entrepreneurial. Her reasoning seemed to be that big ideas and companies tend to be launched by young trendy people willing to take risks, that experiences such as the founding of Facebook show how far technology can take a young person with big ideas, and that there are so many Millennials that big things were about to happen.

I disagree. Here is a prognostication to file and look at in about 20 years: when all is said and done, history will judge Millennials as one of the LEAST entrepreneurial of the recent generations.

Why? There are some key characteristics of Millennials that lead strongly to this conclusion.

  1. Millennials are risk-averse. If you look at long term trends on almost any risk behavior, you will see that Millennials are on the good side of history.  Drug, alcohol, and tobacco use has plummeted, crimes committed by young people have declined, teen pregnancy rates are at their lowest in decades, and college attendance is at an all-time high.
  2. Millennials have grown up in a world of structure and protection. This is a “comfortable” generation that largely hasn’t felt a need to act out or to fend for themselves as children.  Just a generation ago Gen Xers were known as lightly-parented, latch-key kids, who as a consequence had to learn to find their own creative solutions to problems they encountered.  Millennials have not had to develop these types of skills. In fact, many Millennials expect to move back in with their parents for a time post-college, and much of this boomerang mentality is from a desire to return to their parents, not just out of economic necessity.
  3. As Millennials have come of age, the education system has evolved in a narrow way, with an almost exclusive focus and reward structure around STEM fields. Many would say that creativity has become collateral damage along the way. This develops college graduates with incredible technical skills, but boxes them in creatively.
  4. Today’s employers are focusing more than ever on the care and feeding of their Millennial employees. They no longer hire gobs of college graduates and let them fight their way to the top.  Rather, they have instituted career advancement and mentorship programs and seem much more willing to invest in the development of their young employees.
  5. Finally, Millennials seek structure and security in employment. Each year Universum conducts a college student survey which asks pending college graduates whom their ideal employer is. Just as the Millennial generation started graduating college, larger organizations, former startups that had become huge companies, and even governmental agencies started taking over the top 10. Would you believe that the #3 most desirable employer among humanities graduates is currently the US Department of State? Or that #4 is the United Nations? Or that #6 is the FBI? Incredibly, even the NSA makes the top 10.

Millennials seem perfectly formed for larger organizations that take the time truly understand them. They will desire the structure and caring these organizations can provide as it parallels the structure and caring that has surrounded them their whole lives.  They will of course want to be able to express their ideas and find creative solutions to problems.  What we are now seeing in large organizations is a willingness to allow them to do so.

This is not to say that in 20 years we won’t look back and see some incredible firms that were started by Millennials, as we certainly will. But, compared to their Gen X predecessors, I’ll be very surprised if this generation is characterized as entrepreneurial in a historical sense.