A millennial’s perspective on business trends

BY ZACHARY HORNER, News + Record Staff
Posted 3/20/20

I recently attended the Chatham Economic Development Corporation’s “Opportunity Chatham” event in Pittsboro, which meant that I got to hear about the latest in opportunity, Chatham and economic …

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A millennial’s perspective on business trends

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I recently attended the Chatham Economic Development Corporation’s “Opportunity Chatham” event in Pittsboro, which meant that I got to hear about the latest in opportunity, Chatham and economic development. Guess it lived up to its name.

I figured I’d write a Corner Store entry about it, but wasn’t sure what angle it was going to take. Ted Abernathy’s talk, however, which focused on trends that are affecting economic development, gave me the angle.

Abernathy, the managing partner of economic development consulting firm Economic Leadership, focused his address on trends that seem certain to affect both the world and Chatham and how companies and businesses can respond. He mentioned millennials a few times, and since I’m a millennial, born in 1992, I figured I could give some insight into what he talked about.

Perhaps it could be helpful to you business owners out there to hear directly from a millennial about what we’re really like, what popular culture gets right and gets wrong. So here are some thoughts:

The world is moving faster indeed.

This was one of Abernathy’s first points, that the increased speed of the world has changed how business and economic development works. He spoke about it in the context of “speed to market.” For you non-business people out there, that basically means the time it takes for a product to be designed to when it hits shelves, physical or digital.

We millennials like things quickly — high-speed internet, fast food drive-thrus and songs downloaded to our phones anywhere in the world are things we’ve become accustomed to in our lifetimes. We’re probably a bit spoiled in that way, but speed definitely affects what decisions we make when it comes to spending money and engaging in business.

Technology has improved.

Like I just mentioned, technology has improved to where you can buy a song from the iTunes Music store on your phone and be listening to it in your Air Pods within seconds. That technology makes the world faster, and we millennials like it. Another specific example self-checkouts at grocery stores and other businesses. I’ve even seen them in CVS locations.

We now expect every business to have at least a website and a Facebook page, if not also an Instagram and/or Twitter account. Oftentimes, those platforms are our introduction to products or companies, and if you don’t have one of those, you might miss out on our business.

Disruption is real.

Abernathy spoke about the power of market disruption — companies like Spotify, Airbnb and GrubHub changing the way we go about spending money and living our lives. I’ve been a Spotify Premium subscriber for years and only download songs from iTunes when I want to support a specific artist. I’ve stayed at an Airbnb instead of getting a hotel room because Airbnbs are often cheaper and feel more like home.

There are some areas where disruption is going to be tough. At this point, Amazon looks unbeatable. Facebook still has incredible power over our social media lives, and platforms that followed quickly like Instagram and Snapchat continue to be a constant presence on our phones. If you want to disrupt the market — locally or worldwide — with something new, it better be attractive enough to take us away from what we’ve committed to, because we’re incredibly loyal and we swear by our favorites.

We care about how you conduct your business almost as much as what your business is.

With a few exceptions, millennials are conscious of how a company and its leaders behave themselves when we go shopping. Just look at Chick-fil-A and how big a reputation hit it took in 2012 when the company’s COO said America is “inviting God’s judgment” upon it by being OK with gay marriage.

Whether or not it affected Chick-fil-A’s bottom line overall is a different story — I know people who spent more there after the controversy, so it was probably a wash — but that’s probably the prime example in my lifetime of how factors outside of the product itself can affect a company’s image. A lot of us millennials don’t mess around when it comes to that. This extends to actors and musicians and athletes as well — just Google “cancel culture.”

We’re loyal, but don’t expect constant consistency.

Every generation’s probably had some of this, but we have products and businesses we swear by, and we get there different ways. I’ve bought Old Spice soap for years, partly because of the “Man Your Man Can Smell Like” commercials. For some reason, most millennials love avocado and won’t give it up for anything.

But we’re also quite fickle. Facebook is still important in some ways, but when our parents and grandparents joined, it wasn’t “our thing” anymore and we jumped ship. We were the generation that grew up wanting Beanie Babies, but when’s the last time you saw one?

Some things have lasted: the creators of Pokemon still sell cards and their immensely popular video games. And sometimes the desire for something lasts, even if the platform changes: Vine died and has been replaced, more or less, with TikTok.

We’re a weird bunch, but we’re the present and the future, and I’d argue that understanding us is crucial to the survival of businesses everywhere. So keep listening.

Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at zhorner@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @ZachHornerCNR.

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