Even as we pull out of the economic downturn, many are still curtailing spending because a new meaning of "value" is taking hold. This shift is particularly prominent among what we call the "Post-88s" -- females, age 22 and under -- who have grown up with social media. Their story of self-identity and its impact on value is so distinct from the older half of the Gen Y population that they can no longer be considered as one market.
Count the Post-88s at the head of the pack when it comes to seeking to discover and express more of their true identity. For them to approve a product, it must reflect and expand these young women's sense of authenticity. Everything else is simply lost in translation.
Internet, a collection of tools to expand self
While marketers regard the Internet as a sales tool, young women see it as a collection of tools to help them expand their sense of self. Social networks have provided them a way to find like-minded others, peers, who validate their identity and its idiosyncratic displays, even though it may be different than the norm.
Young women are no longer forced to subvert their inner truths to accommodate man-made mass media fantasies and expectations. The online experience has given young females permission to talk among themselves. Their access to validation, alternative viewpoints, and support has expanded from local to global. They have at last been freed from consensually agreed upon, mass-produced versions of reality.
All the musts, oughts, and shoulds these females have been pressured by have been torn asunder by social media. All the superficial, sliced-and-diced definitions of gender, sexiness, fashion, style, and design have become irrelevant. In the face of such notions, they are shouting, "That's not right for me."
There is also an irony operating; the silver lining to online is that without the intrusion of the body that inevitably gets in the way in face-to-face interactions, these young females are freer to explore their identity, beliefs, and attachments. They establish a sense of self far beyond looks, economic standing, race, or what brand of handbag they prefer.
Marketers must discover new truths
To be successful tomorrow, marketers today must stop manufacturing and start discovering the needs and desires of the Post-88 female.
What is femaleness? What does it mean to want to be a girl? What does it mean to be comfortable being a young adult female? What is sexy to a girl? What does it mean to be true to oneself? Certainly the answers will not be found devoting one's life to the pursuit of the perfect body, perfect hair, the perfect man, and the perfect house -- at least how marketers define "perfect" today. The post-1988 female knows these traditional pursuits do not necessarily lead to happiness.
The new complexity requires understanding how the Post-88 female rides the cusp between silly and serious, sexy and smart, pretty and powerful.
For example, makeup now is not usually put on to produce perfection, and cosmetics are best not signified and aspirationally portrayed by the mass acclaimed celebrity. Britney or Cameron are not the base coin of the young female. Makeup to them is more fun and playful, as opposed to satisfying any preconceived ideal.
A similar dynamic is at work in what these post-88s want from their smart phones: function and fun. As far as business dress, the question is, what to wear when a suit doesn't suit you?
Other product domains should also take heed. Even for the younger female, toys need not only to be cute, but also entertaining. For the older, young adult, who, for the first time might be furnishing an apartment, almost all of the furniture in her price range seems overprocessed, instead of allowing for discovering one's "look." It's not "new" and "more" that these girls are looking for as much as it is expressing themselves in the design of their environment, both self and sofa with a patina that gets better with age.
The Post-88 female wants to feel good about her choices, existential or mundane. If marketers want to increase the return on investment for their product development and advertising dollars, they will have to understand the identities of what this young adult calls "me."
To create products that are not yet on the shelves that girls will approve of calls for a deeper understanding of this population than designers and marketers now exhibit. Every product aimed at the post-1988 female will have to demonstrate to these girls that "I get you." Only then will the girls commit.
The "Post-1988s" who came of age at the dawn of social media want what makes her more of her and makes her female. She wants "me as me," as an individual and as a way to belong. She'll buy into that with her increasing purchasing power.
Heidi Dangelmaier is founder and president of 3iying (www.3iying.com) and Girlapproved, a company that invents products and brands that "get" the girl.
Dr. Bob Deutsch is the founder and president of consulting firm Brain Sells. He has worked in the primeval forest and on Pennsylvania and Madison Avenues. His focus, since the mid-’70s, when he was living with pre-literate tribes and chimpanzees, has been to understand how leading ideas take hold in cultures. Since opening Brain Sells, in 1990, he has applied this understanding to how people attach to products, persons and performances. He is fond of saying, "Reasoned judgment about attributes is not the issue. The brain evolved to act, NOT to think." Bran Sells’ retail clients include: TJ Maxx, Marshall's, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Home Goods, Radio Shack,Sephora, Verizon stores, McDonald’s, Dunkin Donuts, and Toyota.