Millennials and the Recession Trends: Innoventing, Neo-Bartering, and Q-Rewarding

We welcome your comments on the article written by Cheryl Swanson, Principal at Toniq, USA

Turn on the TV, look at the front-page of a newspaper, or go to your local mall and it is obvious that we are not recovering from the recession as quickly as some economists had predicted. We still have some of the highest unemployment rates in history (9.1% for Sept 2011 according to the US Labor Department), an ongoing protest against government greed called Occupy Wall Street that is quickly becoming the global campaign Occupy Together, and retailers worried about holiday sales at all levels with major companies bringing back lay-a-way programs. These are really alarming signs entering into an election year. And this is just the general observation.

If we look more specifically at Millennials, those born between 1982-2002 (9-29 years old), they have been hit the worst. They are the largest generation in history and are getting short-changed by what is going on in the world – economically, politically and environmentally.

1. they are also known as Gen-Y, Echo Boomers, Generation Me, the Boomerang and Peter Pan generation…for good reasons
2. they are educated, competitive and unemployed—as of May 2011 the unemployment rate for 16-24 year olds was 17.6% (NYTimes)
3. they have more debt at a younger age and are more financially dependent on their parents than any other generation
4. they are not slackers, they just feel entitled
5. 10 years of their life has been lived fighting a war where many lost friends and family members along the way
6. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not the hot, new holiday toy, it’s an environmental disaster they will have to solve
7. socials are not dances, they are online networks
8. cell phones are not for talking
9. they like being rewarded, financially, digitally, and socially
10. they are confident but need to be reassured, and reassured, and reassured
11. their optimism is quickly turning to uncertainty

It’s depressing to see the reality of the lives of this generation. This is not the world we wanted. But on the brighter side…

1. they are tech-savvy digital natives
2. they have an entrepreneurial spirit that is only getting stronger
3. they are co-creators who want to be a part of the building process
4. they want to save the world, even if it’s passively donating funds via text or “liking” a Facebook page
5. they like to be heard and will voice their opinion because they know it matters
6. they are highly creative and innovative in surviving this economy

So in effect, the millennials are generating 3 key trends: Innoventing, Neo-Bartering, and Q-Rewarding.

They say you can’t reinvent the wheel, but millennials definitely believe they can make it better. They are innovative inventors that are re-creating and bettering existing products and technologies. For example, millennials have already recreated the modern English language based on being digital natives. WTF, it’s true! It’s their version of digital shorthand that most of us use. AWHFY? LOL. R U OOT? Scary, but true. And let’s not forget that Mark Zuckerberg is a millennial, born in 1984. His creation of Facebook has forever reinvented the way we socialize and stay connected. These are huge, but check out where a slew of young inventors are posting up their projects looking for funding. There’s everything from eco-friendly wallets, smartphone robots, to surfboards made of recycled bottles. And I have to mention, the creators of Kickstarter, Yancey Strickler is 31 and Perry Chen is 34, the upper cusp of this generation. This entrepreneurial spirit, especially in this economy, drives Millennials to succeed.

Most millennials start their adult life with compounding debt from school loans to credit cards. This leaves very little for frivolous spending. Leave it to millennials to figure out a way to still get what they want. It’s called neo-bartering, the modern age version of buy, sell, or trade. Consignment shopping has been on the rise since the economy took a dive. We are seeing more stores like Buffalo Exchange, Beacon’s Closet, Plato’s Closet, Play It Again Sports, and Once Upon A Child popping up all over the nation. These are stores where you bring in your “gently used” clothes, accessories and sporting goods for either cash or trade-in credit. And because we are upgrading our cellphones and computers all the time, there are barter sites for old tech toys as well. Most of the major tech retailers have started “trade-in” centers where you get a credit for recycling your old technology. There’s also the online version, you can barter just about anything on Craigslist. Steven Ortiz is an 18 year old from Glendora, CA that traded his old cell phone up to a Porsche on Craigslist. It took him 2 years, but he went from an old cell phone and bartered his way up to a running convertible Porsche that he drives to school. That’s neo-bartering at its best!

Did I mention that millennials like to be reassured and rewarded? For every action they want a quick reaction and quick reward. Incentive programs have been the key to reaching this consumer group. Heading into it’s 5th year, Teens for Jeans asks for action and reacts with rewards. The action is to bring your old jeans to Aeropostale to donate to a local homeless shelter. The reaction and reward is a 25% discount off a new pair of jeans from Aeropostale and the reassured feeling that you are doing something positive for the community and getting a good deal. Other examples that are less philanthropic but just as successful include Klout perks, Foursquare and Facebook Places check-in deals, and Twitter re-tweet rewarding.  This is a generation that expects quick rewards for their actions. If you want to reach them, give them an incentive and a reward.

These are just 3 macro trends we see happening right now. We will continue to track these along with other millennial trends in upcoming articles. If you would like to know more about millennial consumers and trends, please email us at or tweet us @brandeffervesce.

About the Author

Ms. Swanson founded Toniq in 1999 after leading several design firms to world-class status with her emotions-based, visual approach to brand strategy development. At Toniq, she continues to evolve her strategic expertise by seeking new ways to connect with consumers.

Swanson’s years of trend tracking, design management and research have coalesced in a theory of “Brand Effervescence ™” an innovative approach to brand building. This image-based approach is a synthesis of cultural anthropology, consumer trends research, marketing and design, and a study of the psychology of symbolism and color.