How might we design for individual identities among millennials seeking to differentiate themselves through product choices and experiences? Beyond the basic needs such as food, shelter, clothes and security, there are also higher needs for novel experiences, to differentiate oneself with unique identity markers, and to enhance quality of life through the consumption choices one makes.
Much has been written about the shifts in consumption behaviour among millennials, who are today in their 30s, mid-career adults who are at the peak of their spending prowess. With Asia being the hub of economic development and with an ever-expanding middle class, brands have to keep up with connecting to millennial consumers who are more discerning in their choices. While status consumption used to mean owning and consuming expensive and exclusive luxurious products, it is now much more than that; there is a demand to involve experiences, lifestyle values and new ways of defining identity.
Through their consumption choices, millennials have signalled an expectation for brands to help them participate in the global conversation on sustainability. A trend of responsible consumerism is now becoming mainstream with major brands, including Ikea and Nike, rushing to align with social movements like gender equality, poverty eradication and fair trade. FMCG conglomerates have also been placing themselves in these conversations, leading and championing more sustainable packaging and environmentally friendly products and manufacturing processes. In short, when millennials consume, they want to feel they are making responsible and better choices.
Consider the case of fashion. The Denim Project is the brainchild of a small Onomichi Denim Shop in Japan, and successfully marries personalisation with a sense of community purpose to create a high fashion everyday life using the conspicuous modern lifestyle streetwear symbol – jeans. The Denim Project is a perfect example of how consumption has evolved beyond the material possession. Functional benefits to experiences are anchored in identity considerations, offering consumers an artisanal feel and quality paired with a strong product story.
Each pair of jeans comes with its own story:
“Every local who joins the project is assigned two pairs of jeans to wear in rotation throughout the year. Mikihiro Wada, the manager of the shop, and his team collect the jeans every Thursday and put them through a special denim wash that cleans the jeans without removing the stains, before returning them to the participants. After a year, each pair of authentically faded jeans bears the hallmark of the wearer’s specific occupation and life. “Our goal is twofold,” explains Wada. “To promote Onomichi to the outside world as well as draw attention to the region’s denim industry.”
Consuming and experiencing identities; connecting community
Consumers who purchase the jeans are not just consuming a product. They are experiencing vicariously another person’s identity, living in the shoes (or pants) of different craftsmen and tradesmen including monks, boat and jet ski instructors, metalworkers, and fishermen. Each pair of jeans connects a group with a story to share, and another group who has a desire to learn and empathise. It allows the consumer to experience a meaningful product story, and in the process giving the highest honour and recognition to a group of highly skilled craftsmen, delighted by the interest others take in them and their lives.
Brands can think of similar meaningful approaches to creating stories and experiences that appeal to millennials who are looking for quality and authenticity, that speak to them and their idiosyncratic identity projects.