Sharalyn-HeadshotIn our second Forum Preview interview, we sit down with Sharalyn Hartwell, Executive Director of Frank N. Magid Associates. Hartwell’s extensive research on Plurals–a term her firm coined to describe the generation following Millennials–will be the subject of her talk at the TimesCenter on November 7th. Below, Hartwell discusses in depth the Plural profile, the ways in which the group differs from Millennials, and why she believes our Forum audience of luxury brand executives will be very interested to learn more about this rising group of young consumers.

What do you do as Executive Director at Magid?
I’m a consultant specializing in using generational expertise to help Fortune 500 clients develop engaging marketing strategies, compelling sales narratives and innovative thought leadership strategies. I look at broad societal trends, which enables me to provide my clients with perspective that compels them to think about their business differently.

How did you get interested in this kind of work? 
Since my first job in media in college, I’ve worked with clients on how to use my company’s product–whether it was TV ads, event marketing, or now, research–to help them be more profitable. I absolutely love it when I plant a seed that blooms into a great idea and leads to revenue for a client. It’s the best feeling. Plus, I love learning about different industries and connecting the dots in seemingly unrelated consumer behaviors and attitudes across industries.

Where does the Generational research fit in?
That’s a long story.  Let’s just say, I fell into it and the understanding came very naturally. Maybe because I’m a Millennial with Silent parents and Xer brothers and always related to older people.

Speaking of Millennials and Xers, what are Plurals exactly? And where did the name come from? 
Next year, Plurals will constitute the entire youth population in America. The youngest Millennial turns 18 in 2014, making the 17-and-under crowd members of a new generation called the Pluralist Generation. The name is a reflection of our increasingly fragmented society, with this fragmentation serving as the primary influence on how these young people view the world. Magid coined the term after years of research; use of the name is steadily increasing.

What are the biggest differences between Millennials and Plurals?
Two things primarily shape a generation and its collective mindset: the environment they grew up in and their parents. Millennials were raised by idealistic Baby Boomers, while Plurals are being raised by pragmatic and cynical Gen Xers. The world is very different now, so in addition to the fragmentation and lack of majority I mentioned earlier, we’re also in a recession instead of the strong economy of the late ’80s and ’90s. As a result, we’re seeing more independence and pragmatic realism among Plurals, whereas Millennials are known for their cohort perspective and optimism.

How important is digital to Plurals?
Millennials are often called Digital Natives, but truthfully, that term belongs to Plurals. Digital is inherently part of who they are and their life experience. Because parents today are posting pictures and videos of their children, sometimes before they are even born, virtually all Americans have an online presence by age two. They will know nothing other than a digital world. Along those lines, mobile will also play a significant role to Plurals. Not only is getting their own phone a milestone for independence (much like getting a driver’s license or car was for previous generations), it also signifies how indispensable Internet access is for them. Plurals don’t think about getting an Internet connection or wifi access, it just happens. It’s always there, like electricity.

Uh-oh, it sounds like we’re getting another generation of entitled 20-somethings, which the term ‘Millennial’ has become synonymous with. Will Plurals get a similar bad rep? 
I doubt it. For starters, their Gen X parents probably won’t let them! Everything we see in our research shows that the Gen X parenting style is more “fighter jet” than the “helicopter” that was so characteristic of Boomers. Xer parenting is more about teaching their children how to be successful than the Boomer style of giving them what they need to be successful.

These are all really thought-provoking points, but isn’t human behavior too varied to neatly group millions of people into such broad categories? What are the limitations and qualifiers of this kind of research? 
Yes, behaviors and circumstances are quite varied, especially in our increasingly fragmented society. However, the generational lens becomes incredibly powerful for businesses, because it can depict the root cause of behaviors and trends that often baffle marketers. When a group of people experiences something (we call these societal factors) at a similar life stage or age, it fosters a collective mindset, or way they view the world. These mindsets are generally the root cause of consumer behaviors and expectations. While it certainly doesn’t hold true for every single person, it is broad enough to enable businesses to market and plan more efficiently.

The audience at The Forum will be predominately luxury brand executives–what can they expect to hear from you that will be valuable to their professional mission? 
Understanding Plurals isn’t just about planning for the future, it’s about providing critical insight into current consumers like their Gen X parents. The combination of this Gen X parenting style and their developing mindsets will give luxury brands a sense of their consumer trajectory and help them build the roadmap for future planning.

Do you see Plurals being luxury brands’ future target consumers? How do you think attracting their business will differ from attracting Millennials’?
In many ways, I think Plurals may be a breath of fresh air for luxury brands after the challenges of marketing to Millennials. Having to appeal to community participation and being a part of something larger than themselves has been critical for brands in creating that connection with Millennial consumers. For Plurals, however, I think classic exclusivity will once again be the draw.

For more information on attending The Forum, please visit our event site or contact Marketing Director Sierra Schaller.

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