The Bucket List: What Motivates Millennials?

Millennials are recalibrating what it means to have a successful life.  This shift in values was already underway before the Recession, and has accelerated as the new economic reality sets in.

Longitudinal research by CIRP has shown a shift in life aspirations. Relative to people of the same age in 1977, young adults in 2007 are more likely to agree they aspire to civic goals such as ‘helping people in difficulty’ and’ influencing social values’ in addition to the more traditional goals of ‘raising a family’ and ‘becoming financially successful’.

Millennials are making life choices based a broader definition of success and one that is more attuned to experiences than material goods.

In a recent blog post, Mullen strategic planner, Stephen Hahn Griffiths, describes this as a shift toward a ‘we’ orientation. Hahn-Griffiths calls this striving for life enrichment increasing ‘personal currency’.

“Millennials are looking to make their mark on the world and work towards enhancing their net-worth and self-worth. To them, money is more likely to be the means than the end. They recognize financial security yields opportunity, and thus, take an active interest in financial strategy. They’re looking to take control of their finances, and meet their financial goals – so they can become “enriched” in a broader sense. …

In contrast to the dog-eat-dog Gen X’ers that came before, Millennials are more “we-driven” and collective in their definition of success. For them, “making it” doesn’t simply equate to the tangible rewards of a luxury car, or owning a McMansion. Success is more likely to be defined by sampling a rich array of life experiences – including culture, travel, innovation, sustainability and the environment.”

Gen Y’er  Andreana Drencheva asked her peers what was on their ‘bucket list’ and learned that travel and travel related activities are at the very top.

“Have you ever wondered what the ultimate Gen Y’s bucket list would look like? What do millennials want to do? I wondered, so I asked other millennials to share their bucket lists and here is what we want to do before we kick the bucket. We want to travel A LOT: To certain cities like Chicago and countries like Cambodia, Greece, India, England, Italy, Ireland, Japan, and many others. Or just visit every state in the USA, at least half of the countries on Earth*, all seven continents**, travel for a year, or simply travel around the world**”

According to research by TIG Global, a hospitality marketing firm, Millennials born 1977-1995, account for 12% of the U.S. Leisure Travel market.

Brian Fitzgerald, TIG Global’s Director of SEO and Social Media, says Gen Y ‘stays longer and travels deeper‘ than other age groups.  He strongly advocates that hotels andothers in the travel industry market actively to Gen Y using ‘authentic, digital communications’ that are ‘edgy and unique’.  He specifically recommends a Facebook presence ‘where you don’t just talk about yourself’ and leveraging location based services such as Four Square and Gowalla.

Beyond travel, I expect that Millennials will become active ‘lifetime learners’, with interests that go well beyond their work or primary field. After all, this is a generation that is fond of describing itself using the ‘slash’ mark!  Adreanna Drencheva’s list gives us a good idea as to the breadth of their interests. Here’s just a sampling:

Attend a Jewish wedding
Audition for American Idol
Be an extra in a film or a TV show
Cook a five-course meal
Drive a race car
Get a professional massage at a spa
Get into a fight and preferably win
Go skinny dipping in a large body of water
Go snowboarding*, scuba diving*, bungee jumping**, skydiving**, canoeing, kayaking, target shooting
Have a lucid dream
Have a threesome
Hold a trained falcon
Kiss someone in the ocean like the scene in The Beach
Paint on an easel and canvas
Ride a helicopter
Ride an elephant
See So You Think You Can Dance live tour
Sing at a karaoke bar
Snuggle with a giant cat and not have it kill me
Stomp grape for wine making
Take a pole dancing class
Watch a movie in a drive-in theater
Be a part of a flash mob

Be in a musical

Be on TV in a main role
Become a teacher/professor
Become a trained chef
Break 250 in bowling
Build a house (with secret passages) and live in it*
Build something bigger than a birdhouse
Climb the ten highest mountains and drink milk on the top of each one
Create an award-winning ad campaign
Design a fashion line for United Colors of Benetton
Design a handbag
Do a century ride (100 mile bicycle ride)
Do a stand-up routine in front of a live audience, although a dead audience might be easier
Do what Baby Boomers have never been able to do: retire in style
Fly a plane
Get a tattoo*
Grow up my own vegetables and then live through ingesting them
Have a blog and post at least once a week for a year
Have a herd of corgis, ala Queen Elizabeth
Have a movie based on my life
Have a photo on the cover of National Geographic
Have a piece published in Rolling Stones
Have a radio talk show
Have my own page in Encyclopedia Dramatica
Live and work on a horse ranch for a year
Maintain a garden
Make liquor
Move abroad
Open a restaurant
Perform on stage
Play guitar in a band
Prove the existence of intelligent life beyond Earth
Run a marathon** or a half marathon for some of us
Speak at TED
Teach a yoga class
Write and publish a story, a novel or a book** in general
Grow my hair to my butt and then chop it all off to donate it

Spend 1-3 months volunteering in a developing country

Volunteer in Africa for a year
Teach someone to read and write
Volunteer for UNICEF
Start a scholarship fund
Work for a nonprofit organization
Save a life**
Fight teen suicide
Use my natural talents to do good in the world
Make a difference with my writing

For marketers, it is important to understand that Millennials are looking for brands that align with their values and help them increase their ‘personal currency’.

Brand are increasingly becoming symbols of ‘beliefs’ not just status, lifestyle, or cool design. They want brands that exhibit higher purpose, such as American Express and Pepsi are showing with their cause-driven marketing efforts. This approach is not appropriate for all brands, but is something to consider when marketing to Gen ‘We’.