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Adulthood, Interrupted

Paul Gadala, Jun 11 2018

The transition between youth and adulthood is a potential goldmine for brands; those able to appeal to this demographic are in a prime position to attract long term loyalty. But in order to get into position, brands need to first know where to look and in today’s rapidly changing world, many are left wondering: Where are all the adults? Gone are the days when adulthood was encapsulated by the narrow 18-24 age group. The concept is much more fluid these days; the patois “adultish” captures this ambiguity and reflects both attitudes of reluctance and anxieties of looming adulthood.

Tip #1: Think of adulthood on a spectrum

To appeal to this group, you must expand your concept of adulthood to encapsulate teens eager to get a jump start and even those older than 35+. This disparate group can be similar in many unlikely ways. For example, research shows that 74% of 18-45 year olds do not believe that marriage is permanent. Approximately 40% do not believe it is possible to support themselves with a traditional 9-5 job. And 64% say it is harder to become an ‘adult’ than their parents’ generation.

This generation often lambasts their inadequacy in what they refer to as ‘adulting’—cooking at home, managing finances responsibility or any basic skill you would need to be self-sufficient. Many report that they don’t “feel” like an adult despite their advanced age.

Peter Pan Syndrome

While some disparage the ‘adultish’ for their arrested development, it is important to acknowledge that they are operating in a void left by the experts and trusted sources of the past. Parents and authority figures often do not have the tools or expertise to be valuable sources of advice in a world that is being increasingly disrupted by technology.

Tip #2: Be a reservoir of useful information

By that token, this creates a lucrative opportunity for brands to fill this vacuum. It is important for brands to build trust and credibility with the ‘adultish’ by offering utilitarian advice in a thoughtful and empathetic way, akin to what you would expect from an invested parent or guardian.

Just Brady, no Bunch

In the course of just twenty years, the number of people living solo across the globe has spiked a whopping eighty percent. As nuclear families have shrunk, the support systems offered by those familial arrangements—handyman husband, homemaking mother—have been taken over by the sharing economy and providers like Taskrabbit and Uber Eats.

It’s true that almost everything can be outsourced these days, but research shows that there is a clear distinction between certain tasks that leave people feeling empowered and those that leave them feeling embarrassed or anxious. Outsourcing tasks such as restaurant delivery, driving, home repairs, painting, tax preparation, or yard work, is reported to be a positive and happy experience. On the other hand, when it comes to pet care, furniture assembly, interior design, cleaning and laundry—outsourcing these tasks is often accompanied by feelings of inadequacy and shame among the adultish.

Tip #3: Think carefully when deciding whether your brand will instruct or outsource. Ask yourself: “Is it better to ‘do’ for your audience or ‘teach’ them to do for themselves.

Overcoming delayed adulthood

While some emerging adults may claim to have an interest in finally mastering ‘adulting,’ less than 50% of P18+ are actively seeking out content related to improvements in self, relationships, money and stuff. What’s even more surprisingly is that the research demonstrates that even among those who claim to have a high degree of interest in ‘adulting’ do not know a lot about it.

Tip #4: Employ both push and pull tactics. Search and native content are important but are likely to connect with less than half of your audience. By the same token, taking advantage of push tactics can give you access to additional audiences.

Mind your tone

Just because your brand is targeting emerging adults, it doesn’t mean you should adopt a light-hearted tone without considering the content. When it comes to more high stakes subjects such as finances and career development, people expect information to be delivered in the serious, straight-laced manner one would expect from a trusted teacher. On the other hand, topics such as food, fitness and fashion can be delivered in quirky and entertaining tones.

Tip #5: Keep it simple and specific

Perhaps it’s a result of being bombarded with information at increasing speeds, but emerging adults invariably crave simple and specific instructions. With the one exception being relationship navigation, people want step-by-step instructions on how to hack adulthood. Research shows that brands that successfully delivered informative content such an increase in awareness and favourability.

Tip #6: Knowledge is the ultimate currency

Remember emerging adults don’t want to be kids forever, they have a desire to be independent and resourceful but many do not know where to start. Brands can capitalize on this by creating a content strategy that addresses those gaps that are relevant to their audience. Knowledge building will be a tool to attract emerging adults on their way to full-fledged adulthood.

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