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Venice-based millennial trend forecaster Maude Standish on how social media is impacting off-line behavior

Maude Standish makes it her business to know what teens and twentysomethings want — even before they do.

Standish, 29, studies the unarticulated aspirations and desires of history’s most technology-fluent generation as managing director of Tarot, a millennial trend forecasting group based in Venice.

Alongside parent company Mistress Creative — a Venice advertising agency where Standish also serves as director of social media — Tarot advises corporate clients on how shape and promote their brands in ways that will connect with the trickiest and most coveted of market demographics. The team includes experts in emerging digital technologies, business development, music and even mixology.

Standish, a native of Chicago, entered the world of trend forecasting at 17 after she was tapped for a research panel that led to a consulting gig. After college she worked as a lead writer and editor of the Cassandra Report, a syndicated quarterly study of youth attitudes and buying habits that’s distributed by The Intelligence Group, a division of Creative Artists Agency.

On Tuesday, Standish took part in a South by Southwest panel discussion of how social media is changing the way people interact with each other in offline situations. Search #sxsw #overshare on Twitter for highlights of the discussion.

— Joe Piasecki

How are the Facebook “like” button and other social media tools changing the way people communicate face to face, especially when it comes to millennials?

Research shows that when people ‘like’ something that you’re doing on the Internet, you get a little rush of dopamine in your brain. Some people think you can get addicted to that constant positive feedback which I agree with. You see people’s addiction to that by the way they can’t put their phone down. But you also see it in the way people are starting to have conversations with each other. If you’re used to constantly being ‘liked’ on the Internet and you’re getting these little pleasure rushes anytime somebody does that, you start to create situations where you can get those pleasure rushes in real life.

Millennials are already this really optimistic, positive generation. But what you’re seeing, I think, are feedback loops of positivity, where people are getting more and more uncomfortable saying anything negative or saying no to anything or maybe saying a divergent opinion that isn’t necessarily positive. You can even see this in the way people structure opinions. It used to be ‘No, I don’t agree with that,’ and now people are saying ‘Yeah, but.’ What you’re doing is flipping something that is a negative into a positive and imitates that ‘like’ button interaction.

Aside from online habits, what sort of other things does Tarot track?

One of the things that I really wanted to do differently was to not have a bunch of people sitting in front of their computers trying to find trends online. We hire people that are active in their category to report on trends. We have experts in music, experts in millennial activation in politics, even mixologists. The main thing we’re looking at is the psychographic trends of millennials.

What’s a psychographic trend?

A macro trend is a trend that’s touching multiple categories in multiple types of people. You can look at things like local — that’s a macro trend, because there’s local food, there’s local clothing. Psychographic is the step before the trend. It’s the reason why somebody would want that, the desire swelling up in people, the emotional connection. You get a swell of people feeling ‘I’ve had all this big-market stuff; everything that I’m buying is from 2,000 miles away,’ and all of sudden you get this psychographic trend of people wanting things to be closer.  It’s these unarticulated desires that become articulated in words, in products, in marketing campaigns.

If so many are broke and living at home, how influential are millennials on the economy right now?

They’re actually very influential. Millennials are often referred to as the echo boomers, because their size echoes the Baby Boomers’. Large generations tend to exert more influence, but in addition to that you have a hyper-connected generation. Millennials were the first generation that never had to leave their friends behind when they moved or went to college. We stayed connected with email, Facebook.

Because our group is so important to us, we tend to try to assert influence in purchasing choices: ‘We’re Apple people; we want our whole network to be Apple people as well.’ Millennials also tend to pass up new trends to their parents. If a millennial has an iPhone 4 and then the iPhone 5 comes out, they pass their iPhone 4 to their parents and all of a sudden you have a new Apple customer. Millennials are also being semi-financially supported by their parents, so even though they may not be making the most money, they have access to a lot of it.

You’ve written that married millennial women are more likely to take their husband’s name than their mothers were, probably due to a renewed emphasis on preserving the family unit. What are some other surprising trends?

I think the strangest thing about millennials is they’re actually a very conservative generation, in terms of lifestyle choices. We talk about them as being square. Everyone thinks millennials want to be famous, but according to Pew research, 86% say fame is not important to them at all. The most important thing to them is family and friends, having a good marriage, career and then being respected by friends and family. The myth comes from the idea that millennials are trying to actively create personal brands, but that doesn’t have much to do with fame. The thing is that because they graduated into the recession, they don’t trust traditional paths to success. Our own president says the jobs of the future don’t yet exist. So how do we train for that? How do we become successful? The only thing we’re 100% sure of being in our futures is ourselves.

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