Forever Young: Marketing to Emerging Adults (Part Two)

Last week, we introduced the concept of emerging adulthood as defined and extrapolated upon in a New York Times article by Robin Marantz Henig. The term was created by psychology professor Jeffrey Jensen Arnett to describe the extended growing-up process that’s undergone by today’s youth between late teen years until about age 30.

This week we ask: How does all of this relate to marketing?

Well, of course marketers are always keen to target their most responsive audiences. By defining and addressing key demographics, communication can be established and long-term relationships can begin to develop. By being among the first to acknowledge and identify this life stage, marketers can smartly adapt campaigns to speak directly to emerging adults, rather than lump them into an adulthood group with those over 18 and younger than 45.

Originally surmised by psychologist Kenneth Kensington in the 1960s, and confirmed today by Arnett’s findings, characteristics of the late teens to late twenties age group include: “pervasive ambivalence toward self and society,” “the feeling of absolute freedom, of living in a world of pure possibilities” and “enormous value placed upon change, transformation and movement.” Taking into consideration the unique traits, behaviors and needs that define this niche group, marketers can best speak to emerging adults on their own terms.

And it isn’t like scientists discovered an over-the-hill life stage for those aged 45-55. This new class of individuals is just out of high school or college, and marketers who get a grasp on emerging adulthood have the chance to severely impact overall success in terms of brand relationships. Because generations are also now living longer than ever before, securing a bond with customers and clients while they’re in their youth means potential connections for at least another half-century–if not more.

This is especially underscored by the fact that emerging adulthood is being significantly defined by the 20-somethings perspective on their life’s direction, ambitions and their own personal future–and by reaching them in this forming, malleable state, it gives marketers a lot more room and flexibility to begin conversations than with another age group–which, when younger, may change several times before picking one path…or may, when older, be fixed on one path or idea and refuse to budge at all.

Of course, it needs to be said that “emerging adult” has not yet entered the psychological or sociological vernacular; in fact, several scientists contest that it can’t be considered a valid life stage until it’s ubiquitous, a necessary status that all persons must pass through to become adults–regardless of background, economy, generation and other variables. But for the smart marketer, keeping an eye on such trends that are, well, emerging, is just one way to keep understanding and serving your audience—while getting an edge on the competition. And while we’re talking about staying ahead of the curve, may we at Mad 4 Marketing be the first to progressively suggest the nickname “e-dult”?

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