Living together, spending together: The rise of multi-generational households

Under one roof: A changing paradigm

Many brands have built stories around the ‘typical’ journey through life: your parents raise you, you get an education, you get your first job, you move out, find a partner, buy a home, build a family, your family flies the nest, you enjoy retirement.

But just how ‘typical’ is this journey nowadays? Putting aside the more obvious – that not everyone wants to get an education, get married or have kids – the concept of ‘flying the nest’ is becoming less and less relevant for millions of young people.

In the US, for example, over 60 million people, or 19% of the population, live with multiple generations under one roof, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of the 2014 census.

Factors such as increased cost of living, high unemployment among the young and rocketing house prices have contributed to this trend. And it’s not only the young affected; families are moving in with grandparents and vice versa to pool resources and take-up caring responsibilities.

How can brands use this trend to their advantage to deepen relationships with customers?

A new brand experience

Multi-generational living means brand experiences are more likely shared. Family members discover, explore and advocate brands as a collective.

The way multi-gen householders decide on and buy products has also changed. Brands must take account of this as they map their customers’ journeys. Who is the decision-maker with multiple responsible adults in the household? Does the influence of ‘mother knows best’ run deeper and longer with grown-up children in the home? Does a grown-up version of pester power exist? Do young adults disrupt their parents’ deeply engrained purchasing habits?

The twenty-something who was once destined to move into their own apartment and have total autonomy over what they buy and consume can now find herself back in a parent-child relationship – putting in requests for favourite brands as mum heads off to do the weekly shop.  But is this revisited family equation always so simple?

Ruth, a 35 project manager in London, found out when tightening finances forced a move back to the parental home. “I didn’t really have any living costs when I moved back in with Mum and Dad. To be honest, they were pretty set in their ways. But because they were helping me out, I would often buy them little treats – like a nicer bottle of wine to what they might usually buy.’

Ruth has since moved back to her own place but believes the time spent with her parents has had a big impact on how they spend their disposable income now. “I’d say the big difference has been giving them confidence to try new things like online shopping, taking them out of their comfort zone, and getting them into buying more treats and luxury products.”

For multi-generational household such as Ruth and her parents, brand targeting strategies that focus solely on one age demographic are unlikely to appeal as much as those that are more inclusive. Age-based targeting strategies are likely to fall flat where the purchase decision-maker wants to buy something that will not only please multiple generations but – ideally – help to build and enhance connections across these generations.

Multi-generational marketing is already gathering pace as an industry trend, with brands such as L’Oréal creating campaigns designed to span generations. However, with parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren increasingly sharing everyday brand experiences, positioning products and services in a way that appeals to all ages has never been more important.

The end of a dog and 2.2 children

As households across the UK and US become increasingly varied, so too should the depiction of the family in brand communications.

Narratives built around young couples in a spacious and modern apartment may be an aspiration too far for many millennials and ultimately lead to brand disconnection. Equally, adverts that depict parents excitedly waving off their youngest (teenage) child in anticipation of a new-found freedom and increased expendable income are unlikely to resonate as strongly in the years to come as perhaps they would have five or ten years ago.

Reflecting the realities of the new modern family is one way brands can demonstrate that they understand and can relate to their customers. Ikea’s recent UK campaign ‘Make more than just food’ is a great example of this: the story built around a grandfather having fun cooking with his granddaughter can easily adapt to a variety of modern-day scenarios: the grandparent who has moved in with his offspring, the family who have moved in with grandpa, or the grandparent who visits regularly to help out with childcare.

Celebrating multi-generational living

Whilst multi-generational households may have been stigmatised in the past, they are fast becoming the norm for certain generations and social groups. Brands can play a role in helping to normalise and celebrate this way of living, shaping the positive experiences that multi-generational households have – and ultimately remaining loved, trusted and relevant.

Here are three considerations for brands that want to capitalise on the rise of multigen-households:

1 / Targeting: Are you talking to the right people? Do you need to review how people are discovering and purchasing your brand? Have multiple generations living together prompted younger / older consumers to consider and try your brand?

2 / Storytelling: Are the stories that you tell about your brand at risk of alienating a certain portion of your target? Are you using stereotypes that are outmoded? Are you celebrating the modern family?

3 / Innovation: Has the rise in multi-gen households created new territories to exploit? Can new tension points be resolved by your brand through better products and services?

What does the rise in multi-generational living mean for your brand? We’d love to hear from you.