Pre-nesting: the path to Millennial adulthood

Testing and Pre-nesting, is the Millennial generation’s first choice when approaching adult. The micro steps towards adulthood, experiment with different living arrangements and life experiences, and ultimately affects their spending choices. There is no doubt that the global economic recession has had a lasting effect on Millennials and their path to adulthood. The highest-educated generation in American history, Millennials graduated into a fraught economic climate taking the brunt of the fallout.

 A rough start

It’s tough out there for Millennials on the job hunt

Underemployment, stagnant salaries, crushing student debt, and tighter lending standards have delayed many traditional life milestones for today’s young Americans. Those crucial first steps towards adulthood—becoming financially independent and moving out of their childhood homes—has proven especially difficult for Millennials. According the US Labor Bureau, the unemployment rate among American youth aged 18-29 is 13.2%, nearly double the national average for adults. Furthermore, a recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that these unsteady economic times have prevented many young people from striking out on their own. In 2012, 36% of young adults aged 18-31 still lived at home with their parents.

 Millennials growing up

Home ownership takes a back seat to flexible apartment living

Despite the unemployment numbers, things have stabilized somewhat for older Millennials, and they are beginning to feel more optimistic for their future. Marketers and brands are nervously waiting for the established to settle down, start a family and release their pent up demand for consumer goods; especially big ticket items like luxury cars, suburban homes and stainless steel appliances. But, the truth is, many Millennials may never develop such tastes or aspirations, and we cannot afford to continue to look at these segments as our sole opportunities or indicators for economic growth.

Re-writing the rules of adulthood

We must see Millennials for what they really are; as optimizers- savvy, highly educated consumers who are constantly looking for ways to enhance their life to achieve their needs and aspirations. They are adapting to their economic realities, getting smarter about spending their money and will delay purchases until they can truly find the value in it. Millennials are also re-writing the rules of adulthood and redefining their definition of happiness and success. That’s not to say that the American dream is dead, one quick browse on Pinterest, and you can see that for Millennials these aspirations are still very much alive; dream weddings, gorgeous homes, exotic vacations, and adorable baby clothes, all pinned to a 19-year-old’s Pinterest account.


The dreams of Millennials neatly organized on Pinterest

Figuring it all out

Yes, Millennials may be delaying marriage, home-ownership and starting a family, but they are using their twenties as a time for Testing and Pre-nesting. For Millennials this means figuring out what kind of life they want to live, exploring career options, moving to from suburbia to urban and village areas, attending graduate school, upgrading apartments, traveling abroad, dating and adopting their first pet—all of which are driving substantial economic activity.

Millennial’s first apartments are a big deal and they are willing to spend. Via

Celebrating life’s new achievements

You can learn a lot about these micro-milestones by going on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and browsing the events and stories that Millennial are sharing and championing. Every single one has a brand story and customer experience within it.

From Instagram- Titled  “our little family”

The 25-year-old who proudly posts pictures on Instagram of the reading nook she built in her new apartment, all of her lumber and equipment purchased at Home Depot. Or the young couple who went on a spending spree at Petco for their new baby, a Labrador puppy and the 22-year-old who gets 135 “likes” and countless words of encouragement on Facebook for posing in his new Banana Republic suit for his first ever job. All these events, while not part of the traditional “big 5” provide whole new opportunities for marketers and brands alike to connect with their customers.

From Instagram: First day of new job, in a smashing new suit

 Case Study: West Elm Market retail concept

West Elm Market in Brooklyn

 A great example of brand that gets the testing and pre-nesting of Millennials is the home-furniture brand West Elm. Long a favorite with aspirational Millennials and design savvy urban dwellers, West Elm launched a new community-driven general store concept last October, called West Elm Market.  More than just a store, West Elm has capitalized on Millennials penchant not only for authentic quality local-made goods, but also as a DIY self–education center and test kitchen. Partnering with continuing education partner Skillshare, West Elm Market host in-store workshops on everything from apartment friendly-container gardening to the basics of home beer brewing. These workshops giving young adults the opportunity to invest in their interests and learn handy home repair-skills in a sociable environment.

West Elm’s Market concept succeeds in its understanding and engagement with the Millennial consumer. They have done a tremendous amount of research to understand the values of this generation and to align themselves with this generation’s more conscientious, fulfilling and creative approach to building a happy home and life. They have invested in their relationship with Millennials by offering them something of value, skills that will stay with them for a lifetime, and in turn have been able to build a positive shopping experience that compliments their brands story, image and reputation.

 Key takeaways:

  • Millennials are growing up, but they are re-defining what adulthood means to them. The five major milestones of adulthood; finishing school, starting a career, getting married, buying a home, and having children, may not happen in a linear fashion, if at all. Brands must diversify their brand narratives to remain relevant to Millennials.
  •  Focus on the now, not the later. Micro milestones drive substantial economic activity. Young people are celebrating these pre-nesting events all over social media; savvy brands should align themselves with these stories.
  • The road to adulthood is a difficult one. Educate and empower Millennials by providing products and services that optimize their lives. Products have to have inherent value, bring meaning to their lives, help them connect with their social network, and most importantly make things easier.