At 3 a.m., I was pondering what I was going to write for this column (my deadline was today) and I had a startling realization: I am still a procrastinator — “living on the edge” as my mother likes to tell me. I thrive on waiting until the last (very last) minute. I didn’t know back in college that this was truly the type of person I was. And I fought it for years. But here in the midst of my mid-life I can say, “Hello, my name is Cheryl Pearson-McNeil, and I’m a procrastinator.” You could reply, “Hiii Cheryl!” My point is this: when I was 20 or 21, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. So I had to go forth into the world to discover the world. Ultimately, because of those worldly experiences, I was able to discover, , the totality of who I am. And that’s what I want to chat about briefly with you today: You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know.
I work for Nielsen, which is in the business of knowing things. We are a global research company that measures what consumers watch and what consumers buy. We collect information that people like you share with us, through studies and surveys, and we sell it to our clients — who don’t know what they don’t know about you: your lifestyle habits, your buying habits, your viewing behavior and so on. So they count on us to inform them.
Most of you, if you’ve heard of Nielsen before, may know that we gather TV ratings. We’re the ones who tell advertisers and local and national television executives what people are watching on TV. In most instances, we measure households’ viewing behavior using an electronic device which we call a people meter. It is connected to the televisions of our Nielsen homes. (Your home is a Nielsen home only if you have given us permission to collect that data.) We come in and install the people meter to every television, DVR and video console in your home. Once installed, the people meter captures the viewing habits of people in your household every 2.7 seconds. That’s how we know what most of America is watching. And people pay us for that knowledge.
What you may not be aware of is that parts of our company also collect information that tells our clients like P&G, Kimberly Clark, Sara Lee, Miller, Coors, Wal-Mart, Walgreens and others — all of those big companies that you’re trying to get jobs at — what you’re buying, how much you’re spending and where you’re spending it.
When I was a sophomore in college, I went grocery shopping once with a male friend of mine. I don’t know why we both had money at the same time because back in those days, usually one person had money when the other person didn’t, or everybody was just plain broke. But anyway, we both had money, and we went to buy groceries. You can tell a lot about a person if you go grocery shopping with them! Tracey would only buy products that his mother had bought. I’d pick up an item because it was cheap. I figured I could get more cans, and ultimately more food, that way. In my mind, this strategy minimized the amount of time I would spend starving before I had the luxury of having money for groceries again. But Tracey was adamant. Regardless of the price, he kept saying, “That ain’t what my mama buys,” or, “I’m getting this can over here because that’s what mama always gets.”
What I didn’t know at the time was that Tracey was considered brand-loyal shopper, while I was more of a price-conscious consumer. But I know now that companies pay big bucks to determine how to get my attention one way and Tracey’s attention another way. As college students, you most likely fall into the 18- 34-year-old age demographic, which is known as Generation Y. And what you don’t know, which I think is really important for you to know, is that you are the most coveted group of consumers for marketers and advertisers.
“Why?” You may be asking. “I’m a college student with no job and no major income.” Ah, but you have potential, grasshopper! (Ok, some of you may be too young to realize that the grasshopper reference is a throwback to an old Kung Fu movie, and that it implies that you are the student and I am the teacher.) Companies covet you for your potential. Just like Tracey, your buying decisions are often heavily influenced by someone or something else. In Tracey’s example, his mother was his influence. Advertisers are hoping they can be your influence. And if they do a good enough job of influencing you when you are young and broke, they will have your loyalty once you are gainfully employed and middle-aged. Even though my generation, the Baby Boomer generation (45-64), probably has a higher household income average, we tend to be a tad more set in our ways. So it’s not as easy to influence us. So when it comes to consumerism – you Generation Ys are pure power! Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at some numbers:
- 18-34 year olds make up 23% of the U.S. population, and if you’re African-American your age segment accounts for 25% of the Black U.S. population.
- Yet you represent an outsized portion of consumers watching online video (27%), visiting social networking/blog sites (27%), owning tablets (33%) and using a smartphone (39%). So you gotta know that tech companies love you!
- Gen Y comprised nearly five million active internet users in August 2012. This was 31% of the online population. On average, you spent 86 hours online during the month.
- Twitter is the most popular social networking site for Blacks. Black women ages 18-35 are 72% more likely to publish a blog, or note a personal product or web content preference through “links,” “liking” or “following” an article, brand or website.
- 58.8% of 18- to 34-year-olds use their mobile phone to access social networking. If you’re on the younger end of this demographic segment (18-24), you used on average 981 minutes per month on your mobile phone and sent/received 1,299 text messages. Those of you at the older range of the segment (25-34)on average, use 952 minutes a month and send/receive 592 text messages.
- African-American Gen Ys spend approximately 6 hours and 3 minutes daily watching TV. That includes watching “live” TV (watching the program at the time is airs), DVR playback, DVD playback and video games. (Remember I told you the people meter was connected to all of those devices in a Nielsen home.)
- African-American Gen Ys make about 128 annual shopping trips to buy grocery-related items. For African-Americans, this is the least number of shopping trips made annually by any African-American generation( Baby Boomers make about 175 trips a year for example). When GenYs do go grocery shopping, on average you spend more money there than any of the other generations, about $45 per trip. (I know for a fact back in the day, Tracey and I combined did NOT have $45 to spend on groceries!)
When it comes to how members of African-American Generation Y are more likely to spend your time on an average day, we know you tend to be more engaged in social activities, be at someone else’s home and more often select radio, mobile phones and gaming consoles as your media of choice. And you tend to be more involved in online entertainment activities like social networking.
But what does this all mean? Yes, knowledge is power, but only if you know what to do with it. Begin by understanding the power you have in the decisions you make every single day. How you spend your money is making somebody else money. So it’s really important that you take the time to know more about what you don’t know. Take time to get to know the companies you buy from. Do they give back to your community? Do they recruit at your school?
When I was in high school my mother would tell me that talking on the phone, “plotting things” with my friends, and planning parties – things that I was really, really good at – weren’t going to get me far. My mom didn’t know what she didn’t know! She didn’t know that I could actually become a senior vice president at a billion dollar corporation based on those same basic skill sets, (but phrased slightly differently in corporate terms): networking, strategic planning, and event engagement. Take time to get to know yourself; to understand all sources of your power. Then go forth into the world and use it for good.
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Cheryl Pearson-McNeil is senior vice president of public affairs and government relations for Nielsen, a global information and measurement company with leading market positions in marketing and consumer information, television and other media measurement, online intelligence, mobile measurement, trade shows and related properties. You can follow her @Powerfulpenny or contact her at Cheryl.firstname.lastname@example.org