Generational consumer behaviour To what extent is the consumer behaviour of millenials different to that of previous generations in the area of health products?


This presentation will consider the extent to which consumer behaviour of millennials is different to previous generations around health products. Taking the “cohort theory” approach in which the ontological assumption is that “people born in the same period…in the same socio-economic climate will have similar consumer related needs, wishes and attitudes” thus explaining their similar consumer behaviours (Valkenners and Vanhoomissen, 2012, 54), it is necessary to define each generation group under consideration. Millennials will be defined as people currently between 15 and 35, born between approximately 1981 -2001 (Sethna and Blythe, 2016, 371). They will be compared with “Baby Boomers”; defined as those born between 1945 – 1964, currently in their early 50s – late 70s (Valkenners and Vanhoomissen, 2012, 54) and “Generation X” born between 1965 and 1980 (Sethna and Blythe, 2016, 371).

Consumer behaviour model

The model that will be used to examine the differences in consumer behaviour between these generations is the Consumer Decision Process (CDP) model, developed by Engel, Blackwell and Miniard in 1968.

Consumer Decision Model showing eight stages, from Blackwell et al., 2006, 70.
Strengths and weaknesses of CDP model

This model is useful as a comprehensive and easily applicable model to any given situation or product type. However, while a key strength of this model is also arguably its continual development since its creation in line with advances in consumer theory, such as consumption and divestment stages to incorporate contemporary definitions of consumption thus improving its effectiveness in explaining consumer behaviour (Sethna and Blythe, 2016, 71), it still fails to adequately represent the individual and environmental variables influencing consumer behaviour.

These variables are only vaguely defined and are undeveloped and limited in their roles within this model (Loudon et al, 1993, 488 - 494). Yet, these variables are useful to explain differences in decisions influenced by complexity of self-concept, identity, motives, attitudes, beliefs and values (individual variables) and sources of information and stimuli factors affecting needs (environmental variables). Individual motives are only peripherally considered in the antecedent of need and need recognition stages, yet are now an important area of consideration in consumer behaviour and highly theorised, for example in self-image congruence models (Solomon et al, 2016, 166-7).

In the initial stages of the consumer decision process model; antecedent of need, recognition of need and information search a number of important differences between millennial and other generations’ consumer behaviour occur, due to differing individual and environmental variables.

Antecedent of need and recognition of need

In the antecedent of need and need recognition stages, “needs” originate from the imbalance between a person’s actual state and their desired state (Sethna and Blyth, 2016, 74). A person’s desired state will be conceptualised through many individual variables including various, desires, motivations, situational factors and responses to stimuli.

The formulation of needs is different for each generation precisely because of differing underlying motivations and desires; largely influenced by age for health-related products. Millennials are not interested in age-related health products, whereas Generation X desire anti-aging products that help hide or slow the aging process and Baby Boomers desire products that allow them to age well (Mintel, Mature Beauty: Attitudes towards aging, 2015). Millennials therefore have different needs to other generations and will therefore buy different products. For example, products designed to meet age-related needs are aimed at Baby Boomers, such as Oasis Age Essential Anti-Aging mouthwash, in line with the fact that 71% of over 65s feel that age impacts on the appearance of their teeth (Mintel, Oral Care: Factors impacting on appearance of teeth, 2016).

Oasis Anti-aging mouthwash (LuckyVitamin, 2017)

Individual motives also vary across the generations. In gym and fitness club membership, Millennials are more motivated by the desire to maintain and improve their fitness, weight and appearance, whereas Baby Boomers are motivated staying active, preventing age-related health problems and maintaining wellbeing (Mintel, Health and Fitness Clubs: Scope for expansion, 2013). Companies are marketing to these differentiated motivations. Nuffield Health positions itself as a “wellbeing” brand aimed at Baby Boomers, offering services such as wellbeing physiologists (Mintel, Health and Fitness Clubs: Market Drivers, 2013; Nuffield Health, 2017).

Information search

In “Information Search”, there is a relationship between individual variables and environmental variables that explains key differences between the generations. Millennials lack prior experience and memories to help them decide on health product choices compared to other generations. This may explain why in terms of environmental variables, Millennials most likely to the Internet to source product information (Harmon et al., 1999, 35). 34% of Millennials have sought reviews or recommendation for facial skincare products online, compared to 25% across other generations (Mintel, Social Media: Desired type of Information, 2015). Generation X also use the internet, but online forums and communities such as (Mintel, Social Media: The Consumer, 2015). Baby Boomers are the least likely to research health products online (Mintel, Mature beauty: Interest in beauty trends, 2015). They tend to use their previous consumer experiences and memories to inform their product decision making; when changing skincare product to address age-related skin needs, 51% of over 55s use a new product from a skincare brand they already know (Mintel, Mature Beauty: Purchase, 2015).

A related environmental variable is that Millennials are the generation “raised in the digital age” and more engaged with social media including YouTube vlogs, Twitter and Instagram than other generations to both seek information on products and engage with marketing stimuli from brands via these mediums (Harmon et al., 1999, 34). Companies market social media specific campaigns at Millennials such as Dove’s #MyBeautyMySay campaign, and 42% of Millennials are able to recall a Facebook, Twitter or YouTube campaign from the last month (Mintel, Marketing to Young Adults, 2016; Dove, 2016).

Link between antecedent of need and pre-purchase evaluation

Beyond these initial CDP model stages, a further criticism of the model is that it confines these individual and environmental variables to specific stages, failing to recognise that they have an influence on wider feedback-loops relationships and overarching processes within the model (Hogg, M., et al, Identity, Self and Consumption, 629). For example, there is a link between the antecedent of need stage and the pre-purchase evaluation stage, as criteria used to evaluate which product to ultimately purchase is largely influenced by the individual and environmental variables that influenced initial creation of need (Blackwell et al., 2006, 80). In the pre-purchase evaluation stage, Milliennials’ criteria reflect their individuality needs; desires for products that reflect current trends, enable them to “experiment” and express themselves while supporting the social approval and acceptance of their peers, as seen in Danone’s advertisement for healthy yoghurt with music to "express yourself" (Danone, 2016).

Yet for Baby Boomers value for money is a more important criterion, using special offers and multi-buys in their purchasing (Mintel, Mature Beauty: Purchase, 2015). For Generation X, environmental variables in their life-stage of buying a house, parenthood and demanding jobs (Blackwell, et al., 2006, 256) lead to criteria of rise convenience and timesaving, seen in their use of products such as micellar skincare cleansers that are quick to use (Mintel, Women’s facial skincare: usage of products, 2016).

Link between information search and post-consumption evaluation

There is also a link between the “Information search” stage and “post product evaluation” stage, for examples as Millennials tend to use social media to find out and research products, after consumption they therefore go back to social media to share their consumption experience and contribute to other’s information search via YouTube, Twitter, Facebook or Instagram (Solomon, et al, 2016, 163). In addition, following Sinek’s assertion that Millennials have lower self-esteem and feel entitled to things more than other generations, social media also allows them to receive instant positive feedback through “likes” and comments, providing instant gratification and triggering release of dopamine and to feel better about themselves (Willrath, Braydan, 2016).

Indeed, evidence supports these entitlement feelings, as 62% of the 16 – 24 year olds who post pictures of themselves online with their beauty brands expect something in return such as brand discounts. (Mintel, Social Media: SM activities, 2015). A final difference in post-product evaluation is that Millennials are more likely to use online methods to raise issues with the retailer or brans, whereas Baby Boomers prefer to seek advice and support in store and in person (Mintel, Baby Boomers and technology: Executive Summary, 2015).


Within the purchase stage by itself, individual and environmental variables have a large influence on the differences in generations’ behaviour. Due to Millennials’ individuality in following new trends, some specialist products are not available in-store, requiring online purchase, such as hair crayons (Mintel, Hair Colourants: Shopping, 2016). Both Baby Boomers and Generation X are more likely to purchase in-store due to their environmental variables; Baby Boomers from pharmacies or drug stores while purchasing prescriptions, and Generation X from supermarkets, for convenient purchasing alongside the grocery shop (Mintel, Hair Colourants: shopping, 2016). Indeed, both are more likely to purchase their health products at the same time as purchasing products for other family members (Mintel, Mature Beauty: Market Drivers, 2015), reflecting environmental variables.


In conclusion, there are a number of differences between Millennials and other generations in consumer behaviour with health products, evidenced in the overarching weakness in the CDP model in recognising and including individual and environmental variables. Only “Consumption” and “Divestment of product” have no discernable differences between Millennials and other generations due to these variables. Yet, an extension of individual and environmental variables also takes place in a stage beyond this model; in re-purchase and longer-term consumer behaviour. Due to their individual motives of experimenting and following changing trends, Millennials are more fickle and likely to make one-off purchases (Blackwell, R., et al, Consumer Behaviour, 246). They make the most purchases across a range of hair colouring products, whereas Baby Boomers are motivated to find longer-term products and less change, leading to repurchase and brand loyalty, and purchase the most permanent hair colouring products (Mintel, Hair Colourants: usage of hair colourants, 2016).

The CDP model also has an underpinning assumption that consumer decisions are rational based. Recent work has shown decision-making often has non-conscious influences (Subhash, 2015, 122).Indeed, consumers may not always consciously "evaluate" alternatives in a pre-purchase evaluation, instead acting on impulse.

The accuracy and ability of this model would be strengthened in explaining consumer behaviour if used in conjunction with a model to account for beliefs, attitudes and other individual and environmental variables such as Theory of Reasoned Action, and a model to account for non-conscious influencing variables, such as classical conditioning.


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