Millennial consumers turn away from tradition, scoff at ostentation, and fear commitment. So will they still want diamonds?
No word is more connected to diamond marketing than forever. But when the Diamond Producers Association started surveying millennials about their attitudes toward diamonds, the findings were startling: They didn’t relate to the forever concept the same way older consumers did.
“For younger millennials, forever is not an end in itself,” says DPA strategic consultant Emmy Kondo. “They are used to constant flux. They don’t expect to work at a company for 20 years and get a gold watch. To them, there is an artificiality in thinking of forever as being the ultimate goal in a relationship. They are more interested in the journey, and if it is forever, all the better.”
That is just one challenge the DPA, and the larger industry, faces in marketing diamonds to this pivotal but often confounding demographic. Diamonds are linked to tradition, marriage, and commitment. So how do you sell them to a generation that isn’t sure about all three?
The DPA was formed last year by the leading diamond miners to fill the void created when De Beers gave up “generic” advertising. It has so far focused on researching millennials. By 2018, the “echo boomers,” or Generation Y, as they’re also called—the largest generation in American history—will become the dominant consumer force. And many of them have never seen a De Beers ad.
Early research found that young consumers consider a diamond a “significant, meaningful gift,” says DPA marketing director Sally Morrison. “They are still very much invested in this category. It may be a question of how we’re marketing and how we’re retailing, more than their feelings about the category itself. We have to work harder to connect with them.”
Further study, including polls and focus groups commissioned by Mother New York, the DPA’s new marketing firm, found that the old ways of diamond advertising may have to be thrown “out the window,” says DPA CEO Jean-Marc Lieberherr. “All the old conventions, they are baggage.”
It turns out this new generation views relationships—and life—differently than its forebears. Among the insights that emerged from the DPA’s research:
• Millennials have casual relationships.
Thomas Henry, senior strategist for Mother New York, warns that younger consumers do not want what they see as the traditional “codependent relationship.”
“It’s not about having a relationship as the definition of themselves,” he says. “It’s much more about one plus one equals three. We had a great quote in our research, ‘I will exist when my relationship ends.’?”
Millennial consumers view diamonds as “sincere and authentic,” Lieberherr says.
“It’s very easy to say, ‘I’m hanging out with this person.’ But to use the word boyfriend or to change your relationship status on social media is a big moment. And they think: Do I want to do that, or do I want to leave my options open? In a way, it’s nice because there are so many more choices available, and in a way it is frustrating. Too much choice can be paralyzing.”
Giving a diamond is perceived as high-risk, high-reward, the research found. “If it’s not at the right time in the relationship, if it’s not the right gift, he is taking a risk,” Kondo says. “It can be scary to give diamond jewelry.”
Younger consumers perceived “a heaviness of the imagery, the public statement that you are making with a diamond,” Lieberherr says. “That distances them from the product.”
• Their clothes are equally casual.
“This generation goes to the gym, they do yoga,” Kondo says. “So they think: How do I wear diamonds? How does that fit into my lifestyle? Young people can feel like overgrown teenagers. Am I grown up enough to have these? Diamonds are something their mom wore. That is one of the challenges, convincing them that diamonds can be worn every day.”
Given that millennials were impacted by the 2008 financial crisis and have known (relative) economic hardship, they have mixed feelings about ostentatious displays of wealth (e.g., large engagement rings).
“Conventional diamonds can feel a little bit blingy at times,” Henry says. “When Kim Kardashian wears something large and flashy, it isn’t really appropriate.”
As one focus group participant put it: “If I see a girl wearing diamond earrings, I would assume they were from Forever 21. I would never assume they were real. I would never expect anyone to wear something that expensive walking around on the street.”
• They treat gender equality as a given.
“I’ve been sitting in diamond groups for years,” Kondo says. “This is the first time when I heard every woman say, ‘My first priority is to concentrate on my work.’ I have heard some women say that in the past, but we didn’t hear it from all of them.”
This feeling extended to the men: “They were very proud and supportive of their wives and partners doing well in their careers,” Kondo says. “It just seems to be a calmer, quieter kind of acceptance of an equal partnership rather than something that is leading-edge behavior. It is now sort of the norm. They see a healthy relationship as one where both parties are equal.”
This doesn’t mean that younger consumers have rejected the traditional paradigm of “man gives diamond for woman,” Kondo says. But there is a change in how the diamond is chosen and paid for—it’s much more of a joint project, and less of a surprise.
“Once upon a time, he may have popped the question with a ring he chose and totally surprised her,” Kondo adds. “Now, there is almost always discussion of getting married and what ring she wants. She’s deeply, fully involved. The element of surprise comes from how and exactly when he asks. As a result we’ve seen the phenomenon of the increase in ‘creative proposals’—the flash mobs, the skywriting—that customizes the experience.”
• They disdain convention.
Younger consumers no longer have to pick from only three styles of jewelry at a store. The Internet offers almost unlimited choice, and shoppers want their purchases to be unique and to reflect who they are.
To many, diamonds represent “Park Avenue, the golf course, and things that they naturally reject as their parents’ values,” Morrison says. “They push against prescriptiveness. They act very independently.”
Many participants had “double-edged perceptions about diamonds,” admits Kondo. “They can feel very generic and not for them. But they can feel highly personal and give him a platform to say something he can’t articulate with words.”
Diamonds as Rewards
While many of the insights suggest dark days for the diamond biz, others present opportunities. For as much as this generation embraces the virtual, it also craves the real and the meaningful.
“As technology gets more ubiquitous, moments of real connection, real experiences, get fewer because you are oversaturated with digital connections,” Henry says. “You see millennials starting to reject this idea that everything has to be fast, everything has to be instant, everything has to be gratifying right now. In some aspects of my life I want a real connection, I want this real thing, because I recognize it is significant and deeper than other connections that I make.”
Millennial consumers view diamonds as “sincere and authentic,” Lieberherr says. “Everything around the younger consumers’ life is uncertain—they come out of university with thousands in debt into an uncertain world. The gravitas of diamonds provides an element of reassuring strength. Because it is pure, it is genuine.”
So in the future, diamonds may not just be promoted as the last step in a successful courtship—but as a reward that’s self-purchased after an accomplishment, or a gift to celebrate something special.
“It can be from a father to a daughter,” says Lieberherr, “just something very deep and worthy of celebrating that can only be marked with something as deep and genuine as that feeling.”
The DPA will unveil its first marketing campaign based on these insights at JCK Las Vegas. The goal is to create not just a one-time effort, but a marketing platform—something that can endure for decades like “A Diamond Is Forever.”
The planned campaign will be mostly digital, and won’t—like most diamond campaigns—just run around the holidays.
“The focus will be on real people and real stories,” Morrison says. “It will talk to millennials in their own voice. It won’t be a conventional diamond campaign with paid model spokespeople. It will look very different from anything out there.”
One big problem: The DPA has a limited budget (around $6 million). In addition to this marketing -campaign, the organization wants to promote “the good news story” around diamond mining, and develop objective and reliable statistics (as the World Gold Council does).
“We don’t think we will significantly move the needle with $6 million a year,” Lieberherr says. “Our objective is to deliver a sufficiently strong value proposition so the miners will be compelled to support it.”
One thing everyone is certainly committed to: No one wants to see your father’s diamond campaign. The DPA wants a new kind of diamond marketing, since -up-and-coming consumers have largely rejected the old one.
“The way that millennials live their lives now opens up a lot of space for diamonds,” Henry says. “It is just a very different space than the one offered through most of the 20th century.”
(Top: Andriy Bezuglov/Alamy; couple: FogStock/ThinkStock)