A few weeks ago I spoke to Fred, he’s fifty plus and works as Head of Marketing in a large membership-based organisation. He asked me the following question: "How can I reach out to millennials? I feel so disconnected…"
"How do you define ‘millennials’," I said. "Well, the younger generation that has just finished university, or people in their twenties. I'm trying to recruit them."
This comment made me think about some of my friends who are a bit younger than me. I’m a few years too old to belong to the millennial generation, but I feel that I have a lot in common with them.
The expression ‘millennials’ has been around for years and simply means people who entered adulthood around the year 2000. When you talk about millennials today you often mean people born in the early eighties to the early nineties.
I often talk about communication and branding with the people I meet who are both younger and older than me. So, let me share some of my insights about millennials.
Stories And Culture
We are all shaped by the era in which we grew up. Older generations who were born during the First and Second World Wars were shaped by the stories of those periods. The generation who were young during the hippie era in the sixties were shaped by that epoch. The world has been full of conflict over the last thirty years - from The Cold War, to 9/11 and the Arab Spring.
If you find it scary to try to make connections that bridge age gaps you are not alone – endeavouring to understand each other can make us feel as though we are viewing things through an ever-changing kaleidoscope of different cultures and age groups. Depending on when you were born and where you grew up, you will relate to different collective identities. In a branding context bridging age and culture gaps is about deepening your knowledge of your audience.
I spoke to Daria Taylor, co-founder of millennial engagement experts Talented Heads about how to engage with millennials online in different countries.
She said: "Not all millennials are the same and the way we engage with them will depend hugely on where they are based in the world. For example, millennials in the US are more open and outspoken than millennials in the rest of the world, but in countries where millennials feel as though they have to protect their privacy online due to political conflicts they are much more reserved."
The Conflict Of Choices
Openness and globalisation give young people more choices; many that older generations never had to consider. The parents of millennials knew more about ‘how to be an encouraging parent’ than their parents did and in many cultures millennials have grown up hearing that: ‘you can do anything you want’. This doesn’t make your life easier. Trust me.
We have two expressions in Sweden that we use to describe these types of parents and their children: ‘curling parents’ and ‘curling children’. In the sport of curling you sweep the ice to make it easier for the curling ball to slide. This symbolises that parents manage their children's development to a greater extent than in the past. Do you have a similar expression where you are based?
Myths And Realities
What I hear: "Millennials are fluent in social media."
Closer to the truth: Yes, millennials are tech-savvy and learn how to manage social media and technical devices quickly. Many millennials are the Chief Technology Officer in their parents’ home. This is not the same as knowing how to engage online. Many brands make the mistake of hiring a new graduate or young person to manage their social media and think they will do an amazing job. Just because you know how to connect with your friends online does not mean you know about branding and online engagement.
What I hear: "How do I send information to my young staff if they never read emails and only check social media?"
Closer to the truth: If a person is expecting to receive an email they will check their emails. That’s how we work, we look out for messages where we expect to find them: email, mail, text. One difference I see in millennials’ communication via email is that their messages are short and neat, more like text messages.
What I hear: "Millennials are always connected online."
Closer to the truth: Yes, they all have a smartphone and are connected most of the time. But they also choose to not connect, shut down and not communicate. What millennials hate is when someone else makes the choice for them regarding whether they connect online or not. I was on a holiday where everyone over fifty-years-old was loving not having a mobile signal or wifi. I hated it!
What I hear: "Millennials love to watch funny videos on YouTube."
Closer to the truth: Yes, they do, but millennials also love to consume educational content on YouTube. They are hungry to learn new things. Millennials love TED Talks and are always exploring the World Wide Web for new ideas and techniques to improve their skills. Online content must give them something back.
What I hear: "Millennials don’t show authority figures, such as their bosses, respect."
Closer to the truth: Millennials are not impressed by titles and see leaders differently from older generations. They see the leaders they admire more as friends and not people to venerate and obey. If you would like to connect with millennials you can’t push your authority on them, they need to appreciate you for who you are.
Millennials are always learning, that’s why quick feedback matters. If you are a leader you have to understand that your ability to be rapid and responsive with your feedback will help your younger colleagues to get up to speed. Slow decisions and slow turnaround makes millennials dissatisfied and they will look for new job opportunities.
Employers who want to engage with millennials must show them who they really are. Millennials want testimonials and stories from people who have interacted with your business. A friend of mine was shocked when a young candidate who applied for a job in her company asked my friend for a reference regarding how she was as a manager. Don’t be too surprised when this happens.
Millennials will google your brand and your current and past employees and they want to read and hear authentic stories.
To connect with the younger generation you must get over the mental barrier that they are tremendously different from you. They are not, but their stories might be different to yours.