Brands must learn to engage with the Millennials – the 14- to 31-year-olds reshaping society – if they are to get their message across, says Marian Salzman
Throughout the developed world, the demographic bulge of Baby Boomers is moving into retirement, and a new generation – the Millennials – is on the horizon, reshaping the way business is done.
This group covers people aged between 14 and 31 and they have very different social attitudes and expectations to their parents’ generation. In Europe alone, 51 million Millennials are expected to enter the workforce in the next ten years, and 48 million Baby Boomers will retire.
Their disinterest in professionalism and expertise, their loss of faith in certifications and, perhaps most significant, Millennials’ lack of interest in privacy are not trivial matters. While some employers and senior colleagues may hope these changes are temporary, there’s no denying that at least some will have lasting effects. But which ones?Back when Baby Boomers were in their teens and early 20s, they scorned their parents as uncool, and they challenged authority. “Don’t trust anyone over 30” was the operative phrase. Some Baby Boomers are still challenging figures of authority, but now they’re doing it on behalf of their children. Colleges and even employers are reporting a growing prevalence of “helicopter parents”, who hover over their grown children.
Hyper-involved parents are calling professors to complain about their children’s grades and pestering administrators about their kids’ living arrangements. With mobile phones, parents are always on hand to console, reassure and even fight with their child against faculty or other students. British universities have even hired family liaison officers to help parents “settle in”.
This is continuing after graduation. Several high-profile graduate recruiters have reported instances where parents have contacted them to negotiate a son or daughter’s starting salary. Others have had parents contact them to complain about a “child” who has been overlooked for promotion. One result of this extended parental involvement is that Millennials are much more likely than other generations to need “parenting” at work – they respond to coaching, mentoring, encouragement and praise.
But there is a certain irony in the fact that while many Millennials need parental hand-holding in the real world, in the digital world it’s Millennials who tend to be the hand-holders. They grew up using digital technology, and they often act as guides for digital immigrants – people who entered the digital world as adults. While immigrants may be adept at using technology, they resemble people who learn a new language but retain traces of their mother tongue and culture.
Unlike the previous “Me” generation, Millennials are more the “You for me” generation, according to Porter Novelli senior vice-president Iya Davidson. “They put a lot of onus on us to create conditions and accommodations that make them comfortable and fulfilled,” she says.
Employers may not like this attitude, but they’d be wise to pay attention to it. The message from employment consultants and HR specialists is that companies will have to adapt to meet Millennials’ needs or they’ll walk out. In many sectors and many regions, Millennials can afford to be fussy because there are now more jobs than people to fill them.
Employers are getting this message, but it seems their response is still falling short. According to a Forrester Consulting survey, 91% of executives across Europe say they recognise the different working styles of the new generations and 73% have responded to it. But of the small number of Millennials responding, only half thought that the company they worked for had responded to their needs.
What does this mean for marketers? Different social attitudes require a different approach to communications and with Millennials, this is based on more dialogue and more openness. It is less about “telling” someone something and more about “discussing” and engaging.
This may not come easy to some brands, which are used to pushing out information but it will be critical in creating connections with this powerful and vocal group who are today’s consumers, employees and opinion formers. vMarian Salzman is partner and chief