November 7, 2014
Last night, Tech Cocktail welcomed two great speakers to John Barleycorn for our Chicago Mixer Sponsored by Cars.com Speaker Series. We heard from Joel Trammell of Khorus and Scott Hess of Spark. Hess is considered today’s expert on hiring and marketing to the Millennial generation, so we had plenty of questions for him.
After reiterating that generational theory is a soft science, not necessarily confined by birth year, Hess did still ask any Millennials present in the audience to identify themselves. They obliged, which shows that there is a sense of identity – they know they are in this generation. “What happened to Gen Y?” Hess was asked. “The name of a generation is a product of the media. It has to catch on. Gen Y didn’t catch on as well as ‘Millennial’ did.”
As for the generation to follow, Hess does have an idea on what to name it. Read on for more.
On the Millennial’s Relationship with their Parents
“Think back to your first concert,” Hess challenges. “Who were you with? Who did you see? What role did your parents play?” If you went to your first concert with your parents – and it was not a Grateful Dead concert – You Might Be A Millennial. In previous generations, your parents and your friends’ parents drove you; their role was transportation. Most Millennials’ parents are there AT the concert with them. Parents are a bit like contemporaries of their kids today.
How did this generation form this different bond with their parents? Baby Boomers have been exceptionally youth-positive and not willing to give up on their culture. As they became parents, they weren’t ready to give up on fashion and entertainment. And since Teen Lit defines pop culture right now, those who find themselves interested in staying up on culture and fashion will embrace what Millennials are embracing.
On the Millennial’s Relationship with Tech
You would be remiss to label this generation the “tech” generation. Gen-Xers were certainly getting their hands into tech. But tech was hard and complicated for the last generation. “Gen-Xers had to learn how to change the oil in their car before learning to drive. Millennials just get in the car and drive.” This is the “Easy-Interface Generation,” he says.
Building a digital campaign for a Millennial must be easy and its value must be obvious out-of-the-box. Tech is not boring for a Millennial. It’s awesome, it’s fun; it’s self-expression.
On the Millennial’s Relationship with their Employer
As he has shared before, Hess mentioned that a Millennial self-identifies as a mercenary instead of a soldier. The mission must have an end in sight. They don’t want to know the ten-year plan: lay out what skills they will immediately obtain, and give exact ideas and bullets. Be honest about the career path and the prospects at your company.
If you’re not providing them near-term value, you’re going to lose them. They are NOT scared to leave their job, like their Gen-X counterparts were. A Gen-Xer had imperfect information available which made them fearful of change. So how do you maintain a relationship with a millennial if they see themselves as a mercenary? “Do not bullshit” a Millennial, Hess says. They have constant access to other job postings, what their peers are earning, and what the culture is like at other employers. Your corporate culture should not be ambiguous. It should be laid out and direct.
You must engage your Millennial employee with an ongoing dialog. You cannot expect a once-a-year review with a Millennial and expect them to stay engaged. Additionally, transparency IS the future. If you are transparent now, you are on the right side of history.
On the Millennial’s Relationship with the Media
The Big Picture answer, across any type of product or company, on how to market to a Millennial audience, is “philosophy.”
“We used to sell function. If a shoe fit a function, this was a good shoe. Then, we sold function and form. Does it work and look good? A fashion and performance shoe was a good shoe. But now, philosophy-driven products do the best. Does it work, does it look good, and does it stand for something? Is it innately good? Form-function-and-philosophy. Commerce lubricated by conscience.”
This may not mean that your company must stand for “Social Good.” But your message must include an identity. When it comes to Social Good, the collective idea behind the Millennial audience is that they don’t necessarily want to protest or to be asked to do a lot of things to promote a message. They are mostly the “armchair activist.”
Your message also must be promoted not only externally, either: 90% of what you do must work inside your company structure as well. You can’t have two different stories. Your marketing message must be in alignment with your company culture.
On the Millennial’s Relationship with Other Generations
Do we hate Millennials? It’s a cycle, Hess says. Each generation often will say that the one coming behind it is worse – when really, “we hate them because they’re better.” We demonstrate that we hate Millennials when we say that they should be dressing a different way. That they should have a different work persona. And they will resent this.
But the alliance between Gen-X and Millennials is more than there was between Gen-X and Boomers. Gen-X is clinging to youth. Gen X may have been hated more than Millennials. They’re kind of the “crazy uncle” to Millennials, and probably cleared the path for them to find their outspoken identity. Gen X’s “time” is arriving a little later in life, but they are better prepared to enjoy it. And they enjoy watching Millennials make the most of life.
Generational warfare will probably be reduced more and more with each upcoming generation. Millennials give us a semblance of youth, and the fulcrum of our culture rests atop the shoulders of youth. If we are going to live longer, we must cling to youth more. “What’s the point of getting old? Why wouldn’t we embrace a youthful mindset? When you have trappings of youth around you, you behave like a young person,” adds Hess.
And What’s the Name of the Next Generation?
Scott Hess is definitely hoping to get his title for today’s youngest generation to catch on. He calls them the Post generation. This generation will arrive at adolescence in a world that is post-9/11, post-Obama, post-desktop computer; post-“here is how it’s going to be.” They arrive after the time of “don’t ask-don’t tell”, after the time of “everyone goes to college.” The next generation will have more ambiguity and permutations of choice.
That, and they encapsulate moments of their lives and post them on a daily basis. Clever!
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