Molly Millerwise Meiners

Was 2015 the year of the Millennial? It may be hard to argue otherwise. We heard the voices of Millennials reflected throughout consumer pitches, news stories, brand campaigns and political battles. Think tanks studied them, corporate America tried to woo them, and political candidates did their best to understand them. And since they don’t seem to be going away, perhaps 2015 was merely a platform Millennials used to grab our attention, making 2016 the year they consume it.

Companies are chomping at the bit to engage Millennials, but many are still trying to grasp what the generation stands for and how exactly to deal with them. “Are TV ads a waste of money when they don’t watch traditional TV? Can we convey our message using only emojis? Holy $&!* our app crashed!!!!

There is a lot of speculation around the Millennial platform that we want to delve into deeper. For starters, they’re older than you think.

The Age of Millennials – For the most part, the public perceives Millennials as being in college or recently graduated. Members of this generation, however, are recognized as being born between the early 1980s and 2000s, meaning they could currently be aged anywhere from 16 to 36. So while some Millennials can barely drive a car, others have been in the workforce for more than a decade, pay taxes, own a home and even have a couple school-aged offspring. Therefore, marketing to Millennials is tricky and has to be multidimensional, as the same product or service will be desirable – or not – in different ways.

Adapting to the Disrupters – Millennials are the drivers of disruption, plain and simple. Yes, industries and technologies are being disrupted through advancements forged by all generations, but largely in an attempt to keep up with what the 20-somethings started. A handful of pioneering Millennials’ desire for something faster, easier, cheaper and ultimately better is driving the entire disruptive movement, and their co-Millennials are leading the charge.

Granted, they have an advantage: they don’t and won’t operate under the “business as usual” or “because this is how it’s always been done” mantras that have often defined the mindset of Generation Y’ers and Baby Boomers. Millennials are restless in their pursuit to disrupt everything from highly complex and life-changing technologies to something as monotonous as booking a hotel room. We have to adapt to this disruptive mindset if we want to truly embrace and understand Millennials.

Social On Demand – To again state the obvious, Millennials are socially connected. This lifestyle goes well beyond Facebook to include almost every aspect of their lives: how they grocery shop, bank, career network or make doctor’s appointments. And when you pair Millennials’ disruptive mindset with their tether to social, you get an insatiable desire for 1) on-demand goods and services; 2) easily obtained; 3) through an exceptional customer experience. You need milk and laundry detergent? Order Instacart. Left your laptop at a friend’s house? TaskRabbit is on the case. Parking too hard to find in the city? One click of the Zirx app will take care of that and get your wheels washed to boot. Will a brick and mortar store be dead to Millennials? No. But don’t expect them to be caught dead in one if they can use their phone to order someone to go for them.

Moreover, Millennials seek out social affirmation and use online channels to swap information – good and bad – about companies and services. A less than desirable customer experience, a finicky app, or a delayed delivery can translate to more bad publicity than an above the fold hit piece in The New York Times.

Transparency, Please – Perhaps it was growing up in a time of war or experiencing the horror of 9-11 through younger eyes. Maybe it was the inherent blame and distrust following the financial crisis and recession. Whatever the cause, Millennials have a watchful and critical eye, particularly for anything deemed part of the establishment. From government to corporations, Millennials are suspicious of the wool being pulled over their eyes and use their purchasing power as a form of social action. Your company doesn’t top an index of sustainable businesses? No, thank you. Your industry has been likened to big, bad tobacco? Next, please. Your PAC contributed to a candidate with differing social positions? I’ll take my business somewhere else.

Whether through a click of the thumb or a loud, far-reaching tweet, Millennials are raising the social bar and companies must be able to show how their mission contributes to a better world. These ideals (or demands) by Millennials can be ill-informed and frustrating, but – similar to their disruptive mindset – this inherent mistrust is seen as a driver for the greater good. The good news is companies are also embracing their role in helping to advance change. Now they must ensure they are advocating this mission to audiences across the board…particularly Millennials.

Generation Z – Just beginning to get your arms around Millennials? Don’t get too comfortable because the next generation of consumers is nipping at their heels. While the actual name is still being debated, Generation Z or iGen refers to the post-Millennials born in the early 2000s until 2025. Yes: you need to start thinking about how to handle these whippersnappers before they are even born. This next generation will never experience life without the internet, a smart phone, or have to see a commercial. If Millennials are driving an on-demand economy, Gen Z’ers will know that and that alone. Anything less will be antique…old…useless. How you ready your product or service for that reality may just be keeping you up at night…or will now!

So while 2015 may have been the dress rehearsal for Millennials, they will take center stage in 2016 in their role as generation and game changers. Remember, this is the generation that brought us crowd-funding ideas they thought were cool – anything is possible. If you are looking to engage Millennials around your organization’s reputation, your products, or your advocacy agenda you need to focus on three things:

  1. Compelling user-experience. This generation wants information delivered in easy to digest bites.
  2. Social affirmation. Millennials are going to share information and seek information from others.
  3. Connect to the greater good. Find ways to connect your mission to the greater good. Millennials are particularly comfortable using the marketplace to effect social change.