Let’s start this off by saying I am not a millennial. I don’t use words like Adulting, and I don’t live at home with my parents. Could you imagine?
Okay, that was for non-millennials who love to mock the younger generation. Now, let’s flip the script, because like it or not, millennials themselves read comments like that, and if you or your company ignore them or mock them, you will not be relevant much longer. The millennial cohort is the largest in American history, and if they aren’t important for your business yet, they soon will be.
It’s not like we haven’t been there. Generation X and baby boomers have each been mocked and misunderstood by their elders in turn. Then the young people grow up, and all the crazy stuff that drove their parents nuts becomes the norm. I remember older people asking how could we listen to hip hop—now it’s one of the top genres in music. And yet for some reason, a lot of us forget what it was like.
Then there are all the generalizations that people lump millennials into. Like that thing about living with their parents? While many no doubt go back home after graduating college (more-so than ever before), it’s still a generalization and doesn’t tell the whole story. A lot of older people think millennials are lazy and entitled (some are, but so are many people of other generations), without realizing that the economy has changed and it’s a lot harder to get established now than it was a generation ago (although I would argue it is easier to start a business today than it was years ago). Young people today have to be scrappy and assertive. If anything, a lot of them are working harder and smarter than people of previous generations.
If those thoughts aren’t enough to get you to take millennials seriously, think about this:
Millennials are getting older, and many of them are coming into positions of responsibility and leadership now. Are you a financial advisor? Guess what—when your older clients pass on, it’s the kids or grandkids who will inherit control of that money you’re managing. If you haven’t built a relationship with those people, you won’t be managing that money much longer. Failure to retain the second generation of clients is a major reason financial planners struggle. Or maybe you sell products to a company? If so, same problem. Before long, millennials will be promoted into leadership positions, and you will lose those accounts.
Even when authority is still held by a Gen Xer or a baby boomer (or occasionally someone older), the internal decision maker is likely to be a millennial. I see this often. When mom or dad, grandma or grandpa need something, it is the often the millennial in the family who does the research to find a solution. That solution won’t involve you if your marketing has been ignoring, or actually alienating, their entire generation. In companies, the boss may be a Gen Xer, but there is usually a millennial assistant or two who can explain why they don’t trust another business trying to sell to them. It’s not just the person in charge you need to appeal to—it’s also who the person in charge depends on for advice.
Sometimes appealing to millennials will mean using social media in a different way, or appealing to a different set of priorities and values. As a very general rule of thumb, each generation has its own subculture and what’s popular for one might can seem dated or even offensive to another. Or you may find that reaching out to millennials means showing how your product or service can meet their needs, which might be different than those of their parents. And sometimes it might be as simple as not making jokes like the one I started this article with!
You have lots of options and lots of resources you can draw on to figure out how to reach younger people. But the bottom line is if you alienate millennials, you are alienating the future of your business.
And then there is Gen Z…