Business

The Millennial Voice: Are You Listening?

A look inside the tech-savvy and influential minds of Generation Y

Don’t believe the idiom, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Change is possible—even necessary—and the businesses that don’t adapt to changes brought on by the collective voice of today’s most influential generation—the Millennials aka Generation Y—will struggle to stay competitive in the marketplace as well as the workforce.

Now 80 million strong, the individuals born between 1977 and 2000 are influencing everything in American culture and technology. They are studied and followed by corporate America and marketing professionals alike.

Why? Because they matter.

Executive Vice President of Barkley, Jeff Fromm

Kansas City marketing professional Jeff Fromm, executive vice president of Barkley and co-author of “Marketing to Millennials : Reach the Largest and Most Influential Generation of Consumers Ever,” was one of the earliest to uncover details about this generation. In 2011, Fromm spearheaded the groundbreaking research report, “American Millennials: Deciphering the Enigma Generation.” He also is lead editor of the blog, MillennialMarketing.com, and founder of Share. Like. Buy., the world’s largest and most comprehensive conference for marketing to Millennials.

“Their influence is greater than their size,” Fromm says. “Millennials have grown up in an era of unprecedented wealth and rapid technological advancement. In fact, they are expected to remain the most affluent generation. They have habits and preferences regarding communication, personal interaction and purchasing that are significantly different than those of older generations in many ways.”

According to Fromm, Millennials have a direct spending power estimated at $200 billion. Their indirect spending power is approximately $500 billion annually, and experts predict their spending power will continue to increase as their earning power grows. Consider, too, the influence of the “Millennial mindset” on consumer trends. Millennials seek peer affirmation. They believe in cause marketing and participating in a brand’s marketing. They seek adventure, albeit it “safe” adventure. And they strive for healthy lifestyles. That impacts every business moving forward, whether the company or product is new or iconic, according to Fromm.

“Even if you’re an iconic brand with older demographics, you have to engage the Millennial audience to be successful,” he says. “The numbers are undeniable, and it will only continue as the generation ages.”

While the Millennial mindset is not native to other generations like Baby Boomers, for example, it is learned behavior, Fromm explains. With technological advancements and a new tone in consumer marketing, many Baby Boomers operate as Millennials in the sense that they are more technology reliant, image-driven, multitasking, open to change, confident, team-oriented, information rich, impatient and adaptable.

So how does marketing to Millennial behavior affect a company’s bottom line? According to Fromm, Millennials want to feel good about themselves and their community. As both consumers and employees, they’ll align with companies that more closely match their values. And transparency is a must. Also, because Millennials are digital natives—the earliest adopters of new technologies and emerging social tools—they connect with companies that are “shareworthy,” meaning they will share everything about a company or a brand with their own social media audience, good and bad.

“Millennials talk with peers and process very quickly,” Fromm says. “They amplify their voice through social media and want to participate in a company’s content and creative [strategies]. Successful brands understand a participating economy.”

Fromm lists Chipotle, Krispy Kreme, Target, Trader Joes and TOMS Shoes as businesses that “get it” and are effective in speaking to Millennials, while companies like Nike and Apple are currently struggling with transparency.

Major League Soccer (MLS) club Sporting Kansas City gets it. The club’s chief marketing officer, Andy Tretiak, says it set its sights on Millennials because more kids in that generation grew up playing soccer than any other sport. More importantly, Tretiak says the club looked at the lifetime value of targeting Millennials.

“When you compare a 20-year-old fan to a 50-year-old fan, you look at how that fan will engage at this time and in the future,” Tretiak says. “At age 20, you come for the party. As you grow older, you’ll want to pass the experience on to your kids.”

Neeli Bendapudi, University of Kansas School of Business Dean

Everything Sporting Kansas City does is geared toward marketing to Millennials, he says, from its advertising to its social media. Most sports teams market themselves in a traditional manner, Tretiak says, while Sporting Kansas City has taken a bolder approach and uses its players in compelling messages that coincide with the euphoric moment that fans experience.

For example, in 2012, Sporting Kansas City held an impromptu training session in Lawrence, Kan., because the University of Kansas has long been supportive and college students fall within its demographics. Promoting it via social media at the last minute, the players stepped onto the campus to the cheers of nearly 2,000 students. Later, players did a “meet and greet” with fans at a local restaurant, and Twitter was abuzz with excitement. “You would never see another professional sports team do something like that,” Tretiak says.

Another time, the club sent actors dressed as referees carrying oversized soccer red cards to a local bar as part of its Red Card program. The actors approached those who appeared to be Millennials and asked them if they had been to a Sporting Kansas City game or had “liked” them on Facebook. Those who answered “no” had the whistle blown at them and were given tickets to a game.

It works for the MLS club. From 2010 (the last year the team was the Kansas City Wizards) to 2013, full season tickets or combined partials has increased 300 percent; attendance is up 114 percent; premium seating has sold out; merchandise sales are up 464 percent, now putting the club in the top five in MLS merchandise; television ratings have increased 202 percent; Facebook “likes” are up 3,169 percent (ranking first among MLS clubs in engagement of Facebook fans); Twitter followers are up 4,560 percent (ranking second among MLS clubs in engagement of Twitter followers); and its website hits are up more than 100 percent.

“We rely on social media to foster relationships and collaborate between the organization and its fans,” Tretiak says. “And we don’t sell on social media. We want our social media to be an extension of our brand—genuine and transparent.”

While there’s no doubt the Millennial generation is influencing consumer trends, it should be no surprise that it’s impacting the workforce as well. University of Kansas School of Business Dean Neeli Bendapudi, PhD, says Millennials are at the core of a new movement to involve their parents in their higher education and career decisions. Bendapudi, among the Share. Like. Buy. speakers, says Millennials are much closer to their parents than previous generations.

Buy “Marketing To Millennials” by Jeff Fromm by clicking on the image.

“Millennials are savvy about the information they are getting,” Bendapudi says. “When marketing to Millennials for higher education, you have to market to parents too. They are much more involved.”

Google and LinkedIn, for example, even host Take Your Parents to Work Day. Many firms embrace parental involvement and use it as a recruitment tool. A 2012 Adecco survey of more than 500 college graduates found that 8 percent of them had a parent accompany them to a job interview, and 3 percent had the parent sit in on the interview. That’s no surprise to Fromm.

“This generation is the savviest we’ve ever seen,” he says. “They get information from peers rather than Good Housekeeping.”

Story by Susan Fotovich McCabe