Millennial Impulsivity: How to Stop Hating and Engage for the Long Term

A few weeks ago I published did a post about intergenerational politics, specifically between boomers and millennials.  Things have evolved since then, so the time has come to reheat it a bit.

First, the New York Times broke with their streak of millennial shade throwing and published a more-scientifically backed article than mine about how each generation pretty much hates their grandkids’ wok ethic, dating back to ancient Rome.  You can read that one at your leisure here.

Second, I spent the better part of 5 days at South By Southwest Interactive trying to suss out more substantive data on millennial engagement than I’d been able to track down.  And by data, maybe I’m using the wrong word.  Something less quantitative and more qualitatively concrete, non prescriptive and non-outsider based.

There were a couple of false starts.  One, never take the time to go to a session headlined by an actress who is promoting a movie.  When people are passionate about things they’re not actually there to talk about, things go down a rathole fast.  Two, pretty much anyone who starts up with millennials in the third person is probably about to read from the existing Media-Vs.-Millennial script.  I’ve already discussed why it is I find that unproductive to the work of building a community.

I have started to come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as a guidebook as to how to engage a millennial audience.  No panel, no book, etc. is ever going to overcome the “outside advice” obstacle.  However, the third panel, “Do you even know how to engage a millennial” – lead by Brian Reich of Little M Media and Kari Dunn Saratovsky of KDS Strategies– had a point of view that was a great deal more nuanced and on-point than I’d seen thus far.

I’ve struggled with trying to “blogify” the collected points from this panel for weeks.  Time and events wait for no man, so  I’m giving up that struggle and just presenting them  – and my thoughts – in blended bullet form.

  •  Too often we place labels on this generation, when in fact they came of age in a time of incredible change. Accelerated change has had a huge impact on this generation, more so than others.  Examples being experience of events like 9/11, Katrina, and the 2008 election at a young age.
  • Most diverse generation – 43% are people of color.  A very large percentage of those are Hispanic.
  • Also an extraordinary age range, creates number of cohorts. Younger ones graduating college, older ones married with kids
  • Why is it that everyone loves to hate millennials? Because they make organizations work hard for limited time, limited dollars and limited attention spans
  • The extent to which a millennial will get excited about a product is directly related to the genuineness and directness of experience
  • Millennials are not going to take your word for it that this is a great product or important news event. [It’s going to take more than generational print]

Who do millennials really trust? The short answer is “not that many people.”  Innately they  trust their closest circle of family and friends. They trust people they have never met but have credentials.  Latter trust is almost a red herring for those who do communication – that trust is fleeting. Won’t take much to undermine it.  This is the first part of why we struggle to sell to millennials.  There’s an excellent radar for the genuine with this group, and the act of selling  struggles with authenticity.

  • Second part of why we struggle to sell to millennials – delayed purchases.  Graduating 10k dollars in debt, underemployed means that they are not doing the normal “coming of age” purchases, such as homes and cars.
  • Very careful about large ticket items. It’s not just the economy…need to reach a threshold of genuine.
  • Not going to see an ad and impulse buy
  • Need to be able to act on fact finding impulses right away, need direct impact of time, energy and dollars

First, it’s key to note that the demand for on demand is not exclusive to millennials- we have all been transformed by style buying expectations.  No longer are we willing to sit and wonder what out catalogue purchases are “really” going to look like when they eventually  show up.  We expect to be able to scope them out from every angle, read customer reviews, and then click a single button and know that it’ll be sitting at our door stop within 48 hours.

Impulsivity, however, comes in two forms.  There’s the impulse to buy, and the impulse to act.  There’s no such thing as a product without a website – even if the product doesn’t yet fully exist.  Beta sites – where you can learn everything there is to know about a product and then join a waiting list to get it when it comes out – abound.  We need to know everything immediately.  We need to be coaxed into buying.  This distinction is key when we think about how to harness impusivity.  We use the need to know as the opening gambit to create a relationship between consumer and brand.  And we continue to delivery on that promise as we work to seal the deal.

  • First touch, expect to spark a relationship, don’t expect purchases.
  • The purchase is getting engaged and getting married – lot more work to create a relationship. No one night stands  Take opportune moments to advance relationships. May be in for a relationship that will take time

Probably the best metaphor of the panel involved molecules.  Molecules, full of energy, have a tendency to bounce off each other. The call to action here is that we hardness the energy of these molecules bumping off each other into a cause.

The short of how you engage a millennial: Recognize that they are cause and idea driven, vs. being driven by institution.   Your product [or services] needs to lay out a clear relationship between purpose and action –  Here is how you take action, get involved and stay involved.  No narrative that starts and stops with purchase will be viable.


Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s