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.


South BY Southwest, Inside-Outside-Upside-Down

I am behind on my SXSW blogging, to the point where I’m pretty sure there’s going to be no one definitive blog.  What I did get was a set of topics on which I want to blog, so I’ll be publishing the fruit of SXSW for some time, even if there’s no blow-by-blow rundown of what I did, what I ate, what I bought, who I met, and archive of collected swag.  What I am doing instead is publishing links to my collective storify synopses, but I’ll lead off with a few general observations  before sending you off to into the minutae.

What was startling about SXSW from the get-go is how effectively it turns all of downtown Austin into Terminal D of the DFW airport.  Everyone is squatting around on the floor, competing for plugs, waiting for the doors to open up and get their badges scanned in a manner  evocative of lining up at an airport gate.  In spite of the amount of personal contact you have with the low-pile carpet in the Austin Convention center, it’s not entirely unpleasant.  Within the airport-esque bubble there’s some seriously magical stuff going on.  Company sponsored airport lounges, like the one set up by Nest and full-size pop up ads like this one for A&E’s Bates Motel serve to reinforce the idea that your reality has been altered, albeit only in a very specific geography.

The Nest Your Home Away from HomeDon't Park Here

Next year, when people pitch their theories for what IBM should do at SXSW, and they include things like handing out grilled cheese sandwiches on the street using a squadron of teenagers on stilts, it’ll seem just slightly less like someone bumped their head than it did before.  At least with respect to the grilled cheese sandwiches, the question is “didn’t someone do something just like that last year?”

South By Southwest, Analyses and Day-By-Day, oddly intertwined.

1) Outside the Expo, iPhones are OUT. Inside the expo, iPhone is king.
Samsung was everywhere, handing out batteries and generally kicking ass. And while this is a data set of one Google-owned company, there weren’t recharge plugs available for iphones in Nest’s hangout.  On the other hand, there were companies in the expo center who were so exclusively iphone-focused as to be somewhat alarming [Really, Olloclip? Really?] The rate at which they adapt to the changing demographics of Android that going to determine the viability of anyone making a phone accessory.  Just plain ignoring it is just plain embarassing.

Storify Day One: Where, how, and with whom I rolled.

2) Wearables.
Are you making a wearable device? Are you Samsung? Or Shaq? Meet the standard by which you will be judged.
2014-03-10 14.23.31

 Storify Day Two: Rollin’, part two.

3)  Things people want to print out: pictures.  Things people still can’t quite grok: 3D printing.
At least two of the lounges I saw, and at least two vendors in the expo, were offering digital-turned-paper pictures. It seems we want the bulk of our pictures digitized, but if the paper is instantaneous, we’ll take that too.  Whomever owns the Poloroid brand name, take note.

3D Printing was still a big presence, but it’s clear we’re struggling with what precisely to do with it commercially.  The most popular item I saw was fake google glass printouts – meaning someone had printed a plastic faker google glass arm.  What does it mean when someone wants to pretend to be a glasshole?

 Day Three: Walking the Trade Show

4) Social media isn’t fun anymore.  It has much more to do now with analyzing the motivations of who’s socializing and scoping out who isn’t.

One of the two panels I got shut out of was on Social Media Analytics, and the best-attended (and most mindblowing one) that I got into was on “What Social Media Analytics Can’t Tell You.”  The idea of social media content and strategy  being simply a question of acquiring followers and blurting out one sided announcements is so done so as to be laughable.  Now not only do you have to mine who’s talking, you need to understand that you’re probably only getting active responses from 32% of the people who are actually looking.  Lurkers and how to enfranchise them is the next big question.

I was proud of IBM’s presence in this area, starting with the #socialbizshakeup event at the W and then onto the personality trait analysis available in the expo.

I’m not clear I’m ready to take this unswerving a  look in the mirror of my own tweets, but knowledge is power.  We also managed to party! On more than one occasion! And only one time was a jazz combo involved.

Day Four: Sold Out Sessions and Werewolves

5) Evernote + 3M, sitting in a tree.  K-i-s-s-i-n-g.
Between this Secret and this booth, featuring  giveaways of Evernote premium…Consider this my first acquisition crystal ball shot call of 2014.

Day Five: Livetweeting for my LIFE

That is all the news I thought to write down, intermixed with my days [and nights] of SXSW 2014.  Enjoy.