“Why can’t they be like we were, perfect in every way? What’s the matter with kids today?” Rachel Adler, “Millennial Extraordinaire and Social Media Manager” for the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, addressed these perennial questions from “Bye Bye Birdie” as she advised the SFDC Business Roundtable about how to approach the Millennial Generation.
This is a large and diverse generation, spanning an outsized spread of birth years from 1977 to 2000. It is often divided into three subgroups. The first subgroup, now in their thirties, can remember when the Internet was less common, appreciate printed books and personal vehicles, and had their early careers negatively affected by the great recession. The middle subgroup, currently in their mid- to late-twenties, grew up with terrorism and financial instability, and find themselves more often working in the “gig economy” without traditional workplace benefits.
The youngest subgroup, now in their late teens to early twenties, is heavily vested in the digital age, is more likely to use ride sharing to own a vehicle, grew up with such financial instability that they have observed college-educated individuals unable to find good jobs and people with 30 years of experience lose their jobs. They feel little control over their own futures, and are more likely to live life in the moment. Because they are on the cusp of the following Generation Z, Rachel refers to this subgroup as the “Zombies.”
Millennials have experienced a hyper-competitive job market, which can skew their sense of priorities. This is an environment where a AA or BA degree is required to get even a part-time job. Those who started working during the recession have been especially “locked in” to continually lower salary levels. They tend to live frugally, but are very brand-conscious and will be loyal to a brand that is perceived as giving them rewards (like the Starbucks app). They enjoy diverse images, including sound and text. They like brands that tell a story and let them feel part of a movement (like Taco Bell’s egg taco commercial). They easily spot brand advertising in television shows and movies, while older generations are just watching.
As their education centered mostly around book smarts, and they are accustomed to cell phones and looking up information on the Internet, millennials have a huge social skill gap. No one even yelled at them. They crave mentorship. Most would benefit from menial jobs involving customer service. They will be happy to learn people skills from you, and will enjoy teaching you digital skills in return. Word-of-mouth advertising is better at reaching them than social media.
In an era when a sex tape can make you a billionaire, the American Dream seems a bit different. But Millennials are socially conscious, cause-driven, entrepreneurial and communal. Perhaps there is hope for the future, after all.