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5 Rules for engaging Millennials as employees and consumers

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By Slaine Jenkins, Director.

I recently had the pleasure of facilitating a panel discussion on “The Future Millennial Workplace” at this year’s Youth Marketing Strategy conference in Brooklyn. We explored the various ways companies can create workplace experiences that younger generations want to engage in, and shared how we see unique Millennial mindsets and motivations reshaping workplaces now and in the future. As the conversation transpired, it became clear that what matters to Millennials when “shopping” for a job has many parallels with what they look for in the brands and products they “hire” to play key roles in their lives. Five key insights emerged as ways to build strong connections with Millennials from the office to the shopping cart, and beyond:

  • 1. Appeal to their ideals, but give them tools to get real.
    American Millennials are pragmatic idealists. They’re a generation encouraged to pursue their dreams, and empowered with the digital tools to do so. Millennials commit themselves to goals that are consistent with their personal beliefs and values – and then think logically about how to get there. A great example of this comes from Erica Nicole, founder & CEO of YFS magazine, who talked about a “do what you’re best at and outsource the rest” mentality. This Millennial mantra is reflected in their smart and efficient approach to both career and brand decisions. Warby Parker is another great example of a brand that appeals to Millennials’ idealistic desire for purpose, while strongly delivering on their pragmatism through product, service, and overall user experience.
  • 2. Give them hands-on control, not just handouts.
    Millennials value flexibility over freebies. What’s most important to them is having a voice in their experiences, from workplace policies and culture to brand engagements. While few will ever say no to free office snacks and brand swag, handouts like these won’t attract as much Millennial attention or loyalty as offerings that give them flexibility and control. In the workplace this can look like policies that allow working remotely or adjustable office hours, and for brands this is embodied in products and services that are versatile, empowering, and personalized. Innovative brands like Rent the Runway and Birch Box are good examples.
  • 3. Boost their personal brands.
    Millennials are hyper-aware of their personal brands. Many even manage a portfolio of social media profiles across platforms, balancing and experimenting with different parts of their personal, professional, and aspirational identities. Snapshots of office life and branded products alike play an important role as building blocks constructing their personal brands. And in today’s meta culture, merely talking about the right brands and curating the right content can build cultural capital and social currency without spending a dime. This need for content to fuel self-identity offers many opportunities for personal brand infusion strategies. By creating an internal and external brand experience that Millennials want to be associated with, you’ll make them want to include you in their personal brand expressions.
  • 4. Offer “freelance” opportunities.
    They’ve got side hustles. Millennials talk about their day jobs and their dream jobs, often working towards the latter through self-made gigs. They also “freelance” in their brand and content engagements – relying on one brand or content platform to meet one need, and another the next. This is particularly true in their content diets as they engage with different content providers throughout the day across formats and platforms (e.g., Snapchat on their phone, a live sports game on TV, and Netflix on their iPad). By offering timely, snackable content that is short form and part of current cultural conversations, you’ll get your brand on their list of go-to freelance destinations.
  • 5. Know their loyalty is contingent.
    Unwavering brand loyalty is a thing of the past. Millennials’ loyalty is contingent on what a brand represents and offers, not the idea of the brand itself. For many, this mentality carries over to work as the average Millennial’s tenure at a company is significantly shorter than prior generations’. Millennial loyalty can be bolstered by innovating and pushing your brand or workplace forward in new and unexpected ways.

I share these rules with an awareness that we’ve all read and heard numerous stereotypes about Millennials as employees and as consumers. Some of these stereotypes are true, but many are highly exaggerated. While the five rules above are grounded in truths we’ve seen in our work with Millennials, they are undoubtedly ripe with nuance when looking at specific Millennial sub-groups. To make matters more complex, Millennials are a moving target. They’re growing up, and what we have come to know about them is evolving as they enter new life stages. When we think “Millennial,” we tend to think college age. But the oldest Millennials are now in their mid-30s, with many starting to form their own families. How will their mindsets continue to impact your business ecosystem in the future – from workplace structures, to media content and consumption, to consumer needs and behavior?

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