Say you’re a tech startup looking to attract talent from some of the big players. You’re dangling signing bonuses and annual bonuses and merit bonuses and stock bonuses and every other financial bonus you can think of in front of potential employees – and not getting even a nibble. Patricia Martin, CEO of LitLamp (litlamp.com), had such a client.
Martin, who’s been tracking millennials since 2007, immediately saw the issue: “Millennials see how fast the world is moving, and they know the only way to stay ahead of the curve is to keep learning. For them, it’s not about the degree or even the money. It’s about skills and learning opportunities. They don’t want to be their parents: 50 and fired.”
So Martin came up with an idea for the client: “A lot of the talent they were looking for had gone into deep debt (in college) and hadn’t had some of the opportunities they’d craved,” she said. “The company created a ‘semester abroad,’ where employees could spend a semester overseas after they’d been with the company for a year.”
“Turns out millennials wanted the learning experience more than the cash,” Martin said.
According to the U.S. Census, there are 77 million millennials between the ages of 18 and 30. It’s a huge cohort, and as they age, it’s getting harder to predict what they want. “They are splintering,” Martin says. “It was much easier to generalize about them when they were younger.”
Martin’s research into millennials led her to focus on what she termed “creatives,” young people with lots of cultural capital compared to others in their age group, which gives them the ability to influence their peers. With millennials, it’s not just about early adopters. Influencers must have a respectable fan following on Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, Ello or YouTube. “(Introverts) will still be challenging to target, engage and persuade, but without any of the benefits to your brand, because they won’t like and share your content,” Martin said.
That’s where Martin’s creatives come in. “They avidly produce and consume art, video, music, live performance, e-zines – and share it across platforms,” she said. “That makes them easy to track because they are highly radiant. And they are much more likely to have power over the destiny of your brand.”
The marketing world has changed drastically since millennials were born. “We used to be in the extraction business,” she said. “We’d follow people, interrupt them, jump in front of them and extract money. Now we’re in the infusion business. You need to strike an emotional chord, give them something.”
She cited Dove’s “real woman” campaign as one that resonates with millennials. “Brands like Dove are filling millennials – and their parents – up,” she said. “If you do it right, it has that great crossover (to other demographics).”
Martin said one key to grabbing millennial influencers is to engage them early in the business process, and not just online. They want an intimacy and deep familiarity with a brand, so face-to-face interaction is important. “Bring them in a year to six months before you launch,” she advised. “And be ready to listen for their feedback, because they will have lots of advice. Creatives love to solve problems, so don’t worry about having an unfinished product.”
Some of their advice may be useless or even counter-productive, but another key to millennials is to let them know you take them seriously. “Be honest with them,” Martin said. “Tell them you tried it and it didn’t work. Keep in touch as you progress.”
Early adopter word of mouth can be a double-edged sword. But Martin said research can almost always prevent a bad outcome. “Before you go to them, analyze blogs, aggregate memes, find out where they are,” she said. “It’s a great job for an intern. It doesn’t have to be lasered, but it has to be thorough.”
Millennials tend to think brands have no sense of humanity, so another key is to understand which causes they support and how your product provides something to support those causes. “Let them know what’s in it for them,” she said. “Let them know you are aligned with their values.”
Photo credit: Passport, paystub (iStock)