Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Impact of Our Next "Great "Generation

Last Friday, I attended an excellent workshop and networking event at the University of Southern California's (USC) Center for Telecommunications Management (CTM). It was the fifth workshop in the CTM series "Understanding the Networked Digital Industry." The series focuses on exploring the new landscape of the networked digital industry which they define as "the emerging business ecosystem created by the convergence of new digital technologies, products, services and content enabled by new broadband and wireless networks." Phew -- that's a mouthful!

As you know, we have been part of and consultants to the telecommunications industry for many years, and we like to imagine that we are up-to-speed on how these emerging technologies are impacting the direct marketers' suite of tools in which to communicate with the customer. As a matter of fact, the Executive Director of CTM is one of my favorite ex-SVP's at AT&T, Morley Winograd.

Morley is brilliant -- and it's always great to hear him speak on topics that he is truly passionate about. The topic of Friday's workshop was "The Millennial Generation: Revolutionizing the Enterprise Workplace?" Morley has been studying this generation for some time now, and he presented some very interesting ideas on how they will definitely impact not only the workplace, but how marketers will have to think about how they communicate with them.

By the way, Millennials are defined as the generation after the Gen Xers. They are ages 6-22 years old right now, so are entering the workforce and are definitely impacting the economy with their earnings. In the workshop, they were referred to as the next "great" generation -- being directly compared with the GI Generation (the oldest living generation today -- the World War 2 era folks -- ages 84 and older). The GI Generation shaped our economy back in the 1920s. And, Morley feels that the Millennials will have the same impressive impact on the economy of today.

So, what is a Millennial besides a certain age group? Well, these kids and young-adults are closer to their parents today than any other generation before them. They have been raised thinking that they are "special" from all of the gaming that they've participated in (Wizards in Training). They have been sheltered (very naive about the real world) by their parents, however, they are very confident and feel they can do anything. They are very conventional in their thought-process. They feel that rules have value, however, they are not conservative in their political philosophies as can be evidenced by how avidly they support Barack Obama.

The one trait that stands out more than others is that they are team players. This is because they have been "connected" from a very young age. They are used to being able to wake up in the morning and text or "tweet" their friends to find out what everyone's doing, then planning their day from there. Truth is much more subjective and very much group dependent. They are not fond of traditional corporate firewalls -- how can they bounce things off of the people they trust most (their friends) if they aren't allowed to share their ideas about work with them.

They feel very pressured to work, work, work and really want to achieve. They truly value society's rewards. They have a tendency to move toward "safe" professions and because of this, I think they will have a huge impact on the health-care industry (medical is one of the biggest areas of their studies).

Millennials didn't work outside the home like Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. Therefore, they have been trained to be Master Negotiators -- they had to negotiate for their allowances from their parents. Many of the presenters discussed how their children would prepare a Powerpoint presentation to get their points across effectively to their parents. There was even a story where one child did something wrong, so prepared a presentation on how it occurred, complete with a full outline of optional punishments for the offense. Wow!

So, how does this impact us as direct marketers? Well, let me get you started with a few thoughts, then I'd love to hear what you think. The first thing that comes to my mind is the channels of communication. Direct marketers will have to figure out how to effectively reach this generation through mobile marketing for certain. However, because of their tendency to seek consensus with their friends, it will become more important than ever to utilize "pull" versus "push" marketing campaigns. These kids are on My Space, Twitter, YouTube, etc. As marketers, we'll need them to start the conversation about our products and services. We'll need to get them excited so that they communicate about it to their friends -- and have the opportunity to discuss the pros and cons, their likes and dislikes, and get everyone involved in the discussion.

It'll be interesting to see how this impacts corporate direct marketing campaigns over the next few years. First of all, more Millennials will be engaged in creating direct marketing strategy. Second, they'll be engaged in starting and continuing the discussion around products and services. This will be fun to watch. And, I love that this is a positive and optimistic generation. With the impact that they have on the market, I have renewed faith that they'll assist greatly in putting the economy back on track.

No pressure, kids -- I swear! : )

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