If there is one universal truth about generational stereotypes, it’s the fact that there is not one flawless universal truth about generational stereotypes. I know 80-year-olds who excel at utilizing social media. I know 20-year olds who have never owned a smartphone. I know Generation X-ers who gravitate towards authority. I know Baby Boomers who don’t own a credit card. I even know Millennials who are great workers, pay attention, interact with adults, and can leave their smartphones out of view for hours at a time!
But that’s the thing about generational stereotypes, especially when it comes to your business strategy. Stereotypes don’t have to be bullet proof. They just have to help lead you in a direction that will hopefully yield results, and therefore, the future viability of your enterprise.
The Greatest Generation is all but gone. Baby Boomers (77 M) are retiring, or their companies are being absorbed by conglomerates and mergers, along with their company retirement plans. Generation X (61 M) is very individualistic, and too cynical to really follow through with change or leadership. The future of American business will be forged at the hand of Millennials (80 M). Try not to puke.
So as realistically and objectively as possible, let’s talk about Millennials. Let’s also establish the fact that rolling your eyes, groaning, or openly bashing the next generation will not earn your business one more dollar. And whether you think Millennials deserve your attention or not, the future of your business hinges largely on your willingness, and ability, to make your business attractive to current 18-35 year-olds, or those born from 1980-2000.
Love it. Embrace it. Resist it. Or hate it. Millennials are the future of American business.
Pushing aside generational opinions for a minute, let’s look at some substantial facts about Millennials (born 1980-2000):
Millennials have had more exposure to 24/7 information than any previous generation. This has translated into many interesting developments in this seemingly disinterested generation. How has the 24-hour stimulating, constantly-communicating, always-connected-but-never-fully-connected childhood experience affected Millennials? Two words. Extreme. Filters.
The Greatest Generation, the parents of Baby Boomers, might have received 10,000 different messages in their entire lifetime. That could include things like “Drink Coke” or “Smoke Lucky Strike” or “Cut Your Hair” or “Vote for Ike.” Millennials have grown up encountering 10,000 or more different messages every month, often for their entire life. The only possible way for the human brain to function with this kind of information overload is to filter. Extreme filtering is not just a handy tool, it’s perhaps necessary for sanity and survival in a world of noisy, desperate, attention-starved pleas from every direction.
What exactly do we mean by filtering? Well, it could actually mean different things to a different audience. Individual taste will always be a factor. Some Millennials may outwardly hate the music of Taylor Swift. And they may never have gone into an old-school Music Store to buy her album, or her latest single. But 9 Million purchases have been made so far for her 2014 album, 1989. In an era in which album sales have all but completely disappeared, Taylor Swift found a way to stay viable in a swiftly dying market medium. How? She found a way to identify with Millennials. She stayed the course. She jumped on the social media horse, and rode it all the way to a HUGE market share. She didn’t shake her head at Millennials, or groan, or roll her eyes at behavior she didn’t understand. She didn’t demand they grow up with her when it perhaps was a natural time in her career to transition to an edgy, hacked-off 20-year-old. She understood they were still heartbroken teenagers. So she stayed 15-years-old for 7 more years. And she made millions.
In a very digital age, Taylor understood that Millennials crave a very human experience.
Yes, Millennials will continue to seem reluctant and disaffected to other, older generations. But that’s because every question spawns massive amounts of filtering and processing. They have learned how to filter authentic pleas from cheap ploys. They are savvy. They trust their decisions. They care deeply about what is real, and what is worthwhile. They care deeply about how the current actions of humanity will affect their local community, as well as their global community. They will remain loyal to institutions that give them a reason to be remain loyal.
So let’s stop trying to figure out how to dupe, or trick, or make use of millennials like they are some sort of harvestable paste. Instead, let’s pledge to recognize their value, their contributions, and their undeniable future atop the hierarchy of American business, as consumers, as leaders, and as the bulk of the workforce.
The future of your business may depend on it. And that future may be a lot closer than you may think.