Do you know how to bridge the generation gap?

Smart practice

Monday 28 March 2016

A guide to reaching Generation Y and Millennials

It’s likely that every generation has looked with puzzlement on the one that follows it.

For Baby Boomers then, today’s young workforce, with its apparent addiction to the internet and strange habit of communicating in pictures (through Snapchat and emoticons) rather than words, could well be from another planet.

These traits might render them a potentially difficult prospect as a client or employee. But according to Millennial career consultant and author Anastasia Button, the so-called ‘Generation Y’ or ‘Millennial generation’ born from 1980 onwards will comprise 75 per cent of the world’s workforce by 2025.

“These are going to be the people you have to market to, and who will be working for you,” Button says. “And if you don’t figure this out early you are going to be in trouble.”

This is especially true for many Baby Boomer business owners who are striving to bridge the generation gap, especially if their only substantial experience with Millennials might be through interactions with their grandchildren.

As a result of this limited exposure, stereotyping by the older generation can quickly build up. Numerous books have been written on the behaviours of the Millennial generation, with a narrative forming that suggests Millennials feel more entitled than previous generations.

According to human resources consultant Jill Noble, the result is the formation of unconscious biases that quickly see Millennials dismissed both as potential customers and employees.

“It originates in our fight or flight response, where we have been conditioned as humans to avoid things that are potentially unknown or dangerous, or are unfamiliar.”

Noble says this response can apply easily to genders, cultures, and people with disabilities, as well as to generations.

“But what are the consequences of us remaining with that blind spot, and what are the opportunities for the future?” she asks.

Unconscious bias often manifests itself as a snap judgement, and Noble says recognising this trait can actually be the key to its reversal.

“So the antidote to unconscious bias is the opposite – very slow thinking, very deliberate conscious thought, and operating with intent and asking ourselves if we have all the facts,” Noble says.

Button contends that growing up with the internet has created a generation that is different from those that have come before. But she suggests describing Millennials as ‘entitled’ may be a misinterpretation of their search for meaning, which she sees as characterising a generation that has grown up with global connectivity.

Millennials will respond most strongly to stories rather than taglines or slogans, especially when that story benefits them directly.

Button says her own research amongst Millennials shows their tendency to gravitate towards organisations that can be seen to be benefitting the community, but quickly punish organisations that are seen to not be authentic to the image they project.

“Millennials really want authenticity, transparency and integrity,” Button says. “And if they’re seeing a commercial or hearing a speech with a pitch in it, and they are not being authentic, Millennials see that. Millennials want to be a part of companies who are giving back to the world, as opposed to taking.”

For financial advisers who are seeking to connect with Millennials, Button says it’s important to craft marketing messages that explain clearly how their services will be of benefit, perhaps through use of examples. These examples will naturally be different from those of older investors, due to their stage in life’s journey.

Marketing messages must also stand up to scrutiny, given Millennials are highly skilled at researching brands and services online.

And she cautions against simply mimicking the language and communication traits of Millennials, as this will quickly be seen as inauthentic. However, some of the technical jargon of investing may be unfamiliar and off-putting to Millennials, and should be avoided.

Living their lives online can make Millennials hard to reach through mainstream media, which makes digital and social media an essential platform for communication. Button says Millennials also respond well to recommendations from peers, and these can be incredibly important when making decisions about service providers.

According to Nicholas Lembo, manager for local business outreach at online ratings service Yelp, the familiarity that Millennials have with technology must be taken into account when marketing to them.

“Younger consumers use online platforms to find and consider businesses, so business owners need to have a firm grasp of where their consumers are finding them online and manage their responses and engagement with customers on such platforms effectively,” Lembo says. “The explosion of smartphones means that almost all communication for younger generations needs to be crafted in a way that is easily consumable on mobile devices.”

But more important than the media is the message, as Button says. Millennials will respond most strongly to stories rather than taglines or slogans, especially when that story benefits them directly.

And contrary to some observations, while Millennials are very comfortable interacting online, Button says they also crave direct human interaction. Hence they respond well to mentoring – something that can benefit the mentor as well the mentee.

“The mentor can actually start to understand what the Millennials are thinking, what they are wanting, what they are missing, and that makes the company work better,” Button says. “And if you have that connection you will have Millennials that are more loyal to the company, because they feel that they are part of a community.

“Millennials don’t want to feel that they have to work all on their own. They want to work in teams, they want to have friends and people around them, because they were all stuck behind a computer screen at school or on their phones.”

The differences between Millennials and older generations may appear challenging, but their inevitable passage to become the clients and employees of the future means engaging with this generation is essential.

While the methods for engagement might seem unfamiliar, they can still be learned, and may open up new opportunities for those advisers willing to do so. After all, younger investors have their whole lives ahead of them, and may prove to be highly valuable clients over time.

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