We hear a lot these days about ‘Millennials’ and ‘Gen Z’ – often in the context of selfies and hipster brunches – but what do these labels actually represent and what do they mean for your business? Every savvy business should be looking to the future, and this means understanding the upcoming generations, adapting and evolving to connect with them on their own terms. After all, these are both potential customers and tomorrow’s employees, so you really can’t afford to ignore them!

 

Who Are Millennials?

 

Also known as Gen Y, the Millennial generation is made up of people who were born roughly between 1980 and the mid-‘90s. Today, Millennials make up more than a quarter of the population of the U.S, which represents a vast pool of talent and consumers to tap into if you are proactive and strategic enough about engaging with them. The great news is that there is a definite trend in this generation towards small business and entrepreneurship, rather than big names and corporate brands. Let’s take a closer look…

 

Millennials as Consumers:

 

  • Getting There First. For Millennials, there is a certain kudos that comes with discovering a new small business or being an early advocate of an emerging brand, so if you put in the effort to get noticed in the right places, you can tap into this.

 

  • Making It Personal. Millennials love a personal experience, and feeling like they are individually valued, rather than simply a face in the crowd or just another customer. If you can connect with them on a personal level, customizing your service, products or experience, this is a great way to make yourself stand out and show your value. What some may see as self-centered or self-involved is, for you, an open invitation to build a loyal customer base by making every Millennial feel special.

 

  • Community & Loyalty. Millennials like the idea of supporting each other, doing good, and being part of something, which means they’re more likely to root for the underdog than support big brands, and they can be a fiercely loyal bunch. If you’re smart and proactive about getting them on side, keeping them there is the easy bit!

 

  • Social Conscience. Millennials tend to pride themselves on being highly engaged, informed and conscious consumers, who want to feel good about their purchasing decisions. They value ethics and authenticity, and are wary of faceless corporations – especially as this generation is still reeling from the reverberations of the recession.

 

  • Social Media. Millennials are also the social media generation, and so much of marketing strategy these days is about making yourself share-worthy: if you get that bit right, your followers will pretty much do the rest for you. Word of mouth (or the online equivalent!) and personal recommendations carry a lot of weight with this generation as they tend not to trust traditional advertising, so once you start to build up a loyal base of brand advocates, you’re flying.

 

Top Tips for Engaging Millennials:

 

  • Connect with Millennials primarily through your social media platforms. Meet them where they are and engage in discussions about the things that matter to them. Making an emotional connection lays the foundation for brand loyalty.

 

  • Develop a really strong and well-defined brand personality that translates across all of your social platforms and interactions, as this personal and authentic connection is so important for this generation.

 

  • Think Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube for stunts and gimmicks that will get attention and get shared.

 

  • Engage with a social or environmental cause in a creative way. For example, the World Wildlife Foundation ran an #EndangeredEmoji campaign, encouraging Twitter users to donate every time one of the endangered animal emojis was tweeted.

 

  • Make good use of data analytics to provide an increasingly personal and customized experience to your users and customers.

 

The bottom line is that Millennials might be suspicious, wary and harder to reach through traditional methods, but they represent a solid and loyal customer base if you can connect with them on an emotional level.

 

Millennials as Employees:

 

  • Millennials trend towards working for small businesses because they see a lot of opportunity for progression, the freedom to be creative and make their mark, and they are attracted to the idea of doing something new, innovative and exciting. Ultimately, they care more about doing something that matters, something that they care about and see the value in, than having a fancy job title or earning a top salary.

 

  • This generation tend to be fans of a casual, relaxed and flexible working environment, where they are trusted rather than micro-managed. The option for remote working appeals because they believe in a healthy work/life balance. Create the right culture, reach the right people, and you will likely find that your Millennial workforce are more productive and work longer hours because they care about their work, they love their jobs, they feel valued, and they enjoy the independence and flexibility you can offer as a small business.

 

  • Millennials appreciate a sense of personal responsibility and achievement, and the opportunity to express their opinions, so you should cultivate less of a top-down structure in the workplace, with accessible and approachable senior leadership and an open door policy. This kind of culture is empowering, and it therefore tends to encourage more innovation, creativity, collaboration and – ultimately – loyalty.

 

  • To appeal to this socially conscious generation, it helps to ground your business in values that look beyond the company itself. Integrating charitable or community-focused activities and programs into your culture instantly makes you attractive to Millennials.

 

  • Health and wellness are high on the priority list for Millennials, so think about your culture and your employee benefits. Consider things like flexible working, breakout spaces, employee wellness sessions, and gym membership to set yourself apart as an appealing prospect to this valuable talent pool.

 

Looking Ahead to Gen Z

 

Although Millennials, and the massive market share they represent, aren’t going anywhere, it would be foolish and short-sighted not to start looking ahead to the generation that’s following rapidly on their heels. The oldest of Gen Z are just starting to graduate from college, so this is your future workforce, and this demographic is likely to make up about 40% of the consumer market by 2020.

 

Much of what we’ve said about Millennials is only stronger and more acute for Gen Z, but there are also some important differences. Here’s a quick run-down of what you need to know…

 

  • Know Your Audience. You will probably find that Gen Z don’t respond particularly well to a hard sell, but are interested if they think you can help them in some way or solve a problem for them. As ever, it pays to get to know them and engage with their world, their conversations and the things that they care about.

 

  • Be Socially Conscious. Even more so than Millennials, this generation is highly engaged with politics, communities and the environment. They prioritize being eco-friendly, ethical and socially responsible in their purchasing decisions, so these values need to be at the heart of your brand personality and you need to clearly communicate them at every opportunity. This also means being authentic and putting your money where your mouth is; for example donating a percentage of your sales to a good cause, or actively engaging with community social action.

 

  • Know Your Platforms. Gen Z have pretty much moved beyond Facebook and prefer more immediate and personal platforms, like Snapchat. Make sure that you’re reaching out on platforms that are relevant, using images and videos that are instant and accessible. Instagram is important for getting your brand out there and establishing your identity, but Snapchat makes more of an instant, real life connection. For Gen Z and brands alike, Instagram is all about projecting a certain polished image but your potential Gen Z customers, brand advocates or future employees will appreciate the authenticity and relatability of Snapchat.

 

  • Get To The Point. Gen Z tend to have even shorter attention spans than Millennials. They’re always on the go and prefer videos, GIFs, and quick, clear messaging, so it’s best to use snappy, short form content on Snapchat and Instagram Stories.

 

  • Prioritize Mobile. You only have to look at the Gen Z representatives around you to see that mobile content is pivotal. If you neglect this, you are already showing yourself up as out-dated and irrelevant to this generation.

 

  • Use Influencers. Gen Z offers some unmissable opportunities with influencers on platforms like Instagram and YouTube because this generation responds strongly to personal recommendations. They don’t really want to hear what you have to say about your own brand; they want to know what someone they follow, like and respect has to say about you. Connect with relevant influencers who have a significant following and reach out with free samples.

 

Loyalty is less of a pull for Gen Z than for Millennials, so you will need to work a bit harder to retain them as customers. This means plenty of connection and interaction through events, competitions, campaigns, feedback or suggestions. This group does tend to be pretty vocal and opinionated, online at least, which presents both an opportunity and a challenge: make a good impression, start to build some brand loyalty, and you’ll reap the rewards.