Being a “Boomer” with three “Millennial” or “Gen Y” children, and spending over 27 years in all aspects of high tech marketing, I was recently contemplating the following question: Do technology companies need to re-evaluate marketing strategies, given the Millennial generation is graduating more than 100,000 engineers and computer science students each year? For those fortunate souls who are uninitiated in the nuances of this new generation I will outline the little bit I know. Birth years for the Millennial generation differs depending on source; they range between 1980 to 1984 on the front end and 1999 to 2001 on the back end. To a Boomer such as myself, this lack of a concrete timeline confirms just how confusing this generation is, and may provide some evidence of just how different they are from Boomers or Gen X’ers.
Is it really that important to comprehend this younger generation in evaluating how you develop high tech marketing campaigns, website, and lead generation plans? After all, it will be years before they have any influence in the buying decisions for the organizations they join … right? Well, I would like to present a different opinion.
First, let me lay a foundation by highlighting this is projected to be the largest population group in US history, according to the US Census Bureau. Millennials are projected to reach more than 80 million, surpassing even the Boomers by 4 million. Dan Schawbel reported to Time Magazine, “half of Millennials are already in the workforce” and “by 2025 three out of four workers globally will be Gen Y.” They are a force to be reckoned with and in the span of ten years may be making 75 percent or more of the world’s business decisions. You may now be saying to yourself, “Ok, the wave is coming, but I have ten years to make the transition.” Maybe not.
Millennials Challenge Workplace Norms
When looking at the characteristics of Gen Y, it is interesting to see they may be the most self-confident and inquisitive group to come along ever. My youngest, who is a recent graduate of Arizona State University, has the ability to annoy me to tears by asking “why” to almost every statement I make. She isn’t content with accepting my “wisdom” as fact, but wants to know how and why I came up with my conclusion. She is also the one who has adorned the whiteboard in my office with statements that she is, “Awesome,” “the Best,” and how much she “Rocks.” She is not alone in her feeling of self worth.
In an MTV survey called “No Collar Worker,” we see that 76 percent of Millennials believe, “my boss could learn a lot from me,” and 65% say, “I should be mentoring older coworkers when it comes to tech and getting things done.” This carries over even into high-tech companies. I was recently speaking with a friend who is a senior architect at Intel and he shared an experience he just encountered the week previously. He was in a meeting with several Boomer and Gen X engineers who were talking about and pushing the idea they needed to focus their support on the C++ and other “real” programming languages. A young engineer in the room quickly spoke up and said, “You are stupid if you don’t support node.js.”
After looking at the question, it seemed he was correct and that if they had ignored this recommendation they would have missed 70 percent of the programming world. I have to admit when my friend shared this story, my Boomer sensibility jumped up screaming, “How dare this young upstart challenge the wisdom and experience of his older colleagues.” When we were young we “waited our turn,” “paid our dues,” “showed respect,” and a hundred other clichés to make excuses why we sat quietly in the back of the room. Truth is, he was right to speak up and based on what the US Chamber of Commerce found in their Millennial Generation Research Review, it was not out of character for his population segment.
The US Chamber of Commerce found Millennials score high on IQ tests and in particular on such traits as extroversion, self-esteem, self-liking, high expectations, and assertiveness. This younger population is used to being sought out and respected by the older generation for their expertise and knowledge. They are quick to embrace tech and according to a 2011 survey by the Boston Consulting Group are 2.5 times more likely to be early adopters of tech than are older generations.
Millennials Are Global-Minded, Lifelong Tech Consultants
In my humble Boomer opinion, I believe this generation is smarter, more level headed, more assertive, and both technically and globally minded than any generation before them. Because they are used to being the tech consultant to their families, they are much more self confident and assertive, and are not conscious of hierarchy I think this will open the door for them to be influencers in the organizations they join far more quickly than their predecessors were able to.
Seth Mattison, Founder of FutureSight Labs, stated it this way in his keynote at the 2015 A3 Business Forum, “Youth have grown accustomed to teaching adults how to do things. Those who normally would have been authority figures became peers. Why? Many Millennials have been chief technology officers in their houses since they were 12 years old. They have unlocked the tools of the Internet, and social media empowers them.”
Oh, and by the way, they are also extremely entrepreneurially minded. According to the same US Chamber of Commerce survey, “between half and two-thirds of Millennials are interested in entrepreneurship, in 2011 Millennials launched almost 160,000 start ups each month, and 29 percent of all entrepreneurs are between the ages of 20 and 34.” Which of these may be the next Mark Zuckerberg, who at 31 years old is worth over $30 billion? Perhaps this is a group we should think about taking seriously in how we redefine our high tech marketing campaigns, communication, web presence, social media, and thought leadership.
Coming from a long history in the high tech industry I have seen many interesting and amazing things. What still amazes me to this day is how many senior leaders still have a NIH mentality. Of course NIH means “not invented here,” which goes along with the other favorite saying I have heard many times, “that’s not how we do it here.” Those mindsets may have worked in the Boomer and Gen X dynasties, but I guarantee they will not work with the new independent minded, self assertive, hierarchy agnostic Gen Y’er. It is my position that as high-tech marketers we need to bring ourselves into the 21st century and learn how to reach this vital and astonishing group.
The Changing Face of High-Tech Marketing
The first question we need to ask is, “What should we be doing differently?” As marketers we should be used to creating buyer personas to define our target audience, goals and objectives, and positioning in order to create effective communication.
In the tech industry, do you define your buyer persona by job title, position, or market segment when looking at your messaging? My experience is that most, if not all, don’t go far enough in developing their buyer persona. They may have an extensive list of typical decision criteria, but do they look at the individual’s intrinsic values and characteristics? When looking at the Gen Y decision maker, they are more interested in being part of a “Community” and therefore more comfortable using their network to research important decisions.
The American Press Institute published a report on March 16, 2015 with the finding, “51 percent of Millennials are always, or almost always online, and 90 percent are online a significant part of their lives.” This same report stated, “Simply put, social media is no longer simply social. It long ago stopped being just a way to stay in touch with friends. It has become a way of being connected to the world generally.”
I found it amazing that 88 percent of respondents claim to use Facebook to get their news. It is now easy to see why Mr. Zuckerberg is highlighted in the last paragraph given the influence his company has had in becoming such an integral part of the lives of millions. Where is this leading? How big a percentage of your marketing budget is focused on Social Media and Social Marketing? Are you creating the right messages, looking at unique ways to deliver these messages through social channels, and being an active participant in the Social scene?
May I offer a word of advice from an aging Boomer? Please find a Millennial to be the face of your Social Media efforts to this audience. They speak the language, have the attitude, and will be far more effective in achieving your goals than throwing a Gen X’er, or Boomer into this arena. I have seen the puzzled look (and far too often look of pity) from my own kids when I try to communicate in their language. I saw the same looks from friends and colleagues during frequent international trips when I would try to find the right words in their language to say something meaningful.
Content and messaging should be created and presented differently than has traditionally been done in the past. I still see websites and content that is boring and bland. The feedback I still get is, “we are an engineering company and package our content for engineers.” This may have worked in the past, but I would argue times are changing.
Having first began working with engineers when a super fast modem was 9600 baud I think there is a need to market differently today than in the Pleistocene era of technology. I have watched (and I admit with an amused look on my face) as an engineer would excitedly devour a 350-page data handbook with the same level of passion as if it was a Harlequin Romance novel. I have also seen these same engineers come to customer calls with a three-piece suit and Red Ball tennis shoes, meander down the middle of a six-lane city street oblivious to the traffic around them, and forget where they put their glasses (…on their face).
In my experience, the new generation of engineers is a little more aware of life outside a spec sheet. I never once saw a Gen Y engineer walk down the halls with an Aloha shirt tucked into knee length Bermuda shorts and sandals with black socks. (On a side note, I always wondered why engineers wore white socks with suits and black socks with sandals. There must be some cosmic reason that only a Boomer engineer would understand.)
Marketing to Tech-Savvy Millennials
According to C. S. Alexander and James Sysko’s, “A study of cognitive determinants of generation Y’s entitlement mentality” presented at the Allied Academies International Conference in April 2011, college professors found that their Millennial students want to be “entertained” by the instructor.
The lesson here is that we need to begin looking at content differently. It still needs to be feature- and benefit-rich, factual, and technically correct, but can we find new and compelling ways to convince an engineer to pick up our content first? I am not advocating adding pictures, or spicing up your text with a little more interesting writing style just to make your collateral visually and verbally appealing, but on second thought why not? Make it pertinent to the content, but does technical content really need to be dry?
This generation has grown up using the Internet profusely. If your web strategy is based on using your site as a repository of information I would suggest you need to get out of the 1990s. I have to admit the decade of the 90’s was great for technology companies and I rode the wave high and tight. In the same way TV programming changed dramatically in the early 60’s with the adoption of Color TV, tech websites need to change to meet the needs of the new culture.
Unfortunately, in my opinion, many technology companies are still programming in B&W and the target audience has moved to high definition color. I have found many examples of companies who have successfully made this transition, many trying, and many more who haven’t evolved. This last group may be oblivious to the need, don’t think they need to change, or don’t know how to change. I would suggest asking ourselves which camp are we in. If you think you might be able to improve, there is hope. If you think you have mastered this new segment, then I either congratulate you for being one of the few who are a 21st century marketer, or hope for your sake you don’t have your heads in the sand.
The Pew Research Center states, “They (Millennials) are the first generation in human history who regard behaviors like tweeting and texting, along with websites like Facebook, YouTube, Google and Wikipedia, not as astonishing innovations of the digital era, but as everyday parts of their social lives and their search for understanding.” As marketers we need to embrace this wonderful new segment of decision makers and influencers, and present a story that will resonate with their culture and worldviews. I believe the challenge will be exciting and the rewards great for those who undertake this journey.
Start the journey today by checking out our Social Prospecting Workbook — meet Millennials where they are.