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Why Selling to “Millennials” will never work

4 Important Questions
August 23, 2018
 
Before we go any further, I want to be clear: I’m not an ageist. In fact, this article could just as easily have been titled “Why Selling to Baby Boomers Will Never Work,” or “GenXers,” or any other term used to describe a particular generation.

I have attended a lot of classes and read a lot of articles on the art of selling to millennials and I think that the information presented in those classes is, for the most part, wrong. Let me explain.

A few weeks ago I was sitting in a Chinese restaurant waiting for my wonton soup. The placemat in front of me was the same red Chinese zodiac placemat that probably graces tables across America. With little to do but read that or stare at the fish tank, I started to read it. My kids, who were with me, also decided to brush up on the finer points of their assigned symbols and make fun of each other's assigned animals.

"I’m a dog. No! I don’t want to be a dog because Mom is a sheep and dogs and sheep aren’t compatible,” said one of my kids to the other.

"Dad’s a horse," my wife announced to the table.

"What does that mean?" my daughter asked.

"It means that he's optimistic, with strong action and executive power. Attractive to the opposite sex, warmhearted, upright and easygoing. Hence, they usually have a lot of friends flocking around them. Independence and endurance make them more powerful, and they do not easily give up when in difficulty. Positive attitude leads to a brighter direction,” she read.

“Wait, what?” I said. "How do they figure that?"

"It’s based on your birth year,” she responded.

I couldn't help but laugh out loud. "I think the guy who came up with that may have attended a different high school than I did."

My soup came and we all moved on to egg rolls and moo shu pork, but the idea of it stayed with me.

It is absolutely ridiculous to believe that everyone born in a certain year is "attractive". It is insane to think that hiring someone who is upright, honest, easygoing, and has a lot of leadership potential is as simple as finding someone born in a specific year.

I can imagine the ad now: "Looking to hire a director of sales. Must be optimistic, a great leader, and able to make good decisions. Important that you have the independence to manage yourself and the endurance to stay the course. Positive attitude a must. Please only apply if you were born in 1966, 1978, or 1990."

As funny as this is, and as ridiculous as it may sound, it is even more ridiculous to believe that we can somehow create an even broader generalization by putting people born in a certain period in a box and devising a marketing strategy that will work, even a little, for every single person that falls into that category.

Just so we’re all on the same page, let’s breakdown the various generations: Baby Boomers refer to people born between 1946 and 1964, Gen Xers between 1965 and 1979, Xennials between 1975 and 1985, Millennials between 1980 and 1994, and iGens between 1995 and 2012.
 
I think most of the information I’ve received in classes on marketing to millennials is wrong, I don’t want to throw out all the bathwater here. I have gotten some nuggets of wisdom on the subject from classes and reading articles.

To begin with, a couple of assumptions made about these groups of people are true. The trick here, however, is that the assumptions are not based on who they are but, rather, the social, economic, and technological worlds they were born into.

For example, the world of someone that lived their 20s and 30s during the 1960s is radically different than the world of someone currently in their 20s and 30s. Technology, cultural norms and the speed at which things happen have all changed dramatically. Something that is "normal" now used to be a huge luxury—if it were even possible at all. As an example, let’s talk about a television set. Only 9% of American homes had a TV in 1950; today, that number is around 99%. These “normals” shape what people expect and what they believe.

People who came out of the womb with an iPhone in their hand while tweeting about the experience have a completely different set of expectations than others who were in their late 40s when they got their first pager.

These changes in expectations are not based on the fact that they’re separate sets of people, and it isn’t as though the titles assigned to them have magically given them different beliefs or attributes. Rather, these expectations are based on the conditions in which these individuals came of age and became consumers.

The second truth that I don’t want to throw out is that these distinct groups do require marketing strategies geared specifically to them. Because millennials expect something different than their baby boomer predecessors, we must change how we sell to them and how we deliver our product.

While it may be too general to say that all individuals born between 1980 and 1994 are impatient, unfocused, difficult to work with, and irresponsible, we can say with some certainty that these folks will likely expect products to work and be fast and that the overall process will be easy.

What does that mean to us? It means we can understand why companies like Amazon and Uber have been so successful with millennials. There’s something super seductive and convenient about having your favorite breakfast cereal delivered to your house in a matter of hours in many cities, or clicking a button and having someone pick you up and take you back to your dorm room so you don’t miss your liberal arts interpretive dance final.

Beyond those two truths, however, most of the direction we get on selling to millennials becomes oversimplified feel-good nonsense.

While younger generations are driving innovation and change, older generations aren’t pounding their fists and looking for the "good old days” when they’d call a cab and someone would show up and overcharge them for a ride to the airport. No! They’re actually jumping on board and taking advantage of the new and better ways. Want proof of that statement? 35% of Uber’s users are over the age of 35.

And here’s another thing: Not everyone I graduated from high school with was attractive or, for that matter, easygoing. Not everyone born in 1960 is gentle and calm, and I know that not everyone born in 1969 is the "epitome of fidelity and punctuality". Just as I know this, I also know that not everyone labeled a millennial will respond to the same marketing message or strategy that appeals to one of their peers. Contrary to popular belief, not all of them get their news from their Facebook feed, are without children, only eat food delivered by Uber eats, attend every concert in the area, and wear skinny jeans.
 

"To begin with, a couple of assumptions made about these groups of people are true. The trick here, however, is that the assumptions are not based on who they are but, rather, the social, economic, and technological worlds they were born into."

 
I have met farm-kid millennials that work hard, drive Dodge trucks, have never been in an uber, and want to talk to people facetoface in order to help them buy their next hunting rifle. I have talked to a millennial who wakes up every morning at 4:30 to make it to work on time to her first of three jobs. I have seen many with strong leadership abilities and great work ethics. I have seen fathers and mothers with a handful of kids who fall squarely in the millennial bucket. We simply can’t generalize our way to a successful marketing strategy. So what do we do?

We must realize that it is not demographics that purchase from us; it is individuals and consumer groups. We can’t say things like “This is a trip for baby boomers" and hope to be successful. We need to build itineraries and services that speak to individual interest groups—services that will appeal to history buffs, for example, or gamblers, concert goers, family reunion planners, and the like.

I think we can all agree that it would be foolish to take something like a wedding service in a charter operation and say"We are only going to sell this to people between the ages of 28-32". (An individual getting married might be 25, 50, or 75!) It would be much more effective to market a service that showcases expertise in the wedding transportation business.

In that same vein, we can’t sell to millennial by using pictures of young people wearing skinny jeans and sipping vanilla chia lattes while forming a drum circle on a beach. Instead, we must focus on the things that matter.

Millennial (and, more often now, their older counterparts) are beginning to expect certain things:

Ease. If it can’t be done with a few clicks, it isn’t worth doing. This means we have to look at our booking process for both charter and line run products and streamline it.

The world is digital. Don’t ask people to fax something. Though you may want a fax machine for those who are clinging to a bygone era, don’t make it part of your day-to-day business practice.

Smart phones rule the world.This is the attitude of the day: “If it can’t be done on a phone, I just won’t do it.” Look at your entire booking and payment process. If there are steps that don’t work on a phone or are hard to do on a phone, fix them.

God-given rights. While this statement might remind you of the bill of rights,younger generations put WiFi and power outlets under this umbrella. If you are charging for these or don’t offer them,you might want to reconsider.

These are not things that are somehow tied to a secret credo taught in schools between the years of 1980 and 1994; they are shifts made by a generation of people raised with technologies and cultural conditions different from previous generations. Thus, what they see as “normal” is “progressive and modern” to those that came before them. And millennials aren’t the only ones who like the new standard, by the way. Watch, for example, the next time you’re on a plane and the WiFi goes out. Baby boomers will be hitting the flight attendant call button as often as millennials because they can’t stream the latest episode of The Big Bang Theory.

As you look at how you can put more butts in seats on your line runs, fill up those charter dispatch sheets, or even hire more charter drivers, remember that trying to generalize an entire generation of people is no less ridiculous than saying that everyone in my high school graduating class was super sexy CEO material.

We can’t generalize the consumption habits of a wide swath of humanity; rather,we’ve got to look deeper at what we offer and determine the people who would be most interested in consuming that product or service. Once we identify those people, we’ve got to find them and work to craft a message that will speak specifically to them. This is advertising and marketing, and it’s the bread and butter of selling more charters, to more people, for more money. When you are ready to craft that perfect message, we are here to help!

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