I spent a good part of last weekend catching up on some recent issues of The New Yorker that had been piling up on my nightstand. I view the magazine as something of a magical mystery tour: the articles are so diverse and the authors’ perspectives so different, that each issue is likely to make me think about something that had never occurred to me before.
So it was with Change the World, George Packer’s excellent piece on Silicon Valley and its foray into national politics. What stood out for me, apart for Packer’s insights into the Valley’s generalized perspective on what it needs from and can offer back to the pols in Washington, is this observation: “…the hottest start-ups are solving all the problems of being twenty years old, with cash on hand, because that’s who thinks them up.”
That brilliant sentence exactly summarizes why so many of us in a host of business functions—marketing, business development, customer service, etc.—are struggling to understand how to relate to a generation whose thinking is not entirely clear to us. Yes, we see the coming youth quake, as Brian Solis calls it, but we haven’t fully grasped the nuanced differences between our generations and theirs. There are roughly 80 million millennials in the U.S. today and they represent your future employees and colleagues just as surely as they represent our future customers.
These young adults—broadly defined as people born from the late 1970s through the early 2000s—differ from prior generations in one major way: they are digital natives. Where we might struggle to determine what to share on Facebook or Twitter and what to keep private, millennials are happy to share most everything. It doesn’t feel intrusive to them. It feels natural. Sharing is the coin of their realm, which is why they’re more likely to turn to their social networks than to Google for product information or advice.
Packer’s point in The New Yorker sums it up nicely because it acknowledges that the most disruptive technology innovation is being driven by millennials with money to spend. They’re solving the problems of their daily lives through apps and services (Uber is a new fave) in fanciful ways. They’re also building successful businesses in the process, and in this fashion, their innovations promise to benefit us all.
How does this relate to marketing? Marketers today should acknowledge two things. First, if you want millennials to spend their money on your brand, then you need to consider the perspective of a digital-first generation. That’s more easily said than done, but studying their problem-solving skills and tech innovations is a very good place to start. Secondly, humbly consider what you can learn from young adults. What they consider important may well hold the key to your brand’s future success.