The Importance of Channeling Millennial Diversity

The following is republished with the permission of the Association of National Advertisers. Find this and similar articles on ANA Newsstand.


By Alex Beal

The past 20 months forever changed marketing. Overnight, in-person engagements and personal brand interactions became difficult, if not impossible. Companies scrambled in different ways to find a meaningful way to engage with customers. Messaging evolved from slick punchlines to human-centered and purpose-driven prose. And all of this happened as marketing and ad budgets declined for the first time in 11 years.

While many marketers hunkered down, a small percentage capitalized on the chance to take risks. Not surprisingly, many of those disrupters were digital-born millennials. As businesses continue to embrace their digital-first future, marketing executives must integrate millennial marketers in a way they never have, engaging them as key contributors in their marketing discussions. In fact, the survival of their businesses may depend on it.

In early 2021, Designit, a Wipro company, surveyed 1,011 global marketing executives from companies across seven industries, from retail and technology to banking and telecommunications. The survey showed that disruption largely fell on the shoulders of millennial marketers, a breed that believes in taking risks and failing fast.

Only 9 percent of all respondents identified as disrupters — people who were ready to meet the moment either because the new reality required it or because the pressures of 2020 led to business changes they’d long wanted to make. Disrupters tended to be more data-centric than other respondents, an attribute that aligns with millennials’ “fail fast” ethos: having access to data enables them to quickly identify when they’ve “failed” and make the necessary course corrections.

Now that organizations have invested in data and analytics software, the stage is set for millennials to begin elevating the customer experience (CX) and accelerating business outcomes. Yet a lone disrupter will not move the needle. A risk-taking mindset and innovative ideas may be important, but they need to be skillfully sold into the organization. That requires a level of nuance that older generations are more likely to have experience with and can coach.

As companies navigate from business models, products, and services of the past to a new way of working and selling, they must bridge a gap between millennials and (often older) business stakeholders and expose the organization to millennials’ marketing ideas. Here are five ways companies can embrace the millennial marketers’ mindset and build an organizational culture that thrives in the new normal.

1. Listen and Trust

Diversity is a critical ingredient to developing an effective team and successful business. Marketing leaders should include generational diversity — not just gender, race, sexual orientation, or other diversity — in that equation. Millennial ideas may be dismissed quickly due to lack of experience, but it’s important to be open-minded and truly listen. Hear what they want to do, identify gaps, and help them craft a stronger plan of execution rather than simply dismiss their ideas. Then, trust their ideas, give them freedom to work, provide adequate resources to test them, and a safe space in case they fail.

Aside from listening to and trusting colleagues, there’s a practical reason for all of this: millennials are, essentially, the customer. In the U.S. alone, millennials represent the largest single demographic, according to Statista. Worldwide, millennials’ aggregate income — already higher than any other group — is expected to exceed 4 trillion dollars by 2030, the Brookings Institute reports. The digital-born generation isn’t just on marketing teams; it’s the very customer that companies are trying to reach. When it comes to CX and marketing discussions, who better to listen to and trust than the colleague who’s also a customer?

2. Create a Safe “Fail Fast” Space

Failure, even the risk of it, can be debilitating for many marketers. In contrast, most millennials and disrupters expect and welcome failure as they seek to refine their marketing initiatives. Leaders should remove roadblocks and become an ambassador for these risk-takers, embracing their drive for analytics and desire to adjust campaigns if and when they start to falter.

The challenge here is three-fold. First, supervisors must adjust their own expectations and embrace the same “fail forward” mentality. Second, it’s critical to give millennials an overall vision for the program, but then step aside and let them drive, intervening only when more guidance is needed. Third, they should only engage with senior leaders when appropriate; their reputation (and the supervisor’s judgment) is on the line. Millennials are clearly the leaders of tomorrow, but “tomorrow” is not necessarily “today.”

3. Don’t Control; Provide Context

It’s more important than ever that older generations communicate context. Understanding context and interpreting context correctly is largely dependent on experience and business judgment. Purely due to age, millennials may not have the same experience or judgment, so leaders need to supply that. Millennials haven’t been around every block; those who have should provide them with the necessary context and help them to interpret it correctly. Everyone can learn from Netflix’s approach to managing with context.

4. Teach and Mentor

Like any group, millennials can’t forge the future alone. They may have disruptive ideas that show great promise for a differentiated CX, but that doesn’t mean they have the skillset to “sell” those ideas within the organization. Include millennials in meetings to demonstrate those skills for them, show them how to gain support across the business, and provide the perspective they’ll need to build that support on their own in the future.

5. Never Stop Learning

Be a sponge. Where gen X and baby boomer marketers may have more organizational, branding, or messaging savvy, millennials have more knowledge of the digital-born customer — because they are one. Millennials know the technology, understand the tactics, and speak the language. Watch and learn how they navigate the digital world, then identify how to adopt their approach. This knowledge will be key in a future where marketing to millennials is the name of the game.

The pandemic accelerated marketing’s rush to the cloud and virtual experiences as customers flocked to online and touchless experiences. Enterprises embraced new business models and technologies, empowering millennial disrupters to take risks and position their companies for success. Moving forward, the message is clear: success in the new normal requires thinking differently. It requires meeting the disrupted world with disruptive marketing. And it requires marketing leaders to build organizational bridges that truly integrate the diversity and ideas of digital-born employees into digital-first marketing strategies and programs.

About Author: Alex Beal is the VP and global head of marketing for the iDEAS Global Business Line at Wipro Limited, a partner in the ANA Thought Leadership Program.


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