Stop thinking of your Millennial alumni as cheap, spoiled, and self-absorbed. Despite what you’ve heard, they’re just like all your other alumni, and will engage only when you offer them compelling, value added benefits.
About a 5 minute read
I’m a Baby Boomer. I’ll just put that out there to begin with.
And one of my biggest pet peeves is the use of the term “Millennial” when it’s used as a stereotype to explain a broad range of unrelated, and mostly unflattering characteristics. Many use the term “Millennial” as an epithet, rather than its intended purpose as a marketing term.
As a marketer in both higher ed and the private sector for the past 25 years, I rather like the term when its used to describe a generational cohort. It’s one of many tools I use to help me personalize and customize marketing messages to be more relevant to my audiences.
Lately I’ve become increasingly concerned about how non-Millennials love poking fun at Millennials for being “lazy,” “spoiled” and “self-absorbed.”
It’s likely you’ve encountered on social media this video from Simon Sinek where he trashes Millennials in the workplace.
I’ve also seen popular claims that Millennials are somehow responsible for “wreaking carnage across the economy.” The popular press has blamed millennials for “killing” everything from the real estate, movies, golf, beer, and the diamond industries; as well as for the demise of behemoth corporations like Kraft, Kellogg and General Mills.
But are the consumer patterns of Millennials vastly different from their earlier generational cohorts? Are your Millennial alumni’s “sensitivities” or “preferences” fundamentally different from other alumni?
Despite all you’ve read, the answer is NO!
How could that be, you ask, when so much has been written about Millennial’s consumer behavior being profoundly different from the Boomer and GenX generations?
I won’t bore you with a lecture on the common cognitive biases such as the Illusory Truth Effect, where we have a “tendency to believe information to be correct after repeated exposure.” It’s a common bias we all struggle with. I won’t dwell on it, other than to point to its relevance here.
Let's start with research here and here that refute the conventional wisdom that Millennials are unique.
And this study from the Bureau of Labor Statistics was aimed at identifying generational differences in consumer spending. What most surprised researchers was that the study revealed “so many similarities between generations.” They’re the same even when controlling for demographics, mobility, working status, etc.
Also is this recent report by the Federal Reserve that reveals Millennial’s consumer behavior is far more about business cycles and secular trends, than their having unique “permanent taste preferences.”
In fact, the study states that if Millennial’s thrifty spending habits can be attributed to any singular factor, it’s that they are paying the “price for coming of age during the Great Recession.” They’ve learned early in their adult lives not to depend on a reliable stream of income. And their spending and saving habits are slightly more conservative. But they’re not so different that we need to pander or cater to this age group. The fact is, we all want good value. We all want to save money. We all want to avoid paying full price.
It’s similar to what my parents (now in their 90’s) experienced growing up during the “Great Depression.” Known as the “Silent Generation,” their slogan was “Use it up… wear it out… make it do… or do without!” They were painfully frugal, and instilled into our culture the “value of a good deal,” “don’t spend beyond your means,” and “save for a rainy day.”
When compared to the “Depression Era” consumers, Millennials face a more complex set of economic rules and demographic factors that influence their ability to find jobs, advance in their career, earn more money, and become full participants in the economy. They include such factors as:
- We are healthy enough to work long into our so-called “retirement years;”
- We have significantly more women participating in the workforce;
- We have a highest levels of education than any generation in history.
These, and many other societal trends have far greater impact on spending habits, expectations, and consumer behavior than some unspecified and nebulous assumptions that “Millennials are just different than other generations.”
What it means for Alumni organizations:
I would hope that we, as alumni relations/advancement professionals would be mindful of a few things:
First, can we at least stop treating Millennials as being inferior to your generation? Or believing as fact the claims that they’re all spoiled, entitled and narcissistic? Each generation has its share of entitlement and selfishness. Not just Millennials.
I would also hope that we can modify our communications so we don't sound like we're talking down to Millennials, or worse yet, implying they are some type of social pariahs?
Let’s recognize that alumni in the age range of 21 to 37 will act independently, and are politically and economically far more diverse and nuanced than we may want to admit. Just like any other vast and diverse group of people, we need to be careful how we label groups that may seem different.
For you alumni marketers, let’s use great care with how we identify and choose our alumni segments and audiences. Segmentation is critical to the success of any alumni marketing program. But be willing to do the hard work associated with researching our alumni, identifying marketing cohorts based on personas that focus on behaviors, inclinations and values rather than just age or graduation year.
If we can learn anything from the so-called millennial stereotype, it’s the acknowledged fact that both young alumni and older alumni are looking for value. The VAESE Alumni Relations Benchmarking Study reveals that many alumni organizations ignore their value proposition, and focus more time and resources on soliciting gifts than cultivating relationships.
Let’s resolve to do a better job of cultivating alumni by offering more value added benefits to attract and engage them.
And while we’re at it, let’s spend more effort engaging alumni who have time and talents to give, rather than spending so many resources on squeezing every last dollar from your high-net-worth alumni/ae, and anyone else you can shame into giving. There’s value in engaging alumni who don’t initially give money. And, long term alumni engagement pays far more dividends over time than short term revenue goals that tend to burn through alumni relationships.
I welcome your opinions and feedback.