Millennials can be challenging to communicate with, but corporate comunicators often do not think in terms of age, but rather attitudes and behaviours.
The most worrying phenomenon concerns ‘echo-chambers’
Millennials trust companies and engage with those that are transparent, responsible and have something to say. However, true loyalty is hard to achieve.
In recent years Millennials have become a group of great interest, coveted because of their spending power and influence, yet seemingly misunderstood and misrepresented.
The recent Ipsos MORI report ‘Millennial Myths and Realities’ observes that ‘unfortunately, many of the claims made about Millennial characteristics are simplified, misinterpreted or just plain wrong, which can mean real differences get lost’. Responding to this, we asked Reputation Council members what, if anything, makes Millennials different and how to communicate with them effectively.
It’s not all about age
For many companies, communicating with Millennials represents a complex, but not necessarily overriding core challenge. That’s because the objective of generating true engagement is based on audience segmentations derived from a range of attitudes and beliefs, rather than age cohort.
In discussing the topic of communications based on age, Council members make a distinction between ‘brand’ and ‘corporate’ communications.
The targeting of brand-oriented communication is determined by the specific markets at which it is aimed. Therefore, in an area such as financial services, the over-35s are of greater importance than Millennials. Furthermore, corporate communications have traditionally been oriented towards the over-35s, though some Council members note that on certain subjects, such as recruitment, it is increasingly necessary to target Millennials more specifically.
What emerges most clearly from the discussion regarding age targeting is that Council members do not have a standardised method, with tailored approaches being adopted based on the individual needs of the company and the objective of the communication.
Breaking through the ‘echo-chamber’
Communicating with Millennials involves building a targeted experience that will grab their attention right from the start. Council members note that you need to appear authentic, and to put into place systems of listening and dialogue that have very short reaction times.
This is not necessarily unique to Millennials (see our report that debunks the myth that Millennials are worse than goldfish), but the fierce competition to be noticed is real. Though social media is ideally suited to these needs, it also an environment where companies feel they have little control. Unlike traditional media, there is no established modus operandi and therefore established communication practices may not be fit for purpose.
Further challenges are faced through the way in which Millennials acquire information, where the opinions of a single individual, expert, institution or company are often all placed on the same level. As our ‘Millennial Myths and Realities’ report highlights, Millennials are consummate triangulators of views, using numerous channels – but the increasingly filtered and tailored world they inhabit still provides a challenge.
In addition, Council members note that there has been a fragmentation of channels and tendency for people to operate in a comfort zone where they engage only with those who share their opinions. This behaviour is compounded by algorithms on social media, giving rise to the dangerous phenomenon of echo-chambers. The credibility of the source is pre-determined and the pool of potential information becomes very closed, making it very difficult to communicate effectively. It is a problem that concerns everyone (including the over-35s, with traditional media engendering a similar effect), but it is particularly common among younger groups on social media.
To engage with Millennials, it is essential to make use of multimedia tools and ensure that a constant, evolved presence on social media is maintained. Our report on Millennial behaviour shows that while access to social media is not that different between age cohorts nowadays, the intensity of use is at a different level with younger groups. At the same time, dependability and empathy have to be pursued: it is necessary to communicate authentically and transparently, placing great focus on the relevant issues, whether you are communicating to potential customers or setting up a recruitment process.
Trust, not loyalty
Among the commonly held beliefs about Millennials, one that resonates most strongly within the context of corporate reputation is that they are less inclined to trust companies. Recent Ipsos MORI data serves to debunk this myth and, when it was presented to Reputation Council members, it was notable that companies from Anglo-Saxon markets found it more surprising than their counterparts in other markets.
At a time when traditional institutions are going through a crisis of trust, Millennials are searching for something they can rely on: they are sceptical, but full of hope, with a desire to talk and be listened to. Looking across our generational research, we see the Millennial engagement issue as more about relevance and efficacy than trust – that’s where companies should focus their efforts, rather than wringing their hands about a trust crisis that is beyond their control. Corporations can solve practical problems (unlike politics), and brands can help Millennials to define and identify themselves.
All of this goes hand-in-hand with the behaviour of successful corporations – a willingness to hold a dialogue, relational flexibility and the personalisation of engagement have all contributed to a climate of trust. This trust is also supported by the ease with which Millennials share their data and personal information with the companies of which they are customers.
The selection is made in advance; they identify the brands that they want to trust and the companies that interest them. However, Council members warn that this trust must not be confused with loyalty: Millennials do not tie themselves to a brand, like people used to in the 1980s. Instead, they love to have new experiences, moving safely between brands based on a careful review of existing information. In this way, trust becomes a precursor to consideration.
Of the challenges discussed, it is echo-chambers which Council members find the most concerning. In an environment where technology increasingly encourages us to operate in tribes, it becomes ever more difficult for companies to have crossover appeal and become relevant outside of their core audience. Breaking this cycle in an echo-chamber, where you have little control over the communication flow, is a growing challenge.
Nevertheless, Millennials’ willingness to interact openly with corporations creates a number of opportunities for communicators. Companies that succeed in this environment operate transparently and achieve authenticity through all communications and behaviours being aligned with their core values. Should these conditions be met, then corporations and their brands can benefit by establishing the relationships of trust that Millennials are seeking.
Methodology: 127 interviews conducted with Reputation Council members between April and August 2017.