Ipsos Corporate Reputation

Communicating with Millennials – Attitudes and beliefs within the ‘echo-chamber’

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.

"WE DID ALL SORTS OF FANCY STUFF ONLINE TO TARGET THE SUPPORTERS OF A PROMINENT NGO AND IT IS NOT A DEMOGRAPHIC THING ACTUALLY. IT IS ATTITUDES, INTERESTS… I THINK FROM A CORPORATE REPUTATION STANDPOINT THE ISSUES ARE NOT DEMOGRAPHIC ISSUES."

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.

MILLENNIALS DO NOT TIE THEMSELVES TO A BRAND, LIKE PEOPLE USED TO IN THE 1980S
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.

"TODAY THERE IS AN ATTENTION DEFICIT. MILLENNIALS HAVE AN INCREDIBLY LOW ATTENTION SPAN, AND SO WE NEED TO CATCH IT. IT IS A FIGHT WITH EVERY OTHER PLAYER, AND NOT ONLY WITH PEERS. HOW DO YOU CATCH THAT ATTENTION? THAT IS THE QUESTION."

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.

"THE OTHER INTERESTING CHALLENGE IS THE PHENOMENON OF THE ECHO-CHAMBERS: PEOPLE NOW ARE USED TO ONLY SEEING WHAT THEY ARE INTERESTED IN, AND THE SOCIAL MEDIA AND SEARCH ENGINE ALGORITHMS ARE INCREASING THIS TREND. WE ARE ALL — NOT ONLY MILLENNIALS — MORE ‘CLOSED’, LOOKING ONLY TO OURSELVES."

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.

"THEY HAVE GROWN UP WITH A VERY DIFFERENT MIND-SET; THEY ARE DIGITAL NATIVES AND TO SPEAK THEIR LANGUAGE IS TO DISCOVER ANOTHER LANGUAGE FOR US OLDIES, WHICH IS WHY IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO HAVE MILLENNIALS IN YOUR TEAM."
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.

"AT PRESENT, COMPANIES ARE EVERYWHERE. THE BRANDS ARE LIFE TRENDSETTERS REGARDING NOT ONLY WHAT TO CONSUME, BUT WHO YOU ARE… BEFORE, PEOPLE WROTE ABOUT A POLITICAL PARTY, BUT NOW IT IS ABOUT A BRAND. SO, YOUR IDENTITY AND [ITS] FORMATION HAS NOWADAYS MORE TO DO WITH BRANDS AND WHAT THEY EXPRESS VERSUS POLITICAL PARTIES."

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.

Final thoughts

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.

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It’s the environment, stupid!

ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS ARE NO LONGER JUST PRESSING ETHICAL ISSUES, BUT QUESTIONS OF FINANCIAL PRUDENCE. OVER HALF OF BRITISH CONSUMERS FEEL WE ARE EXPERIENCING A CLIMATE CRISIS, AND OVER ONE THIRD SAY THEY WOULD SWITCH OR BOYCOTT A FINANCIAL ORGANISATION IF ITS INVESTMENTS HAVE A DETRIMENTAL ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT. DESPITE BIG CONCERNS AROUND COVID-19, THE ENVIRONMENT REMAINS A PRIORITY FOR THE PUBLIC, AND BUSINESSES WILL BE EXPECTED TO CONTINUE THE TRANSITION TO A SUSTAINABLE ECONOMY IN THE POST-CRISIS PERIOD.

Whilst it doesn’t roll off the tongue with as much zest, James Carville’s ‘the economy, stupid’ slogan is aptly modified for Larry Fink’s announcement earlier this year that BlackRock would base future investments with environmental sustainability as a central goal… ‘It’s the environment, stupid!’. If anyone could ‘wake up’ the market to the tipping point which has now been reached around the environment, it is the Chief Executive of the world’s largest asset management firm. “Awareness is rapidly changing” wrote Mr Fink in the company’s annual letter, “and I believe we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance”. This has been compounded more recently, with the announcement that the UK’s biggest pension fund, the government-backed National Employment Savings Trust (Nest), will begin divesting from fossil fuels, and BlackRock “launching a selection of ESG multi-asset ETFs, to provide investors with a cost-efficient, transparent and sustainable way to invest”.

Data from Ipsos’s 2020 Sustainable Business Monitor survey amongst the British public echoes these sentiments. With a majority of the public now feeling we are dealing with a climate crisis, it appears that cash may no longer be king in investments. Only 21% now claim to care more about financial returns on investments than on whether the financial provider is ethical in how it invests money. This is compared to 28% of the public who prioritise ethics over financial returns and 26% who feel they should be given equal footing. Even allowing for the possibility that consumers may not be quite so ethical when faced with this trade-off in reality, it is clear that there has been a change in the drivers of investment decision making.

The growing imperative for investors to prioritise companies with a good sustainability track record is brought into sharper focus when looking more closely at the attitudes of millennials. Findings from the Ipsos Sustainable Business Monitor show that 54% of 18-34 year olds would be concerned about investments in Oil and Gas, compared to 47% for the UK public overall. This isn’t limited to the UK either; sustainable investing interest among US millennial investors jumped from 84% in 2015 to 95% in 2019, according to Morgan Stanley’s Institute for Sustainable Investing.

So, what does this all mean? Unsurprisingly, that Fink is right.

Over one third of those asked said that investment in projects or companies that have a detrimental environmental impact would lead them to ‘switch from’, ‘stop using’, or ‘boycott’ a financial organisation. Indeed, sustainable investing is ranked alongside executive remuneration – an issue that has a long track record of being a strong driver of negative opinion for the finance sector.

This sentiment is further reflected at a global level when looking at Ipsos data from the recent Earth Day 2020 report, highlighting that even when set against the crisis situation that COVID-19 has presented, concerns around the environment remain steadfast. Over 7 in 10 people around the world agree that climate change is as serious as the pandemic, whilst 65% agree that in the economic recovery from COVID-19, it’s important that government actions prioritise climate change.

Recognising the growing commercial opportunity facing the sector, and the long-term risk of investing in environmentally unfriendly industries, Fink notes that “as a fiduciary, our responsibility is to help clients navigate this transition [the reallocation of capital]. Our investment conviction is that sustainability and climate-integrated portfolios can provide better risk-adjusted returns to investors”.

But where does this leave industries which have been traditionally harmful to the environment, such as the oil and gas industry, for a long time the bedrock of investment portfolios and still an essential service despite growing environmental concern?

In light of BlackRock’s position, The Economist wrote: “[t]o cynics, all the climate-friendly noises amount to little in practice, since few people are ready to make carbon-cutting sacrifices that would force oil firms’ hands. But noises are sometimes followed by action. Should they be this time, the 2020s may be do-or-die for the oil industry”.

It isn’t a case of ‘adapt tomorrow or die’ for fossil fuel companies however, and Fink makes this clear, forecasting “the energy transition will still take decades”. Citing fairness and justice, “we cannot leave behind parts of society, or entire countries in developing markets, as we pursue the path to a low-carbon world”. The demand for energy will continue whilst technology works to bring cost-effective replacements to conventional fuel sources, but it is incumbent on the sector to aggressively pursue cleaner energy; not only from an ethical perspective, but also in order to remain an attractive investment. The same is also true for a number of other sectors which have for a long time been harmful to the environment, and must adapt with the new way of sustainable investing.

Companies from within the fossil fuel and investment sectors which are leading the transition to a more sustainable future are on the right path, reinforced by public support. This should not be derailed. Communicators in these sectors therefore have the opportunity to maintain messaging around this transition, but with fairness in mind, should also remain sensitive to the societies whose energy programs are not as developed as some of the leading world economies. The transition to sustainable investing will need a collective effort – innovation from industry, reallocation of risk, government support and sustained societal scrutiny, but in adopting Fink’s position, it should be worthwhile effort for investors, producers, and consumers, from both an environmental and a financial perspective.

Contact: Alex Russell - Email | LinkedIn

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