Get Millennials on your side by telling stories that promote social relevancy.
“Millennials have a way of placing importance on things that the company forgot about. They place importance on company values. They assess the efficacy of the vision.” This was the message that Gary Grates delivered on a panel he chaired at the 2016 National Summit on Strategic Communications. Gary is a Principal and heads the Corporate and Strategies Practices at W2O Group.
“What has happened for a lot of organizations is we’ve lost touch with those things. Values and vision are necessary. They’re on a wall; we’ve got them on our checklists, but we’re not doing them. We’re often not behaving according to our values,” Gary added.
This is important for many reasons, not the least of which is the Millennial generation continues to grow as young immigrants expand its ranks, and because many Millennials simply will not engage with organizations without social relevance or a sense of duty to the community.
In 2016, Millennials surpassed Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living generation, according to population estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau. Millennials, whom we define as those ages 18-34 in 2015, now number 75+ million, surpassing the 74.9 million Baby Boomers that are ages 51-69. And Generation X (ages 35-50 in 2015) is projected to pass the Boomers in population by 2028.
Another panelist, Rob Clark, Vice President of Global Communications and Corporate Marketing at Medtronic, noted, “Research shows that Millennials are not loyal to brands as other generations were. They’re not as impressed, and they are more likely to distrust brand messaging. You can’t just tell them about your social relevance and duty to the community. They won’t believe you.”
During the 2016 Summit panel, Chris Preuss, who is Senior Vice President, Marketing and Communications at Delphi Automotive, said that “everything is very price sensitive and sales often go to the lowest price bidder.” If you’re going to continue to perform as a premium product in today’s market, you need a premium to market socially relevant brand values.
Carol Cone, who is internationally recognized for her work in CSR, said that in order to be relevant today — not only to Millennials — you must to assign “aspirational reasons” why your organization exists and communicate “purpose” with real, human stories.
“With the astronomical amount of information that people have to choose from, it’s the human stories that tie meaning to what you do for people,” Carol said. “There’s tremendous emotion there, and you have to build on it. You have to show your human side because, with the current democratization of information, the stories that rise to the top are the stories that need our attention.”
Aspirational messaging and emotive, human stories lead to stakeholder validation. Millennials become not just consumers, but activists for your organization, recommending you and sharing your content.
“The innovation of Millennials, their viewpoint on communicating, and their enthusiasm is mind-blowing,” Carol said.
Another point the panel made: This focus on the “human element” of messaging starts with employees.
“People who want to work for the best companies do not want to park their values at the door,” Cone said during the Summit. “The values of your employees should echo your company’s social relevance. Tell employee stories with blogs, videos and interviews. Really let your employees’ stories shine. Use these stories as the center of your recruiting efforts.”
“Skilled volunteerism” is a successful valued-based strategy used by a growing number of organizations.
One example is Medtronic’s Global Innovation Fellows Program. Clark said his company encourages employees around the world to donate their skills to vital social causes.
“If there’s a crisis situation or a natural disaster, Medtronic employees are allowed to take up to two weeks to go serve and to support. Under the same program, teams of six to 12 engineers, marketers and health economists stay in an emerging world market, aiding the local healthcare system for about four weeks. The goal is to create a technology, a new service, or some sort of support for that government or healthcare entity.”
With many big societal issues, individuals often feel as if they only can contribute small amounts of resources to a cause.
“But if your brand and your company takes on these big issues, individual employees and consumers become collaborative partners working on solving social problems together,” Clark said. “People trust their partners; they engage with their collaborators, and this good work for common social purposes creates trust with your employees and with your organization.”
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The 8th National Summit on Strategic Communications is on May 9-10, 2017 in Arlington, VA.