These two, simple mental shifts are the foundation for engaging millennials (and everyone else, too).
This week’s Know Your Own Bone fast facts video is the result of a simple question that I was asked during a workshop with a client organization: Overall, what are the most important “big-picture” things to keep in mind in regard to engaging millennials?
Darn. Good question! There’s so much information going around about how to engage millennials within cultural organizations right now – and for good reason. Millennials are both the most underserved age demographic visiting (or rather, not visiting) museums, and millennials also manage to be our most frequent visitors. (Here’s the data.) It’s a unique and urgent situation and it’s one that all visitor-serving organizations need to be aware of right now. Our behavioral attributes also make us very smart audiences to engage and the things that we want from organizations are a wee bit different than what other generations are looking for. In a nutshell, there’s a lot of critical information to know. But at the end of the day, what information is most critical?
Successfully engaging millennials is about strategy – not tactics. No, the answer is not simply, “use social media or serve cocktails after hours.” Those tactics are meaningless without understanding guiding strategy. If those things worked on their own, we wouldn’t have the huge millennial problem that we have. And remember folks, Pokemon Go is a fad – not a trend.
If you’re getting overwhelmed, here are two big-picture takeaways that will improve your organization’s ability to effectively reach millennials. There are a lot of great things to know from here, but these two takeaways encompass most of the others. Keep these two mental updates in mind:
1) Talk WITH audiences (not AT audiences)
Cultivating a deep-rooted mentality of talking WITH audiences instead of AT audiences can make a world of difference. Millennials – and increasingly, everyone else – are an extremely connected bunch and the web has changed how people interact with organizations. Today, institutions have real-time feedback mechanisms and they can listen and directly speak with their members and potential visitors. This shift means approaching everything – exhibits, communications, and programs, for instance- as conversations, not as announcements.
It may sound like a subtle difference or maybe even a matter of wording, but it’s actually a big cultural shift for organizations. After all, in the past, talking AT audiences – through TV or radio spots or even exhibits, for instance – was our primary means of reaching audiences. The channels that millennials and everyone else are using talk WITH audiences. Unfortunately, just because some leaders may have more experience with “talk at” channels doesn’t make them more relevant to our audiences. Third-party endorsements drive your organization’s reputation, and organizations can speak WITH these endorsers on newer communication channels.
This quick tip umbrellas the important personalization trends that we are seeing in the market. And this tip does not only apply to marketing! Programs, exhibits, and performances benefit by adopting this mindset as well. This doesn’t mean that everything needs to be unnecessarily interactive, but it does mean that we need to consider that while our organization may be able to declare importance, it is the market that determines relevance. It’s not a matter of “dumbing” anything down, but of finally acknowledging that people matter to our organizations and our missions. And not only uppity cultural gatekeeper people! The totally curious and awesome and not-necessarily PhDed people that we are trying to serve and “spark” in order to fulfill our missions (and remain financially solvent) matter, too! (Matter more? I’ll let you decide for your own organization.)
2) Always ask, “SO WHAT?”
We live in a world with a lot of noise. So before creating something new, rolling out a new initiative, or even posting to social media, it helps to ask, “So what?” or “Why does this matter to other people?” Helpful hint: the answer probably has something to do with your organization’s mission.
Millennials – and again, increasingly everyone else – are socially conscious consumers. To these folks, your organization’s mission matters. Approaching exhibits, programs, and messaging while asking ourselves “So what?” can help us create connections that are meaningful and impactful. Making this thought process a part of our organization’s culture can help cut through the noise. The things that we post, share, create, display, and perform cannot just have meaning to us – they need to have meaning for our audiences in order to inspire action.
Asking, “so what?” forces your organization to think strategically – and it’s when organizations don’t first answer this question that they end up with one-off tactics for reaching millennials like a social media competition and call it a day. Incorporating fads can be a smart idea- but fads are a matter of tactics. Long term engagement of this new and huge audience is a matter of strategy – and that runs deeper than using emojis in a new exhibit (for instance). Incorporating these tactics is only valuable insofar as they are relevant to audiences and spark a connection that is aligned with your mission to educate, to inspire, to get them coming back, etc.
Millennials are a critical audience for cultural organizations to engage and there is a lot of work to do. I say this despite the very desperate want by some to believe that Pokemon Go will stay this popular until the end of time and that the last survivors on earth will be cockroaches and Pokemon Go. (Millennial cockroaches playing Pokemon Go and visiting museums? That seems to be the hope.) Certainly, there are lessons to be learned and built from fads but my point is this one: We need to reach millennials and things are sounding complicated. At the end of the day, remembering that we need to keep our audiences in mind and we need to consider how we connect with them is most important. In today’s world, organizations will benefit by incorporating a culture of talking WITH audiences and asking themselves, “How is what we are doing meaningful to these audiences?”
Sounds simple, right? That’s because “reaching millennials” is often used as industry code for “adapting to the new realities of our connected world.” Doing THAT is what engages this huge audience – and everyone else. Let’s hop to it.