Cultural organizations need to reach millennials and that means talking about it – but that talk does not make other generations less important.
Cultural organizations desperately need to get better at reaching millennials in order to thrive in the future – but in order to have these conversations, we need to clear up some craziness. The aim of this week’s fast facts video is to set the record straight: Talking about the need to reach millennials is responsible and necessary – and adding millennial engagement to important discussion sessions is in no way a dig on older generations because these too are important audiences! Talking about millennials does not mean ignoring other generations – and it never has. It seems that all of this millennial talk may be leaving other generations working within the industry feeling confused, frustrated, and maybe a little bit ignored. To feel this way may be based upon a misunderstanding.
Here are four things to remember when you’re feeling overwhelmed by millennial talk – or maybe even left out by the lack of similar discussion about your own generation.
1) MILLENNIAL TALK is code for EVERYBODY TALK
We discuss millennial mindsets so much because they represent a kind of evolution that affects everyone in today’s digital world. “Millennial talk” is often used a bit like an umbrella topic in the discussion about creating twenty-first-century cultural organizations – so talk about transparency, social consciousness, personalization, and connectivity often get attributed to millennials. Really, though, these are growing expectations among all audiences.
Sometimes it seems as though organizations label market trends as “millennial talk” in order to somehow dilute conversations about necessary evolution. Calling large-scale trends that affect all generations (like digital connectivity) “millennial talk” may make them seem less looming and perhaps less urgent. But they aren’t. We millennials could easily look back at other generations and say, “Wait! You increasingly care about connectivity and impact, too! Why are organizations pinning all of their inconvenient calls to evolve on our generation alone?!” Part of getting over the “millennial talk” is realizing that it’s not “millennial talk” at all. It is “market reality” talk.
2) Millennials are the only generation that cultural organizations are NOT reaching at representative rates
We talk about millennials so much because cultural organizations (museums, zoos, aquariums, theaters, symphonies, botanic gardens, etc.) need to reach them. Pause. Real talk: We really need to reach millennials. Millennials represent the largest generation in human history, and we are also the only generation not visiting these organizations at representative rates. On top of that, millennials are also our most frequent generational visitors. This is a unique situation! Millennials are our most prevalent current audiences, but they are also the audiences we need to better engage. (In other words, they are visiting the most, but when we look at the US population, they should be coming much more.) This unique situation is one that must be addressed in order for organizations to thrive in the future. When we look at the size of this population and their make-up, preferences, and lack of representative engagement, it’s very clear to see that if we don’t start reaching millennials at representative rates, cultural organizations will have a very rough and unsustainable future.
3) Millennial engagement has nothing to do with ignoring other generations (We NEED them!)
Adding “millennial talk” to generational discussions sometimes seems to make other generations defensive. The discussion about the need to attract millennials has nothing to do with ignoring other generations. (Has it ever?) Baby boomers still make up a good portion of our audiences and they have noteworthy giving capabilities. Generation X engagement remains stable and consistent (and this generation, in particular, deserves a bit more love). When we talk about attracting millennials, we are NOT encouraging organizations to forget about everyone else. Organizations have been talking about and focusing on reaching Baby Boomers for fifty years and that conversation isn’t stopping. It shouldn’t! But adding another generation to the discussion at some point – especially a generation even larger than the Baby Boomers – seems reasonable and inevitable. Certainly, there has to be a way to talk about new generations without other generations feeling personally offended. We need all of our audience members! We need to add generations to the discussion. To replace discussions about other generations – and especially to ignore other generations – would be irresponsible.
4) Strategies for engaging millennials do not generally alienate other demographics
See point one. We at IMPACTS collect a lot of data, but we do not see much that directly suggests that an organization having programs aimed at attracting millennials particularly alienates other generations on the whole. Again, trends that we are seeing in regard to millennials increasingly appeal to older generations as well. We simply aren’t seeing signs that a majority of Baby Boomers really hate transparency, personalization, social consciousness, or digital connection. It doesn’t mean that these generations necessarily prioritize or make decisions based upon them as much as millennials do. But, as it turns out, this whole Internet thing has affected all of us and has changed up what we expect from organizations.
When we in the industry underscore the need to reach millennials, we’re not digging on Baby Boomers or Generation X (or Traditionalists or Generation Z)! We need these visitors and supporters! But NOT discussing millennials – this new, large, underserved generation that holds the key to our future – would be irresponsible. In fact, ignoring millennials would be just as irresponsible as ignoring those generations that are already engaging with us.