Gen Y is already in the workplace and making life decisions. How will your company attract, motivate and keep them?
by Jonathan Gilliam, Momentum Factor
Admit it. You have no idea what to do about the next generation of technology-dependent, short attention-span, want-it-all-now Generation Y. You know, the ones with the implanted headphones cranking out an average of 300 text messages a day? How can you get their attention, much less get them to sign on with your company?
Perhaps it would just be easier to not worry about the future and just enjoy the moment and bask in all the recent industry attention from the mainstream press. After all, the field will figure this stuff out and keep the engine humming … right?
Like it or not, these savvy young adults are the future of your company. Ignore them and sooner or later your numbers will begin to slip as recruitment and retention get harder and harder.
In this article, I will take last month’s great Direct Selling Association (DSA) keynote address from generational consultant Jason Dorsey a step further and dig into the mechanics of our industry, and specifically how this generation challenges many of our assumptions. I’ll then provide a few ways you can prepare your business for this remarkable trend.
Part I: Bigger than the Baby Boom.
The challenge of how to adapt to GenY is more intriguing to me than any other trend in our industry. It also likely keeps many direct selling executives like you awake at night. This generation is already bigger than the baby boom and represents a tsunami of new attitudes, behaviors, demographics and preferences. And the wave is headed straight for your beach.
Adapt or Else.
Unfortunately, there are few easy answers. You can’t just redouble your current efforts and reach GenY – they aren’t where you’re reaching to begin with. You also won’t get there simply by “hiring the young’ins” or setting up a Facebook page.
No, this challenge requires big thinking and the intestinal fortitude to make what could be sweeping changes in your marketing, systems and core messaging. Your whole approach may be perfect for boomers, yet ring completely hollow for GenY.
Because the generational differences are so profound, most established companies are likely to react too late and lose the chance to capitalize on what could be their greatest ever opportunity for growth in this industry. The changes may prove too uncomfortable for executives who just don’t get how to capture the attention and imagination of young people.
Surely, you say, our industry has overcome huge challenges and has still wildly prospered. Hostile regulation, consumer distrust, high-profile lawsuits, yes, we beat ‘em all. One could even declare that the industry is even in a renaissance of sorts.
But GenY is a “megatrend”, not just an issue of the day. Its cultural significance is vast and global and trumps anything we’ve seen.
GenY presents a whole new set of circumstances that direct sellers must get in front of or face slower growth or even irrelevance. The reason? Technology of course, with its instant information, connectedness and mobility.
The Future is Here.
93 million strong, GenY is now the largest generation in the United States today. Yes, bigger than baby boomers at 76 million, GenY have an annual spending power of $1.5 trillion. Born between 1978 and 1993, (today’s 18-33 year olds) most are beyond college-age. Though independent in their mindset, many are still supported by their parents due to higher debt loads they carry (an average of $25,000), combined with limited opportunity in the traditional work world during the great recession.
A few descriptors of GenY (we Gen-X’ers love labels): Casual. Entitled. Adventure-seeking. Collaborative. Tech-dependent. Impatient. Open. Creative. Fickle. Recognition-motivated. And of course. Connected. Very connected.
They are the first to grow up entirely online, and from an early age they have extensively used personal computers, mobile phones, e-mail, video games and the internet. Nearly all (95%) have a profile on Facebook and nearly half own a smartphone. They instinctively lean toward technology for any solution they need, they’re super-mobile and can be impatient with things they perceive could be better managed with technology but aren’t.
Addicted to Technology.
McCann Worldgroup recently announced a study revealing GenY’ers would rather lose their sense of smell than their access to social networks. That is more than tech-savvy, it’s dependence.
And they wield their beloved tech mightily. As much as you’ve read in my column about the benefits of communications technology to our industry, it is certainly a double-edged sword. GenY’ers instantly compare prices, reviews and reputation with the tap of a smartphone, making it easier for them to buy – and far more difficult to sell to them. They inquire with their networks and peers to learn about others’ experience. They even check with their parents. And they love giving reviews of their experiences with brands, both positive and negative.
Are You Lovable?
Since they have immediate access to independent information about your product or service, its competition, ingredients and pricing, you must focus on reasons for GenY to love you, your team, your culture and your “reason for being,” as much as your financial opportunity or product.
With GenY, you must give them a reason to buy from you. You’re selling your people and culture as much as your product. Me-too brands are at risk – GenY knows they can choose from multiple options, so constant and rapid innovation is critical. Go ahead, give them something to love.
Your Great Challenge … and Opportunity.
For sure, appealing to this generation seems overwhelming. And for direct sellers, the opportunity is every bit as immense. Even so, our model of marketing, through networks and relationships, happens to also be a defining characteristic of GenY. After all, it is an entire population of people skilled at leveraging networks.
Think about it. GenY’ers have not known an unconnected world for most of their lives. Everyone they know is uber-networked, and reachable, with a keystroke. This very fact alone should whet the appetite of anyone who appreciates the power of social networks. (Namely, you.)
So, what can you do?
- Present your opportunity in a way that appeals to GenY dreams and anxieties. Our industry is uniquely positioned to appeal to GenY. Seeking independence? Check. Spending money? Yep! Adventures and fun? In spades. Social networking? That’s what we’re all about!
- Review your recognition programs. Does your reward match GenY aspirations? Does achievement (ranking up, bonuses, etc.) happen early enough to keep them engaged? Perhaps your rank names don’t appeal as much to GenY. Are they motivated to earn a “Diamond”, or is “Director” more appealing? It depends on your culture, but whatever the reward, let them know that you notice and appreciate their individuality and accomplishments.
- Recognize, all the time. You know why this is necessary. It’s how GenY grew up. So give them the virtual blue ribbon for everything: Signed up? Hooray! Downloaded your first video? Great work! Made your presentation? We’ve got to tell everyone! This doesn’t have to cost much, recognition can come in the form of a “badge” in the system or a phone call from the CEO. It just needs to be sincere. And constant.
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