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Catherine Colbert

Marketing to Millennials: Companies Most Admired by the Generation That’s Bigger Than the Boomers

by Catherine Colbert | Dun & Bradstreet Editor

March 29, 2011 | 4 Comments »

The Brookings Institution, a longtime public policy nonprofit, is hip to which companies the massive Millennial generation admires most.

The non-partisan organization, funded by the likes of the Carnegie Corporation and Bank of America, researches and analyzes emerging issues in areas such as economics, foreign policy, and governance.

A senior fellow at the institute and director of its 21st Century Defense Initiative, Peter W. Singer (alongside Heather Messera and Brendan Orino) published a report last month based on the surveys of more than 1,000 young American leaders. D.C.’s New Guard: What Does the Next Generation of American Leaders Think? is an insightful look into what is and isn’t on the minds of Millennials.

Behind the behemoth Boomer generation, there’s Generation X. The institute is intrigued, however, with the Millennials — not the generation that directly follows the Boomers but the one that will more likely shape public life and leadership, it claims. Also known as Echo Boomers, Generation Y, the 9/11 Generation, and the Facebook Generation, Millennials in general were born between 1980 and 2005. The age of this group isn’t as important as its attitude. This group is 30% larger than the Boomers and three times the size of Generation X.

In the report, Mr. Singer of The Brookings Institute attributes noteworthy demographic power to the Millennials, pointing to the ultimate rise of Barack Obama to US president. It’s also the generation that inspired and laid the foundation for what it has deemed the “Facebook phenomenon.”

For corporations, marketing to Millennials and looking to lure the group to their brands as loyal customers poses new challenges. Companies stuck in the past — unable to target this massive generational market — will fail, according to Singer’s findings. On the flip-side, firms that Millennials can identify with most will succeed.

According to the surveys conducted by the institute, a generation reveals its values based on the companies and organizations it holds in high regard. For instance, the institute cites General Motors, General Electric, Coca-Cola, and Standard Oil as firms liked by Boomers. When Millennials were asked, “What company do you admire most?” results were scattered broadly, from Intel to Gazprom. Most popular answers were Apple with nearly 15% of responses and Google with about 7%.

Not surprising to me because I cover the industry, but by sector more than 35% of the young leaders ranked consumer goods companies as those they admire most, closely followed by firms that focus on information technology, communications, and computing. Perhaps because this generation has lived through the failure of financial firms, banks and financial companies generated a mere 2% in admiration.

Energy companies brought up the rear, indicating the generation’s propensity toward valuing the environment. I’d bet that Millennials are big Netflix users. I noticed earlier this week when browsing the “Netflix Top 100” documentaries that An Inconvenient Truth was ranked #1. Kudos to Al Gore.

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Photo by Toy Dog Design, used under a CC-Share Alike license.

I think that it is interesting that the institute pointed out that there is a Generation X that follows the Boomers but then went on to state that they are not intrigued by them and then dismissed them entirely. I don’t have any issues with the Millennials, but I do think it is important to point out that while Generation X is smaller, they are a valuable generation in the workforce and should be treated as such. There are 50-55 million people in this generation who have many outstanding qualities and good work experience behind them. They are only in their 30s and 40s and still have a big future and a long way to go before retirement before they get written off like this. Many have likely been working hard for many years and and still want to advance in their careers and make a difference.

Articles written like this one lead to corporations targeting their hiring practices towards what has clearly been pointed out here as the “better” and more intriguing generation. This can cause an entire generation of people to be overlooked. A generation where most haven’t even hit the prime years of their career yet and have a lot to bring to the table. It is not fair to dismiss an entire generation of people because some might think that something “bigger and better” came along.

    Catherine Colbert

    Jessica, being a Gen Xer myself I agree with you on many of your points but I don’t think that in any way the generation is being discounted by anyone, including the institute. I remember at the beginning of my career that there were employees closer to retirement than I was who seemed to be afraid of computers, wishing they’d go away or at least not be such an important aspect of their jobs. I wondered how limiting the rest of their careers would be — as they rode it out toward retirement — as a result of their shortsightedness. I think that this is what social media is to Generation X today. As far as selling their skills, Gen Xers would be best served to market the (now) decades of real-world business experience they have amassed with the value-add of being able to inject some social media savvy into the equation. That’s “better” to me.

Catherine, I’m also not surprised that Gen Y/Millennials rank consumer goods companies so highly but for a different reason: consumption is the big driving force for people their age/lifestage. It’s what David Wolfe calls the “season of acquisitiveness” in his excellent book AGELESS MARKETING.

I have not seen any statistics that show that GenX does not embrace social media. Their utilization is not as high as GenY but it is also not that far below them. There is a small number that may be resistant but I have seen the stats as high as 80% for GenX utilization of social media.

I don’t see your comparison as the same because GenX for the most part, is not resistant. There is a big difference between GenX and the baby boomers and there was resistance. Two different mindsets. But there isn’t as big of a difference in the mindset between GenX and GenY. GenX came into the workforce and started the job hopping trend and screamed for work/life balance. And GenY seems to want that lifestyle. But they came from social media and GenX did not. GenY may be more innovative with it but GenX is not resistant, in any significant measure, and is right there in it. They came from technology and PCs and have valuable years of work experience. Both generations seem to want a lot of the same things and could learn a lot from each other – so it looks like it should be a great relationship.

But there is a divide between the two and I believe it is primarily an attitude – on both sides. GenX feels slighted – first by the baby boomers and now by GenY. And there’s resentment there. And GenY tends to like to tell GenX how great they are which feeds the fire. But for the most part, they are probably going to live very similar lifestyles.

And this article is not about that but it struck me as odd to learn that there is a publication called “What Does the Next Generation of American Leaders Think?” and to learn that is about the mindset of GenY. The oldest are only 30. The average age of a CEO is 55. I would think the majority of the “leaders” are likely in the age range of GenX. And then it is further stated that GenY will shape leadership in the future. What happened to GenX? I tend to think it’s this kind of stuff that feeds the divide between the two generations. And unfortunately, it will also cause companies to do exactly what GenX fears – overlook them in hiring and advancement practices.

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