THE BLOG
12/08/2014 05:20 pm ET Updated Feb 07, 2015

The Millennial Mandate

George Orwell once said, "Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it."

In the case of Millennials, no other generation has greater access to a wealth of information, and none other in history is better informed. Information is power and in our hyper-connected online world, Millennials are actively flexing their muscles. The outcome of having such power is the creation of an unspoken, but very present, "Millennial Mandate."

As one generation of wage earners punches the clock for the final time to retire and passes the fiscal torch to the next, so with it goes the transfer of buying power. Since the next group of wide-eyed wage earners represents a running increase of income potential and sustained investment upside, so, too, follows a great deal of marketing focus to win their patronage.

This massive target of 80 million young Americans will soon represent half of the workforce in the U.S. Within the next three years, they'll have more purchasing power than any other generation. It's the growth opportunity of a lifetime.

It is easy to understand that marketing to Millennials is now topping the to-do list for credit unions today. The tough question is not why credit unions need to be effective in marketing to Millennials, but rather, how?

A new way of thinking

There's no laundry list of traditional lead generation tactics to impart, or a set of simple adjustments to suggest for a new magical marketing mix. To be effective, you will be required to learn and practice a new way of thinking about marketing, and you will begin to develop a new set of tactics.

This "new way of thinking" about marketing is one you already think about as a consumer. You always have thought this way and you always will. During your training to become a marketing professional you were instructed, encouraged and convinced to think in a way that makes it extremely difficult to succeed.

The most successful marketing achievements were more often the result of a lucky coincidence than the outcome of an exacting calculation learned in college marketing textbooks. In some of those cases, your gut has been smarter than your head.

Marketing has long been defined in the dictionary as "the action of promoting and selling products or services." Read that first part again, only slower. Marketing is "the action of promoting and selling." For the past 75 years, this definition of marketing is what has been executed by companies and is accepted, and even expected, by consumers... until now.

Companies in many industries can still be seen shaking their fists in the air and circling the bonfire chanting the age old mantra of marketing, "Promote and sell! Promote and sell! Promote and sell!"

The trouble is a new generation of consumers, the Millennials, are not so willing to trust a brand, or buy a product simply because it is being promoted or sold to them.

Unlike their parents or grandparents, Millennials have adopted a different set of expectations. They hold a new standard of what is acceptable by brands who want their business. The selection criteria when making a purchase is not what it used to be, and Millennials are maintaining a much lower tolerance threshold for the well-established "promote and sell" model of yesterday. If the hypothesis is accurate, and the old ways of promotion are becoming obsolete, what then should a credit union marketer do differently?

Everything!

Simply stated, marketers should consider doing the opposite of what they have been doing.

Consider this. Our universe contains a miraculous combination of opposites all pulling and fighting against one another in a balanced tug of war. Oil and water, fire and ice, darkness and light, land and sea, life and death, love and hate, good and evil, work and slumber, progress and congress, war and peace, and on, and on.

While it is quite expected of opposites to begrudgingly repel their opponents, it is curious, if not amazing, how some opposites also attract. The north and south poles of our Earth, for example, push against one another to keep our planet from folding in on itself. Should you drop two magnets on a table however, the opposing poles will run and cling to one another like long lost lovers reunited at Grand Central Station.

As marketing professionals, we are trying to "promote and sell" our wares while our prospects are instinctively opposed to companies trying to promote or sell them anything.

Prospects are conditioned to avoid, deflect, delete, and ignore companies who try to "promote and sell." No matter how many times a marketer may try to, "promote and sell," the prospect remains unlikely to buy. Or worse... they may become so fatigued with your "promote and sell" tactics that they'll strive to avoid you completely. With all of this avoidance by prospects, how then would anyone be able to generate revenue?

Do the opposite

Replacing those aggressive "promote and sell" tactics with a focus on helping and teaching. Prospects are more likely to allow constructive relationships to flourish.

Opposites can only attract when there's also something in common. As marketers, it is our job to identify the relevance of what we are offering and demonstrate the benefits. Your new job is to earn and build trust in a relationship and to care for your members without badgering them with more sales pitches or promotions.

It's not what you're selling, nor what you say when you're selling it that people will remember, but rather, it's how you've made them feel that makes all the difference. This generation would rather pay more or even go without than support a company they do not know, like or trust.

Lack of trust isn't new. There is a long history of general skepticism for marketing abuse and questionable corporate behavior in America. The old saying, "If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is" was a catchphrase used by the Better Business Bureau since 1912.

There's plenty of historical evidence to suggest that Millennials are not the first generation to dislike being harassed by marketers, or to mistrust their annoying sales pitches, special offers and promotions. They will be, however, the first generation to universally reject companies who still practice such tactics.

Millennials, unlike their predecessors, will have, throughout their entire spending lifetime, unlimited on-demand access to knowledge, ratings and reviews.

In this new world, what you may try to say about your brand has little influence or impact if the social consensus presents a contrarian view of your business. The power of persuasion has fully shifted into the hands of the collective consumer and effectively muted the marketer's bell horn.

The Millennials, as a result, will enjoy an evolving self-governed society of clean commerce where brands will be required to tell the truth, keep their promises and cease the temptation to "promote and sell." If brands deviate from the new Millennial Mandate, they could face nation-wide rejection and prolonged boycotts, all initiated at the breakneck speed of a single tweet.

If you want to reach Millennials, stop reaching and begin teaching. Get into the conversation and develop relationships. Look for ways to give value rather than getting revenue. Be generous, entertaining, useful, relevant, and most of all, be human. These characteristics are immensely attractive to consumers, and as a marketer, you'll find that practicing attraction is much more effective than pushing yet another promotion.

Inbound Marketing

The opposite of "promote and sell" is called, "Inbound Marketing." Inbound marketing is a game-changing philosophy invented by Hubspot and suggests a new approach to doing business.

Rather than promoting your business through various forms of advertising or expensive direct marketing to get a prospect's attention; inbound marketers earn the attention of their target by producing interesting and helpful content. This activity increases your digital presence and makes your business easier to share with others through social media and much easier to find on Google.

Being found on Google draws more consumers to your website in the very instant when they are actively searching for you. Being found by prospects in their moment of need will always yield a better result than pestering them when they don't want to be bothered. When they arrive on your site, it will be on their terms.

Rather than pushing promotions just in case a prospect is ready to buy, you will prepare helpful content that is available for them just in time. With only a few exceptions, the moment they need your help is the only time they will really want to hear from you. No one minds a good answer when a question has been asked, but the sun is already setting on the old days of commercial interruptions and all forms of unwanted spam.

Inbound marketing may be a new way of thinking for many marketers. It requires commitment and patience, and the development of timely, memorable and valued content. This can be difficult, labor intensive and expensive, but it is the way Millennials prefer to develop trusted relationships with brands.

Above all else, being trustworthy is the most important aspect of bringing your brand into compliance with the new Millennial Mandate.

Based on featured cover story published in Credit Union Business Magazine, November 2014