Marketing to the technology-averse millenials

There’s no lack of research on millennials. The last generation to be born in the 20th century is coming to (purchasing) power, and receives most of the marketing attention. Moreover, millennials have grown comfortable with the idea of a public internet life, where privacy concerns are mostly limited to who gets to see or not one’s latest social status update, which makes it easier than ever for marketers to scrutinize their every move and collect personal data on a massive scale.

Yet despite unprecedented insight available to marketers on every aspect of their life –from work habits to purchasing behavior and sexual preferences– millennials are extremely hard to market to. For one good reason: millennials have developed a near-genetical resistance to marketing. Not only are they familiar with every marketing trick ever invented –intuitively turning any commercial into a parody–, but they’re also less trusting of institutions and other people than the generation X before them.

Millennials are immune to marketing as you know it*

According to the (well trusted) Pew Research Center, only 19% of millennials in the United States agree that, “generally speaking, most people can be trusted”. This is 12% less than Generation Xers, and half the percentage of baby boomers. Millennials are also suspicious of institutions, with over 50% considering themselves as politically independent (vs. 30% of the boomers), and one in three not affiliated to any religion (an all-time high in the United States, yet still a much lower percentage than in Europe).

Resistance to traditional marketing and low trust in social influencers is a deadly combination for marketers, including those equipped with the latest social marketing and digital weaponry. It takes more than posting funny commercials on Youtube and developing brand values on Instagram to earn a millennial’s thumbs up!

The best of dreams is only worth the quality of the entire sleep

Where marketing has been broadly misused to make things look “slightly better” (euphemism), marketers are summoned to learn to be authentic. Better be true to the value proposition, or get prepared for a global pandemic of crucifying customer reviews. Posting apologetic tweets by the thousands for not delivering the service expected may not suffice to contain the virus, and earn the trust back (granted you’ve managed to gain some trust in the first place). Millennials are pushing businesses to become genuinely better, or more honest: make better products, or adjust their marketing (and price) to set the proper expectation!

A recent study by Goldman Sachs reveals that a strong brand is not enough to lock a sale with millennials: more than previous generations, they are turning to brands that can offer maximum convenience at the lowest possible cost, and a majority value access (renting) over ownership (buying) in most occasions. The little creativity in the latest release of OS X El Capitan that I installed this morning may not suffice any longer for millennials to purchase the iMac they’ve long dreamed of, at such a premium price.

What was invented in a garage shall stay in a garage

To make things worse for technology marketers, millennials hate technology. Yes they do. Their aversion to technology may not appear at first sight, and I realize that most observers may qualify as “technology affinity” their near-addiction to mobile devices, their natural aptitude for understanding graphic interfaces and visual languages, and their high dependency on the Internet to do, and learn how to do about anything.  Yet anyone who witnessed the hopeless face of a 16 year-old trying to troubleshoot his Windows computer without Generation X assistance may understand what I’m talking about: millennials only love technology as long as it works as intended.

The appeal of new technology has moved from the garage to the living room, from the workshop to the couch. Millennials want Wi-Fi to flow through their homes from the attic to the basement, with a cheap, low-range router plugged behind walls of steel-reinforced concrete. When the network is down, resetting the router is not an option they will consider (what is a router anyways?). Hardware failure is not acceptable. They demand flawless HD streaming and downloading software updates at the same time (updates for what again?). Capacity and bandwidth must follow, as expected. They want to create unique websites without coding, and any kind of suggested software-tweaking without intuitive visual assistance shall be reported as a bug.

Connecting the opposites

Resistant to marketing, suspicious of “thought leadership” and self-proclaimed social media gurus, expecting always more value for the money, and frustrated with complex technologies… Millennials bring new challenges to product marketers, especially in the software industry, forcing us to re-imagine products, how we market them, how we sell them, and how we support users:

  • Delivering ever more advanced functionality, in a simpler package.
  • Demonstrating simplicity, while showing a broad range of capabilities.
  • Crafting ever more creative marketing messages, without setting wrong expectations.
  • Setting the right expectation, while differentiating from more “relaxed” competitive promises.
  • Delivering customized experiences, without need for customization.
  • Adapting to personal preferences, while adopting standard designs.
  • Getting attention without bragging.
  • Engaging with millions, and being authentic with each.

Exciting times ahead for product marketers!


* Well, assuming you’re passed 35;-)

The hyper company

Hyperloop is here. In the Arts District of L.A, Elon Musk’s new venture employs over 400 people committed to get Angelenos to commute to San Francisco through a vacuum tube, at the fantastic speed of 750 mph. The technology is revolutionary, which helps the company attract top talents, excited to contribute to the first major innovation in ground transportation since Benz and Daimler’s first gasoline-powered car in 1885.

But maybe as revolutionary is Hyperloop’s innovation in business management. While it is not unusual for tech companies to offer stock options as incentive to their employees, it is about the only thing top engineers get at Hyperloop. No cash at all, until a possible IPO in a few years, or never. The company has invested virtually tens of millions of dollars in R&D work hours already, paid only in stock options at a fixed hourly rate!

Beyond providing evidence that one can still get people to work hard by promising the moon, Hyperloop also stands for a new type of company: hyper-companies. From the technology-fueled Hyperloop to the low-tech bakery across the street, that “magically” attracted hords of customers from all around town and quickly turned into a successful franchise, hyper-companies share the outcome of hyper-growth. Spectacular growth, made possible by high-speed collaboration, super-agile processes, and flexible management.

High-speed collaboration

Hyper-companies collaborate with customers, with suppliers and internally at very high speed, allowing them to learn fast and to iterate towards delivering always better products and services. They crowdsource ideas from customers –relentlesly collecting insight to improve their commercial proposition– when others spend months with consultants to create the perfect business case. They engage with customers on social networks and keep them posted with text messages, when others debate with agencies on tag lines for a new billboard advertising campaign. They make information and knowledge easily accessible and editable to engineers, technicians, sales and support teams, from anywhere and at any time; quickly spreading good experiences to build upon, and warning about dead ends to avoid, when other companies struggle to explain KPIs after the fact, in monthly status meetings. As a matter of fact, recent research that we’ve conducted at Sage shows that companies providing faster and simpler access to data to employees grow 10% faster than average, bring new products faster to market, and sell 3% more to new customers.

Super-agile processes

Hyper-companies have mastered agile processes, allowing teams to deliver at a faster pace, and giving the company the ability to scale on any given project in a very short time. They’ve discarded procedures –the established or official way of doing something– to the benefit of actual processes –the actions to take in order to achieve a particular end. They’ve distinguished unnecessary validations from the value-add steps that ensure greater quality and control. They’ve empowered employees to cut corners, when necessary to satisfy customers and deliver projects on-time.

Flexible management

Hyper-companies have flexible management practices and flat organizations. For example at Hyperloop, some employees are given the role of “hypermasters” to help fast track projects in certain areas of business, regardless of their position and typical role in the organization. Hyper-companies do not only recognize specialists, but also the “multipotentialites” in their employees, who may be talented engineers AND creatives, product designers AND social media advocates. They have flattened organizations, allowing for more autonomy and engagement of their employees. They have clear org charts, and tight oversight of business decisions, but allow for flexible execution and foster employee mobility. More, they have smashed down company walls and develop outside webs of collaborators. They invest to protect their IP while engaging at the same time with networks of outside experts, that can easily collaborate and add value to the company projects, with controlled –but simple– access to the information they need.

Technology for growth

New technologies help hyper-companies achieve higher performance. Regardless of size or industry, they leverage technology as an enabler for faster collaboration, agile processes and more flexible management.

It often start with business management software not being in the way, but accelerating growth. Accounting processed in real time, as part of the flow of operations. Collaboration happening instantly, around sales, on the production floor or in the warehouse. Automated workflows accelerating the entire supply chain. Project management leveraging a common knowledge base, and a shared view of status and KPIs by all employees around the globe, at any time.

I have the privilege to work every day with talented engineers and marketers who bring such business management solutions to life at Sage. They build the next generation cloud solutions, that help customers of all size and shape accelerate growth with better insight, faster collaboration, and more flexible processes across their operations. So their company may also become a hyper-company.