Top Five Reasons to Give Up on Millennials

 

Thank you, Deloitte’s, for a ‘just when I thought I’d seen/heard everything’ moment. Please give it up for the ‘MilleXZials’ – an amalgamation of Gen Z (ages 14-20), millennials (21-34) and Gen X (35-51). Apparently, their ‘mobile consumption behaviours’ – and, I’d venture, many other of their consumption behaviours – are pretty much the same.

Being older than all of these amalgamated whippersnappers and, yet, probably possessed of the very same consumption behaviours, I think Messrs Deloitte have missed a trick here. ‘MilleXZials-boom!’ would have been so much better. The point is that ‘milleXZials’ are everyone.

As, on a slightly smaller scale, are Millennials. Here are five reasons why we should ditch the lazy catch-all that is ‘millennial’ and get on with understanding the needs of a micro-segmented audience.

Millennials are not a distinct group

Only in that they were all born between 1980 and 2000. Stating the obvious, the oldest are 38 and the youngest are 18. Socially, economically, politically, ideologically, technologically – they’re different shades on a very broad spectrum. They cannot be influenced, communicated with or sold to with a one-size-fits-all approach.

Millennial is not a synonym for ‘the youth of today’

Because while some of them are, others – very clearly – aren’t. (Recently I read the phrase ‘Millennials, and their older siblings…’ Hell’s teeth, I’m the older sibling of a top-of-the-range Millennial. Talk about broad generalisations.)

Millennials are not ‘the workforce of tomorrow’

Saw a presentation recently entitled ‘Boomers vs Millennials: are you ready for the shift in your workforce’? End-of-generation Millennials are 38 years old. They’ll have already been in the workplace 16 years, supposing they endured higher education. They’re your boss. A quarter of Millennials have been in the workplace for 10 years or more.

Millennials do not all want the same things

Whether that’s world peace, corporate purpose, recyclable coffee containers or a sushi bar in the workplace. To imply that they do is to lose focus and render any communication strategy so broad-brush as to be wholly ineffectual.

Millennials are not disadvantaged compared to the previous generation

They can’t all afford houses because house prices have risen out of all proportion to the price of anything else, and society’s rules vis a vis home ownership have changed. That being said, there are jobs to be had, and jobs in ‘new’ industry sectors (think internet, social media, fintech, bioscience) pay comparatively well. Millennials live as well, if not better, than previous generations. Even if ‘millennial unrest’ was a thing, it isn’t.

Dump Broad Groupings – Embrace Nano-Targeting

Millennials was the first socio-economic group that wasn’t.  (And there will be no more that are.) Regardless of any other influences – and there are myriad others, obviously – the incredibly rapid growth and implementation of new technologies alone has seen to that.

The internet, as we know it, became a thing around about 1995. Thus, Millennials born in 1980 grew up with dial-up and cables. Millennials born in 1995 grew up with smartphones and broadband. Facebook was founded in 2004 – early Millennials would have been all over it. Later Millennial has probably closed his or her account. Early Millennials are sporting FitBits and confuse automated call centres with AI. Sharp-end Millennials are already thinking about having payment chips implanted in their hands.

For the last time – ‘Millennials do this, and Millennials think that’ – it’s lazy, and it’s unimaginative. Millennials don’t exist.

Diageo recently made a song and dance about micro-targeting – given the current rate of technological development, evolution, implementation and utilisation (and its effect on society) expect to have to coin a new term for a new group every month or so.

It’s not micro, it’s nano.

Reputation Management, Millennials and Corporate Purpose – Part 2

This article, by Tony Langham, CEO of Lansons, for PRWeek, conflates reputation management, millennials and corporate purpose – three hot topics, each deserving commentary of its own. I started with reputation management – now let’s look at corporate purpose.

Millennials and their older siblings want to understand why a business exists. They want to know its purpose and what it stands for. They want to see corporate citizens that play their part in the community.

Corporate Purpose – Shiny Object Syndrome?

The evidence that genuine purpose improves corporate performance is compelling. The concern is that having a purpose is seen solely as a means of achieving the performance improvement.

Two things:

  • Spending considerable amounts of time and money on identifying a shortlist of purposes for your company – as many do – seems a flawed approach. Either you have a genuine purpose, or you don’t. And if your purpose is making the most amount of widgets at the best price, then so be it
  • Purpose, for many, seems to be inextricably linked with corporate ethics, whereas, to my mind, a purpose might reference an ethical agenda but it doesn’t have to in order to be valid

Employees are not engaged by engagement, and having a corporate purpose does not make your stakeholders purposeful. Creating engagement and purpose amongst your employees and having external stakeholders build a purposeful relationship (one that will be acted on) with you are both functions of many and varied factors – and buying a tailored statement of purpose isn’t one of them.

Having a corporate purpose should not be confused with having positions on diversity, equality and sustainability and being prepared to share them. Nor should it be confused with CSR programmes. These are simply ethical behaviours. While I am not wholly convinced that ‘people, planet, profit’ is the correct order of things, they are the things that matter, regardless of whether you have a statement of purpose or not.

Purpose, Mission, Vision – What’s The Difference?

Assuming the role of interested layperson, it is easy to search for ‘purpose’ in connection with some of the world’s best known corporates – Google, for example, Microsoft, Apple, IBM, Amazon, Facebook, LinkedIn, Tesla, Starbucks and Coca-Cola.

And the interested layperson finds that, amongst the missions and the visions, there are very few mentions of purpose. Facebook has an updated purpose, but this is also reported as being a mission and a goal. IBM ‘translates company purpose through (three) values’. (And uses ‘mission’ and ‘purpose’ in the same sentence to describe the same thing.)

Having a credible vision, mission, and set of values is important. They are three of the many and varied factors that lead to engaged and purposeful employees. To the outside world, not so much. External stakeholders shouldn’t have to be told what your values are – they should be able to deduce what they are through corporate behaviour. That is, of course, if they actually care.

It says something about the concept of purpose, however, that some of the world’s largest companies seem to be simply re-working – or re-labelling – their missions, or their goals, or their values in order to tick the purpose box.

Purposely Distracting

Needless to say, this approach delivers a hotch-potch of styles, approaches and themes – from the sales-driven (Apple, Amazon) through the product-led (Tesla, Starbucks) to the almost hopelessly idealistic (Coca-Cola, Google).

To misquote Alec Guinness, these are not the purposes that stakeholders are looking for. (If indeed they are looking at all.) At best, they have been designed by committee (you can see this in Apple’s 2017 mission statement compared to Mr Jobs’s original and personal ethos) at worst, you might be forgiven for thinking that they’re an attempt to distract from what the company – or its leadership – is really doing.

In terms of facilitating understanding of why a business exists, its purpose and what it stands for, they are not up to the task. They are complex and lack authenticity. Arguably, these companies would be better off without, and letting their corporate behaviour speak for them. Supposing, of course, they trust it to do so.

Reputation Management, Millennials and Corporate Purpose – Part 1

This article, by Tony Langham, CEO of Lansons, for PRWeek, conflates reputation management, millennials and corporate purpose – three hot topics, each deserving commentary of its own. Let’s start with reputation management.

Reputation Management – What Does It Actually Mean?

Reputation management is seen as a synonym for crisis and issues management and risk mitigation. There are at least two obvious reasons for this. The first is that ‘reputation management’ -as descriptor for what we, as communications professionals, do – simply isn’t very clear.

That’s not to say that ‘public relations’, or ‘corporate communication’, are much better, but one cannot help but thinking that the industry came up with ‘reputation management’ to make itself sound more weighty, more serious and more deserving of a seat at the top table.

‘Public relations’ has the merit of doing what it says on the tin, and being easily explained in one or two sentences. Likewise ‘corporate communication’. The downside, stating the obvious, is that ‘public relations’ suffers from a longstanding image problem. That image problem is not going be solved by changing the discipline’s name, however – particularly if the new name is ambiguous.

‘Public relations’ and ‘corporate communication’, as labels, still work well. High quality, effective, measurable work should address the image problem.

Institutionalised Communication

Reputation management does take in crisis management and risk mitigation, of course, but they are not prime directives. The prime directive is, as it always has been, getting out there and making opportunities to tell your story in ways that will connect with your target audiences, so as to build a positive, beneficial and measurable relationship with them.

Another reason, then, why reputation management is becoming aligned with the lawyers and the accountants, is that the prime directive is being suppressed. Communication has been institutionalised. Reactive communication has become the best communication. (Arguably, in some areas, ’twas always thus and it should not be forgotten that the reputation managers of today were often the corporate affairs advisers and capital markets communicators of yesterday.)

I have two examples of this, one first, and one second, hand. In both companies – no names, no pack drill, but both recent – communication (corporate affairs, reputation management – what you will) was almost wholly reactive. In both cases, I took this to be a function of the industry sector (finance, since you ask), naturally conservative and risk-averse. I now think I was wrong – it’s a general malaise.

The core function of the communicator is to champion active communication strategies, that use all the tools available, to communicate the corporate personality and proposition. And that means creativity and persuasion – having the ideas and getting the approvals necessary to make them happen.

Is There Value in Purpose?

Which brings us neatly to this video which dates from January 2018. A good example of corporate creativity, of personality and proposition and – one can but imagine – a certain amount of persuasion to get it over the line.

Obviously, it’s fraught with risk – it’s an overt statement of what the company stands for, which it now has to stand by, forever, and, let’s face it, someone’s going to be offended by it. But it appears to be authentic, a real statement of what Sodastream is.

Refreshingly, it’s not a ‘purpose’, requested by the board, designed by committee and handed off to the communicators with a brief to ensure everyone knows what it is. But more of that anon.

Right Messages + Right Spokesperson = Audience Engagement

So let’s talk a bit about messaging and spokespeople and audience engagement.

A recent commercial radio news bulletin, here in the Emerald City, concerning the renewal of a corporate sponsorship of a leading entertainment venue.

An opportunity, with the right messages and delivery, to enhance the general perception of a company, and get people on board.

Include detail, avoid buzzwords

The spokesperson talked about transforming the sponsored building into a ‘smart venue’. This may well be a thing, and it may well be something that can be delivered – but without any explanation, it’s a lost opportunity to connect with the audience. Then there was ‘improving customer experience’. Without specifics, why should anyone care?

It is too easy to substitute a shorthand term for the real message. ‘Smart venue’, when we mean a building that can tell you where things are, tell you how long the queue for the ladies’ loo is and allow you to pre-order two hot dogs and four pints via an app on your smartphone. ‘Improving customer experience’ when we mean discounted gig tickets, a chance to meet the band and 4G in the mosh pit.

Messages are the detail that gets people interested, draws them in, makes them want to be involved. In this case, however, both key points sounded like buzzwords from an approved list, drawn up because research shows they’re what the customer wants to hear.

Suitable spokespeople, not senior spokespeople

The spokesperson had clearly been briefed, and did a workpersonlike job, but sounded uncomfortable and didn’t have the detail that would make the story live. Agreeing a spokesperson is not easy – often simple seniority carries the day.

An alternative approach is to establish a panel of ‘subject matter experts’ who take the spokesperson role when it’s their area.

Another is to spread the responsibility – get agreement that a handful of senior people should alternate as spokesperson, thus limiting the exposure of any one in particular.

And there’s selection of opportunity – the less able spokesperson gets the less pivotal gigs.

Training to tell stories

In the real world, of course, this doesn’t always work. The media want to speak with the CEO, and no-one else will cut it. Or maybe the news story is about a ground-breaking use of technology and only the CTO will do.

Which is where, of course, the message and the spokesperson should be managed in tandem.

Messages are not buzzwords, and a spokesperson is not someone reading buzzwords off a script. Training and rehearsal – above and beyond a simple ‘briefing’ – help the spokesperson to build their own story around the messages.

Telling a story that they’re comfortable with not only brings the message to life, but allows the spokesperson to be genuine in their delivery.

It’s the combination of interesting detail and genuine delivery, by someone who’s comfortable with the material, that creates audience connection and propensity to engage.

In-House Communication – A Business Essential, Not Priced By The Yard

Recently, I came across – not for the first time – the idea of creating a ‘rate card’ for in-house communications activity. Simply put, this is the concept of putting a cost on the team’s time, and on the activity the team carries out. While (normally) the charge would not be passed on to your internal customers, it shows what the service would cost, if  it were. The slide below lists the potential benefits.

(NB I apologise unreservedly to comms2point0, who created the slide. I encountered it via Twitter, and haven’t seen it presented. I do not believe it’s quite the same as I’ve described above – I think it’s a thought experiment, aimed at demonstrating the value of the in-house communication function, to those working within the function itself and amongst its internal customers and stakeholders. I have to acknowledge that – as I have no experience of how things are done in the public sector – the idea may work very well in that context.)

In the cyclical and budget-constrained world of in-house communication, where, I am afraid, there are turf wars and land grabs, creating an agency in-house is a genuinely risky course of action.

I understand what drives this thinking. Very often, the in-house communication function is (or appears to be) undervalued and thus is under-utilised (or utilised in the wrong way) and inevitably under-funded. No matter how often it tells its story or sets out its stall, at other teams’ meetings, through its own channels and tools, or on a one-to-one, it’s an uphill struggle.

Little or no value is attributed to in-house communication (exceptions may be found at C-Suite and ExComm levels) and no-one wants to engage with it – unless they have a specific story to tell, or the organisation is in crisis. Even then, many senior managers will enrol external communication advisers, apparently based on the premise that if you pay for it, then it’s worth more.

So the temptation is to put a cost on the work that’s being done in-house. Not to actually charge anybody, but to demonstrate the value. The problem is that, once done, it’s open to attack. Marketing will say that their agency can do it cheaper. Procurement will get involved in buying print and video. Continuous improvement will demonstrate how processes can be streamlined to require less manpower. Finance will question the numbers. Finance always question the numbers. And then cut the budget.

It doesn’t work. It’s like trying to assess the value in a painting by pricing up the paint, brushes, canvas and frame. Someone can always get the materials cheaper – but what they can’t buy is the knowledge of how to put them together.

The value in in-house communication lies in its strategic approach, bound to the strategy of the organisation. It’s in the team’s depth of knowledge of the business. It’s in its role as a trusted advisor. It’s in its network of contacts throughout the body corporate, and the intuitive way it helps the body function. It’s in its appreciation of business and organisational imperatives, and its understanding of how best to serve them.

No other function does this. It is invaluable – you can’t put a price on any of it.

Corporate Reputation – No Place for Newspeak

Corporate reputation is not enhanced by the continuing trend for elitist and alternative job titles, and neither are levels of employee engagement (or motivation or trust – whatever you care to call it).  Guru or ninja, black belt or master, ‘innovation sherpa’, ‘fashion evangelist’ or ‘digital prophet’ (yes, really) these titles muddy the waters instead of clarifying them, close doors instead of opening them and make it more difficult for the outside world to relate to the company or organisation in question.

In the same way, internal or external audience opinion of, or reaction to, a company or product cannot be improved by simply changing the way things are described. A recent BBC article, entitled ‘Why d0 some companies ban certain words?’, provided the quite brilliant example of  Davio’s, a chain of steakhouses in the US, where the CEO has banned the word ’employee’ and replaced it with ‘inner guest’.

I learnt that companies like Apple and General Motors have taken action with employees to avoid the use of words that might be perceived as ‘negative’ – like ‘bug’ and ‘crash, ‘defect’ and ‘flawed’ and – terrifyingly enough, ‘death-trap’.

Clearly banning the use of ‘death-trap’ if your employees were actually using it to describe your products is not going to solve the problem, mitigate against reputational damage, or assist in dealing with the crisis that’s bound to ensue.

As an aside, it is exactly in a crisis situation, however, where a possible exception to this can be found.  In a crisis situation, avoiding – and providing alternatives to – emotive and dramatic language can help prevent the escalation of an issue (particularly in media terms), the results of which will help no-one. Still, it is a difficult road to tread, and the approach must be dictated by the nature and scale of the issue.

In the cases cited above, however, a company has attempted to do away with everyday issues faced by customers by changing the names of the issues. And it’s not like the customer isn’t going to spot it – and when they do, they will feel patronised, undervalued and taken for granted. The effect on your employees is going to be similar. Telling people how to communicate (including banning of words), strange new job titles – they’re going to feel talked-down-to, they’re going to feel out-of-touch and they’re going to be disengaged.

The issue is threefold. First off, it’s not authentic. Second, it’s not transparent (in the sense that something is clearly being avoided). Third – and maybe most important – it’s slightly ridiculous.

Like most things in communication, let common sense prevail. If you’ve got a bug, call it a bug and offer a solution. If it’s crashed, repair it. If there’s a defect, then it’s a defect – so fix it or replace it. If you’re building deathtraps, stop it immediately, before you’re in a position where you have explain why you did. And don’t worry about what you call your employees – find ways to involve and reward them, and always keep them informed.

Be honest, be upfront, tell it like it is. Trust and belief enhance corporate reputation and deliver an engaged workforce.

We Need To Talk About PR and Communication….

Quite the week.

  • Bell Pottinger was expelled from the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) for breaching ethical standards with a campaign that the association’s DG called ‘absolutely unthinkable’.
  • As a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), I was stunned to learn that – according to a press release issued in May (which I’d not seen, to my chagrin) – after grace period one year, members found using AVEs (Advertising Value Equivalents) as measurement will be liable to disciplinary action.
  • As a LinkedIn member, I added a response to an open request for ‘personal take(s) on communications’ core purpose’ -reading the other 15 responses, I saw the words trust, diplomacy, influencing, reputation, behaviours – but nowhere did I see the word ‘selling’.

Recently I published a piece entitled ‘What’s the Value of PR’ (feel free to have a read) in which I proposed that the communication industry of today is little different to the industry of 30 years ago. The big issues then are the big issues now – this is an abridged version:

  • The communication industry has an image problem
  • There is no workable, affordable, industry-standard evaluation methodology for communication activity
  • Communication is still chasing its seat at the top table

The first two are self-explanatory.

  • To the outside world, the communication professional is a spin doctor or a celebrity publicist or Edina Monsoon. Those with a greater level of understanding see the role as that of an eminence grise, and not in (if there is one) a good way. On the inside, the communication professional is seen as an event organiser, a clearer-up of messes, a corporate policeman, a scriptwriter and someone to answer queries from difficult customers. The perception problem is not helped by Bell Pottingergate, nor by tweets such as the one seen this morning “You know your (sic) work for a #PR agency when……you hear a champagne cork pop before 9am!”
  • A massive amount of good work has been done, by AMEC and others, to achieve some consensus on the issue of evaluation. The CIPR – and in fairness, the organisation has since indicated that its intention is not to punish – is to publish its guidelines this autumn, and hopes to kill AVE stone dead. The problem is that any form of meaningful evaluation is costly and labour-intensive and for those with pared-back budgets, it’s not feasible. Thus, we are presented with a choice between sacrificing a sizeable proportion of our budget, or doing nothing.

The third is about the function of communication:

  • Communication (in all its many and varied guises) is – and should be – wholly about selling stuff. This is where it adds value and gains respect and how it achieves a seat at the top table. It may not all be about directly shifting widgets – it could be about encouraging investment, or obtaining planning permissions, or seeking the wherewithal to carry out important social programmes – but it is inextricably linked to the selling process, which, after all, is what makes all businesses, organisations and institutions tick.

There are other issues, of course – such as the fact that communication works in silos (internal, external, digital, issues management, public affairs) when, quite clearly, to have an holistic view (and to guarantee clarity of message) all communication disciplines should be but different faces of the same object.

Image, function and measurement are the big ones, however, and have been for years. Unfortunately – and with no disrespect to the PRCA or the CIPR, who are herding cats, and making a good fist of it – improvement is up to everyone who works in the industry, and as we’ve learned this week, it only takes one to reinforce and renew the general misconceptions.