I'm a 24-year-old African-American, Morehouse College-educated male from Seattle. I've never worked in a major agency. Yet I have some valuable advice on how to reach and engage my generation: Damn strategic insight!
How do I know this? The bulk of the decision-making about what advertising will gain attention, inspire, garner respect and ultimately sell to my generation is made by individuals outside of my generation. Ad Age data show that the average age of executive leadership in the creative and strategy departments in advertising is 39.
These folks need to know that we millennials don't use typical advertising terminology in everyday conversation -- and that includes the term millennial. The reason why the advertising and marketing industry is struggling to communicate to us is because it doesn't communicate with us.
When I say "communicate," I don't mean organizing a focus group, or monitoring social media and responding to posts. I mean bringing us in as respected thought leaders to help contribute ideas and develop concepts and strategies. I mean respecting us enough to help provide direction within a campaign or with new products in the alpha stages. That takes trust.
My mother always shared this quote with me, "You have two ears and one mouth for a reason." In my case, it usually led to punishment for talking in church. In the case of agencies and brands, it usually leads to major success (and dollars!) for simply listening.
A good example of how to listen is the Marcus Graham Project's iCr8 Summer Bootcamp, which I attended this past summer. Microsoft advertising and its Windows 8 team collaborated with us in productive working sessions designed to train diverse talent to enter the ad industry. Out of those sessions came a wealth of ideas and strategies to further Windows 8 innovation. It wouldn't have happened without the open-arms approach of Microsoft. All it takes is including us as part of the process.
And when I say "us," I don't mean specific parts of us at opportune times. In our generation, an El Paso-born Hispanic fashion designer can be friends with a Norwegian architect from Connecticut. They could have met at a food-truck event on their college campus and connected through their mutual love for Indian-American history and Jay-Z!
Simply put, to relate to one millennial, you must understand the collective. Our generation grew up with fewer physical or geographical boundaries separating us than in any previous era. With many of our parents having witnessed or gone through the civil-rights struggle, we've grown to detest segregation, isolation and dismissive behavior.
Millennialism, no matter which way we look at it, is rooted in multiculturalism. My generation is not just an age group, but also a blend of cultures. An easy way to engage us is not with a race-targeted, segregated initiative, but with a total market strategy. In the end, it's all about the industry leadership's mindset. Take a page out of Microsoft's book.
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