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Every generation — boomers, Gen Xers, millennials, and beyond — brings its values and frames of mind to the world.

For communicators and marketing pros with deep experience, say 20+ years, that experience isn’t necessarily an advantage when you’re targeting millennials.

We don’t think like them.

We don’t talk like them.

Because we’re not them.

You can still be effective in reaching this audience, but it requires more homework to get under the proverbial hood. With millennials now ascending into business roles with buying power — and Gen Z not far behind — it’s something I’m thinking about.

Take a look at the home page from Santa Clara University, a stone’s throw from our office.

Santa Clara University homepage

The overall effect is perfectly fine. If there’s ever a time to follow one’s aspirations, it’s at college.

Santa Clara makes its case that if you come to the school, it will deliver the education you need to “go anywhere.”

Still, I would suggest this message played much better years ago when the baby boomers were hitting the college scene and perceived that everything seemed possible.

 

To Reach Millennials

In contrast to Santa Clara University, check out the home page for Clemson University.

Clemson University homepage

The overarching message isn’t Clemson beating on its chest about being great. Instead, the school is communicating a story about a cause, one impacting society across the world.

And look at the packaging of this story. The hand-written letters bring a certain realness to the story. This is not the place for corporate polish, although I suspect the creatives behind this work spent hours getting the “look and feel” just right.

Sure, Clemson plays off the story calling out one of its students as doing something to change the water crisis, but it’s not the headline.

If the Clemson creative director put this campaign on an easel in the 1970s, you would hear howling from the internal stakeholders:

 

“What does a water crisis have to do with selecting a university?”

“Why are you using negative words like danger?”

“Highlighting diarrhea will turn off students.”

 

Different times.

Different cares.

Different values.

 

Who Cares? (And About What?)

The following chart from CEA zeroes in on the values piece.

chart showing life goals ranked by importance between generations

Here’s a second way of quantifying the value set from different age groups, this one compliments of Pew and The Economist.

 

graph showing positive impression of socialism and capitalism, by age group

 

Think about this one. Those between 18 and 29 years of age in the U.S. essentially have the same positive reaction to “socialism” as they do to “capitalism.”

Clemson recognizes the value set of today’s younger demographic. More than construct a story, it’s the topic of the story that matters.

Business communications need to apply the same mentality to their work.

I had my own awakening the past few months, being part of our team implementing a recruitment campaign for the Fremont Police Department. Taking the time to interview potential recruits – many of them millennials – was a game changer. I plan to write more about this work down the road.


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