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Recruiting Intelligence

Can Millennials Change Marketing Forever? Uh, yes (eyeroll).

"How Millennials Are Changing the Face of Marketing Forever -- The Reciprocity Principle" is a research piece published by BCG (Boston Consulting Group), a management consulting firm. While the report reviews how millennials interact with a range of consumer brands and products, there are valuable lessons for those of us in academia. After all, this age group is pretty heavily represented in our classrooms, hallways, and registrars. Let's see what we can learn from BCG.

The authors state that, "Millennials expect a two-way, mutual relationship with companies and their brands. We call this the reciprocity principle. Through the feedback they express both offline and online, Millennials influence the purchases of other customers and potential customers. They also help define the brand itself. The Internet, social media, and mobile devices greatly amplify Millennials’ opinions and accelerate their impact. Companies can expect that a positive brand experience will prompt Millennials to take favorable public action on behalf of their brand. A bad—or even just disappointing—experience can turn a Millennial into a vocal critic who will spread the negative word through social media, reviews, and blogs. And that criticism can go viral.

As university marketers we are experiencing the proliferation of marketing channels. Just as our televisions now receive 180 channels (at least) where there were once four (OK, plus UHF), the options within the digital world continue to multiply. Vine anyone? Or how about WeChat. No? Then maybe Ask.fm?

The BCG report emphasized the need to reach millenials via digital and mobile channels. Doing that will be one thing this year, and something different next year. And yet, to ignore it means falling far behind those institutions willing to invest in the more "ready, fire, aim" approach that digital innovation now expects.

And "ready, fire, aim" has become far more acceptable today, with one important caveat: do it all fast and cheap. Really, that is one of the key things that the digital world has changed about business planning and the launching of new ideas and initiatives. Because you can get real customer feedback nearly instantly and incredibly inexpensively, "ready, fire, aim" can make a whole lot of sense. In no time at all, you can see exactly how you missed the mark. And your next launch, just a few months later is right on target. That used to be impossible.

The report's authors have pretty strong words on the attitudinal changes represented by Millennials: "U.S. Millennials display levels of egocentrism that exceed what may be expected, considering their youth. This inward focus can be seen today in the values they expressed: 35 percent said that they believe that beauty is more important to them than it was two years ago, while 37 percent cited wealth and 45 percent, professional success." This is sounding like a fairly shallow existence. But who are we to judge if we are their parents and educators? Might this just be a reflection on our values? Perhaps we digress...

Exhibit 1 below from the BCG report highlights the differences between Boomers and Millennials. We consider this an interesting challenge: how to communicate the values of your education to the prospective students vs. their parent's generation?  Got any ideas? A show of hands?  


The research seems to suggest additional opportunities and challenges for university brands. According to the researchers, "Millennials identify with brands more personally and emotionally than do older generations. 50% of U.S. Millennials ages 18 to 24 and 38% of those ages 25 to 34, agree that brands 'say something about who I am, my values, and where I fit in.'” (See Exhibit 3.) That sentiment is substantially stronger among Millennial males than females and among those in middle- and high-income brackets (around 40 percent) than those who consider themselves as being in lower-income brackets (27 percent)."

Bottom Line: We have a number of take aways from this research and point you to exihibit 5 (below) for summary of helpful Millennial personality traits. 

  • Universities are in the middle of a shifting consumer sentiment with 18 to 34 year olds
  • Communication patterns are changing, including a broad-based digital conversation that influences decision making 
  • Your digital messaging is critical; segmented communcation is becoming more important and mobilizing young, existing consumers. If they are not already (and they are whether you are pulling the strings or no)t, your current students and alumni will become an integral part of your academic marketing
  • The BCG consultants emphasize the reciprocity principle. For universities, we strongly believe in the life long learner and development relationship.  While it may sound like a platitude, we believe that an institutional commitment for the long term career and development of their graducates will foster a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship beyond alumni donations and college football or basketball allegiance. (Yes, we've shown our cards revealing how we really feel about college sports. Apologies all around. Go UConn!).