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Recruiting Intelligence

Know What Millennials Really Want?

Millennials are the core "customer group" for undergraduate and graduate programs. For university marketers understanding their target audience is absolutely crucial to reaching and attracting prospective students. Obviously the "education program" is not defined by admissions staff and university marketers, so academic staff has an equal stake in understanding the desires, priorities, likes and dislikes of this generation. Designing a compelling offering with marketing messages that attract and core academic content that delivers on the marketing promise...well, we can all dream of that perfect world. Trying to achieve it is what keeps us employed.

So, to help inform us while we are on that path, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) published an interesting report, called The Millennial Consumer - Debunking Stereotypes (download requires registration).

Exhibit 1 (below) shows the size of this millennial cohort. This group has become the most important for academic institutions. And since this group stretches from 18 to 34 years old, a focus on non-traditional students who enter or continue their education outside the traditional high school > college path, is particularly valuable. Our other research has shown that continuing education, certificate programs and other non-traditional education options that enhance career opportunities are increasingly in demand by this age group.

There is an interesting difference in the way older adults view the younger Millennials. Take the group of Millennials at the oldest end of the scale--those who are in the early thirties today. Exhibit 2 (below) addresses the self-image and the perception this sub-group has of itself and those who are just about 10 years younger (still categorized as Millennials). The word cloud shows the self-images centered around tech-savvy, cool, hip, and innovative while also lazy and spoiled. Then look at the older Boomers (non-Millennials). They describe the Millennials in the reverse order focusing on lazy, spoiled, and entitled first and then as tech-savvy. The report authors suggest that non-Millennial executives should examine their own attitudes towards Millennials. Organizations that fail to understand and embrace the needs and characteristics of this rising set of students and workers will have a hard time developing well-targeted, appealing programs, services and products. Not to mention marketing messages.

BCG shares an important observation that Millennials and Boomers spend roughly the same amount of time online, but Millennials are more likely to use the technology as a platform to broadcast their thoughts and experiences and to contribute to user-generated content. Millennials are more prone to interact with the media whereas Boomers tend to consume without engaging. We note that difference for universities in respect to their presence on social media and rating services and how they involve current students and alumni in their marketing efforts. Falling behind in these areas over the next five years will have an impact on the bottom line.

Lastly, in Exhibit 3 (below), BCG provides a segmentation of the Millennials which we think brings interesting insights to branding, messaging and design. BCG points out that Millennials are by no means homogeneous. As mentioned above, one of the biggest differences to previous generations is their upbringing with pervasive digital technology and the adoption and knowledge of digital technology, hence the term "digital natives." No surprise that BCG's research results show that Millennials are much more prone to upload videos, provide blog entries and rate products and services digitally than the previous generation. BCG selected a few telling quotes and descriptions of Millennials:

  • I want it fast and I want it now
  • I trust my friends more than corporate mouthpieces
  • I am social creature both online and offline
  • I can make the world a better place

The BCG research focused on general consumer services and did not emphasize the financial and job-related concerns shared by many prospective students since the economic crisis of 2008. Post secondary education represents one of the largest investments young people make in and for their lives. Hence, universities have to address students' combination of concerns and dreams. Universities, more than any commercial company, are ideally positioned to embrace and speak to the desires and wishes of Millennials.

Topics: Insights