Millennials and Generational Marketing
Every year you get a year older.
It is amazing how a such a simple fact can be at the heart of the most complicated problems.
The cruel fact that every year you add one more year to the pile (coupled with a demographic boom and bust) is responsible for declining rates of volunteers, reduced member engagement and decreased perception of membership value...whether we are talking about your service group, your sports organization or industry association.
The root of the problem stems from the post-WWII baby boom when the "G-I Generation" celebrated their victory in Europe by increasing the birth rate dramatically. In Canada that meant more than 400,000 babies born each year in the 20 years from 1945 to 1965.
Imbued with a new sense of community and collegiality (and an average of three children per family), the "G.I. Generation" founded many of the institutions, organizations and associations that still exist today.
As the G.I.'s transitioned out of the leadership roles in these institution and organizations, they were met with two things: a new and very large generation keen to pick up where they left off.
Because the Baby Boom lasted for over 20 years, there was ample supply of fresh volunteers, participants and willing members from the Boomers as they came age. This effect was magnified by the fact that the Boomer generation left home earlier than generations before - with many starting their families in their early 20's. They started joining groups and participating at a younger age.
This set up a virtuous cycle of supply and demand for volunteers, participants, board members and supporters for everything from Kinsmen to Curlers or from Rotarians to Road Builders.
The models and methods of our associations, clubs, and institutions changed along the way but the change was never as dramatic as the size (1945-1965) and depth (8,000,000 +) of the upcoming generation meant a slow and incremental adoption of new methods, models and communication tools.
This resulted in a decade's long and orderly transition of roles as a steady supply of board members and volunteers rose through the ranks of organizations.
Then along came the next generation....the children of the Boomers. Often called Generation X, the "lost generation" or the "baby bust", this generation is a mere shadow of the previous boom with a much different view of community, volunteering and how organizations should be run.
The organization, structure and communication tools of their grandparent's generation hold little relevance or interest to this generation. As a generation more focused on post-secondary education, Gen X left home later in life with many waiting till their thirties to start their families.
This set up a vicious cycle of both declining interest in volunteering from a smaller pool of individuals.
If organizations were like siphoning fuel out of a slip tank, the suction provided by the G.I. generation is about to be broken. If we don't re-fill the tank, someone is going to have to suck gas.
There is hope though.
The coming generation represents an incredible opportunity for associations and non-profit organizations to reconnect to the virtuous cycle that they once knew.
The "Millennials" as they are called are the largest generation by population since the baby boom.
Born in the 80's and 90's, this generation is different than those that went before in its approach to community, volunteerism and the ways they use to communicate and connect with each other.
Often called the "We Generation", Millennials celebrate membership and community and live "social" lives albeit in new forms like Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.
This generation has the power to revitalize our institutions and organization but the methods and means that worked for the G.I'S, the Boomers (and started to fail for the Gen X'ers) will not work for "Generation We".
For organizations, associations and sports groups to tap into this generation they will need to speak to them in not just their mediums of choice but in their language as well.
This is a seachange that will require vision and patience from Boomers and X'ers as the old models and methods handed down from the G.I. generation are replaced with the untested and unknown methods and mediums of the Millennials.
However, many organizations have little to lose as they see the inevitable decline, volunteer burnout and member disengagement accelerate the vicious cycle.
The opportunity is there as sure as the fact that every year you get a year older.
For more on how the changing generations will impact your business; see the work of William Strauss and Neil Howe.