There is a video I show to first year university students when discussing change and technology. It perhaps sums up the moment when someone fails to understand how technology around them has changed things

I’ve always loved this video. Let’s face it, you don’t need to speak German to get it. But here’s the thing. Every year when I show this video to students (who remember are generally aged 18-19 as first years) it gets a good laugh, or at least it USED to! Over the past five years I have witnessed that laugh getting lower and lower, and this year it was barely audible in the 250-300 capacity lecture hall. And then I understood.

They no longer get the joke. They don’t know what that first ‘thing’ is. The Typewriter. The joke doesn’t work if you don’t know what a typewriter is and how it worked. It is at this point you begin to feel terribly old!

A New Order

Every generation moves things along, passing out the previous generations norm and expectations as they go. It is the natural order of things and the millennial shopper of today is no different. They are a different breed, hungry for instant gratification and instant feedback, seeking peer-to-peer reviews to aid their decision making and demanding personalised product delivery. They not only speak a new language when it comes to their attitudes and beliefs, sometimes it feels as if they come from a different planet. But it is the planet of the future for every brand owner.

A Grey Board

Before I go on let me be clear – I’m not ageist. With age comes experience, a wisdom of what is important and where resources should be prioritised. Experience is what counts, not age.  However today, most companies are being directed by boards who lack a certain experience. They lack the genuine insight of the millennial shopper and how this new world works.

The average age on most company boards is 55+. You might find some members in their mid-forties if you are lucky, but you probably won’t. This ‘grey’ board certainly have the experience, but they lack the understanding of the millennial consumer. When I see a board appointing someone in their 30s I know they get it. They understand that they need to step closer to this new consumer.

Time for Change

Generation Y, Digital Natives or Millennials, call them what you will, are unique. They have fundamentally different needs and expectations from the products and services they buy than previous generations. If your brand, product or service offering is to survive, it is in their hands.

It is time we woke up to this. It is time we viewed our young talent within our organisations for the hidden gems they are. They are not just ‘an intern’ or a ‘graduate placement’. They are your link to your consumers. We need to give them more access to senior management, to promote them appropriately and recognise the value they could add. And think about letting them help on the big strategic decisions.

Now I’m not suggesting as CEO you promote people just because they are young. That would be stupid. But what I am suggesting is you should take a good long look at the young talent in your organization, and pinpoint the stars. The people that are achievers, hungry for a challenge. And then advance them to the board and senior management as soon as you can.

Do You Remember Vinyl?

At your next board meeting look around. You all know what a typewriter is, the new consumer might not. You recorded songs from the radio on to a cassette. Some of your customers don’t even know what that is! You enjoyed the soft soothing crackle of vinyl. It just makes sense to invite some millennial directors to sit at your board table.

Of course you may be reading this thinking “we can just commission reports on what they think. We don’t NEED them as strategic advisors”. But here’s the thing. You do. The pace of change in terms of consumer and shopper expectations is ridiculous. The battle field shifts so often, the idea of a 5-year plan is completely redundant. Long-Term planning is a distant luxury as the pace of change surpasses its purpose.

You need to bring the millennial generation as close to your strategic decision making as you can. And if you can’t go as far as board appointments, then consider bringing them in as strategic advisors. It might raise some eyebrows, but as that old saying goes …

Ken Hughes, known as The King of Customer Experience on the International Conference Circuit, studies emerging consumer behaviour and helps businesses and brands establish deeper and more relevant connections with their customers.

A blog to
inspire & delight