Monday, October 27, 2008

A Realignment in the Making

Check out Current TV's latest show on this year's realigning election. A Makeover for our time.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Marketing Message from Millennials

In less than ten days, when Barack Obama’s lead in all the polls is likely to be confirmed in the voting booth by the American electorate, millions of words will be written about why he won and how McCain managed to lose. Unfortunately, some of the most important lessons from the election have been ignored by marketing executives and corporate leaders as well.
Obama's success to date lies in his ability to blend his own persona as the messenger with a unifying and uplifting message that reaches the newest generation of Americans, Millennials, born between 1982 and 2003. His campaign has mastered marketing through social networks and other Internet-based communication technologies. This “cool” approach defeated the “hot” rhetoric that came from his primary opponent, Hillary Clinton, and is likely to perform even more favorably against the more confrontational and traditional campaign of John McCain.
But Millennials don’t just represent the key constituency behind Senator Obama’s successful campaign but a key market opportunity for economic growth. Almost one-third of all Americans are in this generational cohort, and even though many of them are still too young to vote, almost all of them influence the daily purchases of the families of which they are a part. Until brand managers and marketing mavens master the art of reaching and attracting Millennials, consumer expenditures will continue to languish.
CEO’s need to learn how to create brands whose image attracts Millennials to something more transcendent than their product’s functionality or characteristics. Corporations will only hit their growth targets if they are willing to change their own message, messenger and media to fit the tastes of this generation.
A recent study by the Economist Magazine’s Intelligence Unit suggests this campaign lesson has not yet penetrated the thinking of many in the “C suite” of the world’s corporations. More than half of those executives said they did not currently have a strategy to target or retain this demographic group. In their report, Maturing with the Millennials, survey respondents acknowledged the need for new tactics to target the millennial customer, but indicated a lack of preparation to do so.
For instance, the report found that, “While 44% indicate that communicating the right messages in the right medium and at the right time is critical to their success, the majority have yet to leverage enriched content, peer recommendations and enhanced online experiences as part of their outreach—even though they acknowledge these are among the most effective ways to communicate with Millennials.” This sounds a lot like Hillary Clinton’s advisors Mark Penn and Mandy Grunwald on the eve of the Iowa caucuses when they derided the supporters of Obama as looking “like Facebook” pages. When Obama’s Facebook legions came out to vote in droves in the Iowa caucuses they dealt a fatal blow to Senator Clinton's cause.
Companies, fortunately, do not have to suffer the short shelf-life of failed candidates. They can change their strategies in order to capture an emerging new base. We have seen this with companies who have succeeded with emerging ethnic markets at home and with whole new markets abroad.
Even though most executives surveyed by The Economist understood that Millennials have specific consumer needs, few have tailored their marketing strategy for this generation. Four out of 10 executives in the Economist’s survey said that Web 2.0 technologies, such as webcasts and online forums, are the best way to serve millennial customers. More than 80 percent agreed that consumer needs vary by age group, and 42 percent believed that a bigger share of investment should go towards Millennial customers. Yet remarkably , the respondents reported that telephone, e-mail and physical storefronts were the top three ways that Millennials could interact with their company currently.
The risks companies are taking by not addressing millenials are great. This argument is detailed in a new book, The Brand Bubble, by John Gerzema, Chief Insights Officer for Young & Rubicam. His research shows that consumers’ trust in brands has declined by half in just ten years. Instead consumers increasingly turn to nontraditional sources of information, such as search engines and social networks, to determine what they should buy and from whom. That is why any good corporate CEO should check every day what customers are saying about their company on the mushrooming “Why I hate xx” websites that now exist for every major company.
To restore their brand’s value and regain traction with the buying public, companies will need to reinvent themselves in order to engage Millennial constituencies on Millennial terms and in Millennial media. They will need to learn the art of attracting support without appearing to be chasing after it in much the same way Obama did in his campaign.
One leading edge private sector example of how to pull off this Zen-like non-effort is Nike’s successful efforts to enhance its brand’s attractiveness by creating online communities of runners. By partnering with Appleit created an application for runners that transfers running time, distance and even calories burned to a Nano so that the results can be uploaded for sharing with others. By building virtual running communities, Nike gave its customers an opportunity to register their individual profiles while receiving content that they can access while running . Nike was able to create its own social network linking people with similar running habits, such as those who run with poodles, to produce a strong bond of affiliation among each member of the group, and from that experience an equally strong sense of loyalty to the Nike brand.
In 2006, the International Television and Video Almanac pointed out that Americans were being bombarded with about “5,000 marketing messages each day, up from 3000 in 1990 and 1500 in 1960.” Nothing in the trend line for communication technologies suggests this amount of corporate generated content, is likely to decrease in the coming decades. Not surprisingly Millennials can absorb much more information at any single moment than previous generations. But this does NOT mean that they are absorbing information in the same way . To gain the attention and brand loyalty of Millennials, companies will have to turn to non-traditional, online information distribution platforms to create a new message that builds a sense of community and caring around their products.
The best way to do that is to incorporate a cause or purpose into the reason for buying a product. It may be protecting the environment by going green, or reducing inequality in the world through acts of charity, or demonstrating a commitment to young people by investing in educational institutions, or all of the above. Regardless of the cause, not only did the era of unfettered capitalism end with this month’s financial meltdown, but so too did the days of appeals to consumers based solely on narrow self-interest or conspicuous consumption. Bling is out; doing good is in. Make that your message, and you have a story that will work effectively in the Millennial era.
Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais are co-authors of Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics (Rutgers University Press: 2008)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Will Millennials Vote in November?

Will Millennials Vote in November?

The second presidential debate left few observers willing to predict anything but an Obama victory in November. But one nagging question remains in the minds of many pundits. Will Millennials, whose overwhelming support for Senator Obama’s candidacy represents his margin of victory in polls in many battleground states, actually turnout to vote in November?

One such skeptic is Curtis Gans, an eminent researcher on voting trends and turnout at the American University’s Center for the Study of the American Electorate, whose most recent report even goes so far as to deny the existence of the Millennial Generation. Aging Boomers like Tom Friedman have made the same public mistake, demonstrating just how convinced many leading thinkers among that generation, which is well represented among leading political commentators in the media, are that the political style of young people today is not like their own youthful political behavior was and is, therefore, not appropriate or useful.

Since Gans' research report was focused on, in his words, the increased, “almost record,” turnout in this year’s presidential primaries, it is particularly surprising that he chose this vehicle to announce his distaste for the Millennial Generation and its political style. Gans cites the work of William Damon as the source of his knowledge about this generation, which is strange given the large number of more well-documented studies of the Millennial Generation disproving Damon’s contention that the parents of Millennials are “creating a generation of young people who lack confidence and direction.” The evidence shows just the opposite.. If anything, employers and teachers who interact daily with Millennials complain that they are almost too confident, to the point of sounding “cheeky.”

This generation's self-confidence and orientation toward the group and the broader society has important political implications. Recent polling data from USAToday/CNN demonstrate that Millennials are paying close attention to the 2008 election and have every intention of voting, at numbers rivaling those of older voters. Their survey of more than 900 young Americans, taken Sept. 18-28 found that:

• 75 % of Millennials are registered to vote
• 73% plan to vote
• 64% have given "quite a lot" of thought to the election

Even Gans concedes that Millennials may vote in large numbers in this election. But he says that they will do so only be because of their fondness for Senator Barack Obama and not because of any long-term commitment to the political process. Millennials he says “were brought in by the uniqueness of Obama’s candidacy—precisely because he seemed to offer something different than the politics they had been eschewing.” He continues, “they won’t stay in if he’s not elected and their interest and engagement won’t be sustained if he does not live up to the promise of his candidacy once in office.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

There is no doubt that Millennials have responded very positively to Senator Obama and his candidacy and that the Obama campaign has strongly targeted this generation. Millennials supported Obama overwhelmingly in this year's Democratic primaries and virtually all current general election surveys indicate that Millennials favor him over John McCain by at least a 2:1 margin. But the political attitudes and identifications of Millennials were clearly evident long before the Obama candidacy gained widespread visibility. A Pew Research Center survey conducted in March 2007 indicated that Millennials identified as Democrats over Republicans by nearly a 2:1 ratio (52% vs. 30%). And, a study conducted at about the same time by the Millennial Strategy Program of communication research and consultation firm Frank N. Magid Associates showed that Millennials were the first generation since at least the GI Generation to contain a greater number of self-perceived liberals than conservatives. All of this at least raises the possibility that the high level of Millennial political involvement is significantly based on the Democratic and liberal affinities of the generation and would be strong even without Obama's strong candidacy.

Gans makes it clear why he is sure that the political involvement of Millennials stems solely from their attachment to Barack Obama. He yearns for the “idealistic activism” of the 1950s and 1960s when, according to Gans, all of America shared a “different ethos” thanks to an educational system based “on John Dewey’s philosophy.” Since, in Gans' mind, the emerging Millennial Generation doesn’t share the liberal idealism of his own youth, it cannot possibly sustain its current level of political activity.

If only it were so, Curtis.

In fact, the ideological ferment of the late 1960s, led by half of the Baby Boomer Generation’s counter-cultural rebellion against authority, and the reaction against this social turmoil by the other half of Boomer Generation, produced the political gridlock that caused the very cynicism in the older portions of the electorate that Gans decries. Even his own expert on the Millennial Generation, William Damon, concedes that Millennials “are working hard, doing well enough in school, and staying out of trouble.” Indeed, America is enjoying far lower levels of socially deviant behavior, such as teen age pregnancy and crime, since these indicators began to soar during the adolescent years the Baby Boomer Generation with its disdain for social rules and convention.

But Gans' own words demonstrate the flaw in his thinking. The 1950s that he writes about so nostalgically was actually an era dominated by the behavior and ethos of the GI Generation, another “civic” generational archetype, just like Millennials, not by his beloved Boomers. That generation put FDR in the White House, brought about the New Deal approach to progressive government, defeated fascism in WWII, and voted at rates greater than those of previous generations. Their Democratic loyalty lasted a lifetime: the last remaining members of the GI Generation and the first sliver of Millennials provided the only pluralities for John Kerry over George W. Bush among any of the generational cohorts voting in 2004.

The previous falloff in voting by young people described by Gans in his diatribe is completely explained by the generational attitudes and behaviors of Boomers and Gen-Xers as they moved into and out of young adulthood. One generation, Boomers, initially turned out to vote spurred by admirable idealism and then often left the political process when they discovered in Gans’ telling phrase, that “their leaders showed feet of clay.” The other, Generation X, never bothered to participate in large numbers having been discouraged by the political gridlock Boomers had created. Now that Millennials make up the entire population of voters 26 and under in this election, you can be assured that they will not only vote at rates comparable to older voters, just like their GI Generation great-grandparents did, but they will also continue to vote heavily and participate vigorously in the nation’s political process for the rest of their lives.

They will do so, because unlike Curtis Gans and his ilk, which never were able to translate their idealism into action, Millennials are intent on working together to create a better America than the one Boomers have left them as an inheritance. Their confidence, political activism, and unity will begin to initiate that change on Election Day this year thanks to a record turnout of young voters. The 1.7 million vote plurality given to John Kerry by young voters in 2004 will grow to between 8 and 10 million for Barack Obama when this involved and unified generation goes to the polls on November 4. Only Curtis Gans and out of touch Boomers will be surprised.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

millennials will change America's health care and educational systems

Now that everyone is noticing the impact the Millennial Generation is having on this year's presidential contest, its time to look ahead at what type of policies this generation will support when the current administration and Congress leaves town.
Millennials will translate their passion for service into careers in government at all levels. They will be especially influential, as outlined in this recent oped from the Ft. Worth Telegram, in remaking our health care, environmental and educational systems.