By Denny Dow
Everyone likes to win. An easy win, a tough win, a lucky win — it feels fantastic. When the stakes are high and the problem is complex, that win can be hundreds of times sweeter.
Riding immensely high in complexity and sweetness is the act of winning the favor of a generation. How? First, figure out who they are, and how they live. Secondly, and this is important, figure out what defines them — why they are who they are. Weed out misconceptions based on personal experience, bias, or fuzzy areas and gaps in knowledge by identifying a clear picture of what’s really driving them and why. Finally, match your findings up with your mission, vision, offering and abilities, and execute clearly and directly on their level.
Who are Millennials?
I’m 32 — a Millennial. I’m part of a group of people that have garnered a reputation for being a tough nut to crack, indifferent, frustratingly stubborn, and seemingly anti-everything. You’ve heard of us, and what you have heard may be good, bad or somewhere in between. Let me tell you who we are, starting with the hard facts: We are currently the largest generation of people in the United States, having recently outnumbered Baby Boomers, the lot of which are beginning to move into retirement age. We were born between 1982 and 2004. We are certainly tech savvy, impatiently centered on quick outcomes, fast to judge but open minded to change, and our suspicion amplifies that capacity for change to or from a brand.
Two important things to note: First, we currently have all adults under 35 within our ranks, and we’ll have the youngest adults until the last Millennial turns 18 in 2022. Second, the Baby Boomer bread-and-butter of most outdoor power equipment sales in the past 40 years is heading into retirement, and away from professional-grade equipment.
What defines Millennials?
Nothing defines a person or a group like the environment they came of age in. What was happening around them at the formative parts of their lives drives their behavior going forward. I watched my grandmother, who lived through the Great Depression, continue to peel apart 2-ply tissues in 1993.
So what’s been the experience of Millennials? It began with technology — the dot-com boom and the infiltration of computers into everyday life. Long before any of us had sent a text, a tweet, or a Snapchat, we were dialing up to AOL, chatting with our friends, and downloading at the blazing speed of 28.8k. We moved through adolescence as the Information Age moved out of its infancy, adapting to a multitude of changes and advancements every day. It’s no wonder we have an ability to adopt new trends, a love of technology, and a need to have consistent stimulation in that regard.
After that, things got hairy. College, for those of us lucky enough to go, reached its most expensive level in history (and continues to climb). Older generations telling us that it was very important to get a college degree were not incorrect, but the cost had changed significantly since their time. Our 18-year-old selves thought “at least I’ll get a good job” as we watched our debt grow. With our degree came the promise of infinite possibilities, right?
Wrong. 2008-2009 came at a weak point for us — right at the beginning of many of our careers, or the middle of our education. Banks were failing, the housing market crashed, and institution after institution was being exposed as historically unconcerned with the morality of cause and effect. Even the brightest optimist among our generation was immediately soured as unemployment ballooned and the lowest-paying, entry-level jobs required 4 years of experience. To a 22-year-old fresh out of college with $100,000 in debt and no real-world resume, it was a rude awakening that culminated when we returned to our hometowns. We saw the news broadcasts of bailouts, golden parachutes, and executive payouts on the national stage, juxtaposed with foreclosures and bankruptcies challenging local institutions, and families we had grown up with. It wasn’t “morning in America” — it was 2 a.m. in a bad neighborhood.
You may have heard, or even said, “Millennials — everyone gets a trophy!” You aren’t wrong — everyone got a trophy on my tee-ball team in 1990. But neither I nor my 5-year-old teammates sat on the town council to lobby for trophies — that was something created by those older than us, without our input; we just had to accept the conditions. Much like that negative perception, we weren’t responsible for any of the aforementioned situations, but it does define who we are and how we make decisions: with great suspicion.
What does all of this mean for outdoor power equipment?
This isn’t a pity party. Aside from the general cynicism enjoyed by youth of every generation, there is a lot of positive opportunity here. First, the hard facts again: Homeownership drives the need for do-it-yourself (DIY) outdoor power equipment in order to maintain the property, and right now, our homeownership rates don’t look good. A recent U.S. Census Bureau report shows homeownership rates for those under 35 to be at about 34 percent, and a Pew Report shows that for the first time since the invention of the electric light bulb, living with parents outpaces any other living arrangement for people under 35. That is the reality of the current situation, but a Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard survey places 85 percent of us as expecting to own a house — so we are not living with our parents because we adore a sharing economy, but because we don’t have the cash to throw at a down payment due to lower wages, higher school debts, and a suspicion of getting caught in an adjustable rate mortgage like those who came before us 10 years ago. We are tenacious and determined, though — and we will own that house someday.
Someday, but what about today? It’s well known that we have a 10-second attention span regarding information. That’s true, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t constantly doing research over months or years in 10-second intervals. Experiences of commercials, videos, brand awareness, reviews, corporate social responsibility, and other stories can build over time from 10-second snippets to a compound viewpoint of a company, industry and product that consciously drives decisions we will make when we are ready to purchase. Again, we’re initially suspicious of getting duped, and we are looking for real value. The failure of institutions, economic downturns, and other unfavorable conditions we have experienced, shouldn’t leave any mystery as to why. We derive that value through moments of research until we believe what a company is saying about what they’re selling, and what others say as well. It took me 2 years of research to buy my F-150 last year, through 10-second increments. How?
We are definitely attached to our smartphones. Growing up with advancing technology, it’s how we’re wired. But the misconception lies in the utility we get out of it: We see reviews and tweets from real people outside the realm of advertising and double-check ratings on an app before we grab food at a new place. We thumb over to our news app and see a company is involved in great deeds of generosity or horrid acts of misdirection. We see authenticity in showing what something does and does well, not the bombast around how it will save the world. All of this we can get from a 4-inch screen in brief periods of focus. Tech is definitely integral to us, and we will have no idea what brands you carry or what they stand for if they aren’t present in these mobile avenues of digestion.
So let’s fast-forward a bit. We have a house; we have years of research leading us to look for a certain brand. What do we do? Going back to our experience of local shops closing up in 2009, and suspicion as to the value we get from institutions, we want to support the little guy. We want our money to stay local. Really. That’s why we drink local craft beer over generic domestics or why we eat at a locally sourced restaurant over an Italian chain restaurant. You may say, “Yeah, right. You want instant gratification. You’re just going to go to Amazon.” That doesn’t mean the local guy can’t compete — we just need to know where to go, why to go there, what they can provide…and we learn about that on Google. If we can’t find you or your brand, that’s how we wind up at Amazon. After all, Amazon Prime can get it to us in two days, but we can walk into your dealership and go home with what we need in 10 minutes. THAT’S instant gratification.
What can you do?
Now that you know who we are and what drives us, begin to establish the thinking in 10-second intervals, and ASAP. Build our brand awareness, build our confidence in your value, allay our natural suspicion, and you will build our loyalty before we even make a purchase.
Second, establish the channels for that thinking — Twitter, YouTube, Pandora, Online News. More of us have streaming services than cable TV, so plan accordingly. Any media that’s “share-worthy” would drive someone to quickly send it to one of their friends, imploring them to check it out. Home run.
Third, establish the message — we want authenticity for our dollar, even if that means it costs a bit more. We want to know WHY we need it, WHY it’s the best value, WHY it will not break down or leave us disappointed. The message and history and foundation of the company are all great, but what is it going to mean for me in 2017? If there is something there that tells us about the values of corporate responsibility or generosity or revitalizing small-town America and saving jobs, then that has merit here and now.
Finally, stay the course and execute. Make sure avenues of purchase are clear and have a quick and easy way to begin the search online. Even if the sale requires us to pop into a local shop, we still have to know where it is and what it sells. You don’t want to lose to the big box stores if you’re an independent dealer just because they have the online presence. We like words like genuine, craft and local. If we know we have the chance to keep our dollars within those spheres, we will take it every time.
Start here and now, early and often, and you will make inroads with the largest, newest generation. We are young, and we have the greatest stake in the future. Go there with us and find out — we’re not such tough nuts to crack after all.
Denny Dow is the customer success manager at Black Ink Technologies. Black Ink is an advanced, analytics SaaS platform made especially for independent dealers and their OEM/distributor supply chain, so they can compete against mass retailers. Stihl Inc. is a customer of Black Ink and an example of a 10-year relationship in which Black Ink has helped a company sell more product through the existing dealer network, identify new dealers to cultivate and develop, improve co-op marketing, and enrich the local ability of dealers to service their customer base. For more information about Black Ink, visit www.blackinkroi.com. Dow may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on LinkedIn.