Commentary: 5 facts you need to know about Millennials

Colleen Dilenschneider on her Know Your Own Bone blog, 10/9/12

Ever since it became clear that Generation Y (or Millennials) would outnumber the vaunted Baby Boomer generation, nonprofits and for-profit businesses alike have been talking about the need to prepare their respective organizations for this massive population bubble. When data emerged that members of Gen Y might think and communicate differently than the generations that preceded them, organizations kept talking. "The Millennials will be coming soon," they said. Indeed, many less-prepared organizations are still saying it...The fact is: the Millennials [are] here. And the time has finally come when organizations will start to sink or swim based on how effectively they engage this demographic. Here are five facts nonprofit and business leaders must embrace in order to effectively manage, market and operate their organizations:

1) Millennials represent the single largest generation in human history. At nearly 90 million strong, Millennials have Boomers outnumbered by an estimated 20 million people. Millennials are not only the largest, but also the most educated, underemployed, optimistic, plugged-in, nonreligious, and democratic generation in human history. These characteristics will affect how [you engage] constituents, donors, and customers.

2) Millennials are first generation that will run America for at least 40 years straight. [You] may be tempted to invest resources in cultivating members of other generations (or even in learning the values of Generation Z as they come of age) - and this may be a good idea at times - but no generation within the next four decades will have the size and potential buying power to influence your organization more than Gen Y.

3) There are more Millennials in the U.S. than any other age group. If you want to generally aim marketing efforts to engage only one demographic, Gen Y has the most targets. Moreover, the youngest of this group are forming personal consumer habits [and] the oldest are having children and shaping the consumer behaviors of their families. In other words, right now is a good time to pay attention to these folks.

4) Millennials will have the largest buying power in the U.S. by 2017. Millennials are predicted to surpass Baby Boomers in buying power by 2017. If your organization is not already strong in the habit of marketing to Millennials, you may be operating at a loss until this new way of thinking becomes ingrained in your strategy. Organizations often mistakenly focus their engagement efforts on the "next generation" in chronological terms (i.e. Generation X). But because Gen Y is twice the size of Gen X, its sheer numbers dwarf the market potential of its nearest elders. When considering your organization's programs with regard to resource allocation, this may be important to keep in mind.

5) After 2012, Millennials will largely determine the outcomes of the following six presidential elections and public policy priorities that will affect your organization. How would a significant overhaul of the tax code - one that dramatically limits or eliminates the tax-related benefits of charitable contributions - impact your organization's business model?  How would the deregulation of broadcast airwaves and bandwidth affect the viability of a live audience-supported performing arts venue?  Millennials will set the legislative agendas and public policies for the next many decades.

Many folks -- Millennials included -- may find these facts terrifying, but they are true and inevitable. One thing is for sure: organizations that do not work to appeal to and engage with Millennials may have a difficult time not only remaining relevant, but, indeed, surviving. Your more traditional consumers just won't be calling all the shots anymore. In fact, they already aren't.


Commentary: Technology is the way forward for arts orgs in the Millennial age

playwright Gwydion Suilebhan on his blog, 10/1/12

We are living in a time of immense and painful transformation in the arts. All across the country, many of our biggest arts institutions are facing extinction. Meanwhile, artists have been totally marginalized. And at the same time, audiences are diminishing. Only the digital art forms are doing somewhat well...because almost all of our leisure time in America is spent at home watching television, surfing the internet, and playing video games. I believe all of these issues are related -- because the arts are an ecosystem... and an ecosystem is only healthy when the relationships between the elements that make it up are healthy. Right now, in America, that just isn't the case. So what would make for a healthy arts ecosystem? It's not magic: it's the same thing that makes for healthy relationships everywhere: open, honest, two-way communication. Engagement between equally-respected partners. And part of what's been getting us there in the past few years -- and what's going to keep getting us there faster than anything else -- is technology. Technology has always up-ended the arts throughout history. With every evolution, technology changes not only how we express ourselves, but also (and more importantly) how we connect with each other. What we really need now is a major transformation of the entire ecosystem: one that helps arts institutions complement their role as cultural curators and stewards of our shared artistic history ... with a role as platforms that are focused on empowering direct creative engagement between artists and audiences. We need institutions to become, at least in part, service organizations less focused on the personal creative visions of their leaders and more on the needs and experiences of their constituents. Ultimately, this transformation is really just a big generational shift: from the Greatest Generation, who had enough faith in centralized institutional power to build arts organizations in the first place; to the Baby Boomers, who started to question that centralized authority and erode the foundation of institutions; to Generation X, which totally lost faith in the ability of institutions to provide real value; to the present day, the Millennials, who are actually ready to believe in institutions again... but only the ones that help them express themselves. They're looking for platforms they can stand on, not mountains to stand in the shadow of. Millennials are the future, and the arts institutions that start orienting themselves to the Millennial age will stand the greatest chance of surviving long-term. Because while artists and audiences will always survive, because making and interacting with art are fundamental parts of being human, institutions are vulnerable. We don't watch plays in the same places we watched them in fifty years ago, and we might not watch them in the current institutions fifty years from now. In the ecosystem of the arts, institutions have to adapt and evolve or die.


Commentary: Getting the most out of Millennial audiences

Amelia Northrup, TRG Arts blog, 10/1/12

For decades, the arts industry has chased new audiences, especially younger audiences. Today, that chase is directed at the largest population under 30 years old in human history.  It's little wonder that Gen Y (born 1981 to 2001) is a hot topic for arts marketers. As a data-informed member of Gen Y, here's a take on my generation of arts consumers.

We curate our lives. For as long as we've been consumers, we have always had access to Google and Amazon. Search is our way of finding out anything we want to know. Because we have access to virtually everything, we take pleasure in exploring the original and local and not just mass-market products and experiences.  An Edelman Digital study found 40% of Gen Y participants preferred buying local, even if it meant paying more than a mass-market product. The exploration of everything available in the marketplace has led to a culture where we curate our lives. The rise of personal curation is evident in the recent popularity of Pinterest. 
We spend on what we value. Gen Y is often characterized as cheap. There's good reason for our cost-consciousness. Gen Y has record levels of student debt. We face unprecedented unemployment/underemployment. [But] the Edelman study suggests a cheap price is not our only motivation to buy. Price and value are connected for Gen Y. Research suggests that ticket price, while important to Gen Y, won't always make or break their decision to attend.  Reliance on tactics like deep discounting can get Gen Ys in the door. But offering cheap tickets is no silver bullet, especially for a group of consumers who could be your patrons for a very long time. In fact, building value perception and loyalty among this generation will be key to getting them to come back.
We give. Gen Y not only spends on what we value, we also value giving back.  Most Millennials (57%) say that they had volunteered in the past 12 months, according to the Pew Research Center's Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next. That's the highest percentage of volunteerism of any generational group alive today. And TRG's Millennial Impact Report reported 93% of surveyed Millennials gave to nonprofits in 2010. In TRG's initial study of generational giving to arts organizations, we found that among the small numbers of Gen Y patrons, there were donors.  Their median gift was 20% more than that of Gen X patrons in their early 30s and 40s.

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