Sunday, June 23, 2019

Millennials Are No Different Than the Rest of Us.

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on....................."

We have spent a lot of time over the past decade trying to figure out Millennials; trying to understand what they want, what they need; trying to develop strategies to recruit them to our teams, to get them as our audiences, to convert them to being our donors.  We've focused on their devotion to high tech and social network platforms.  We've adapted programming and marketing to target them, and we've adopted new ways to present and exhibit art.  We've bought into the idea that because of their life experiences with tech, and their alleged penchant for doing things differently than previous generations, they are somehow different in fundamental ways than we are.  We subscribe to the notion that they simply want to access art in different ways than generations of the past.  We appreciate that their politics are different from ours.

But is all that true?

In the halcyon days of the Boomers back in the 60's, my generation thought we would, in the words of a Don Henley song, "change the world with words like love and peace".  In Berkeley and Boston, New York and Los Angeles, we thought our entire generation thought the same; because we shared the same musical tastes, we were of the same mind.  That turned out NOT to be true.  The fact is that we were not a homogeneous group that shared the same politics, nor did we even share the same life experiences.  Our preferences and tastes were all over the map - molded by a plethora of influences ranging from socio-economic status, education, religion, where we grew up and a lot more. And as we grew older, like generations before us, we grew more conservative.

The Millennials are likely no different.  Yes, they grew up with the technological revolution of computers and smart phones.  Yes they seem to love selfies.  Yes they have been impacted by the Great Recession, and those that are college educated carry heavy student loan debts.  Yes they they may be more likely to still live at home in their 20's, and yes they may have more trouble finding their job niches.  But fundamentally different from us in their politics, their tastes, their way of approaching life?  I'm not so sure.

In an article in Pacific Standard, a new report from the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality, suggests Millennials aren't so different from previous generations, at least in part:

"Millennials, according to the cliché, are both woke and broke. Woke in the sense that, having grown up in an increasingly multicultural society, they're less racist and sexist than previous generations; broke in that, having entered the workforce during the Great Recession, they have yet to catch up to the economic achievements of their parents.
The report which analyzes data from a variety of sources, largely debunks both of those notions.
Today's young adults are just as likely to endorse traditional racial and gender stereotypes as members of previous generations. And by age 30, those who have earned college degrees enjoy incomes comparable to those of their predecessors."

The report's authors note:

"By age 30," unemployment declines among Millennials, and reaches levels comparable to those prevailing in generations that preceded them." 

To the extent we have internalized the idea that Millennials don't have sufficient income to become our audiences, our patrons, our donors - that's apparently not true.  They don't all live at home, they're not all without jobs, struggling to get by.

And, I wonder how many other assumptions we have made about them are also without justification.  I wonder if they really all necessarily prefer to access art through some tech medium as opposed to the traditional live performances and museum visits.  I wonder if they will likely, as did we, grow into being more interested in the arts as they mature, gain leisure time, disposable income, and settle down.

The article notes that:

"Finally, the report debunks widespread fears that Millennials are abandoning face-to-face interactions in favor of phones and computers.
"Millennials spend as much time with relatives or friends, and hanging out at bars, as 20- to 35-year-olds have been doing since at least the 1970s," write sociologists Mario Small and Maleah Fekete. "More than 47 percent socialized with relatives at least several times a week. More than 30 percent did so with friends."

I think its very likely that Millennials are far more like their parents - like us - than we supposed.  I think our efforts to dramatically change how we approach providing access to what we do may have been overreaching; that, in fact, they will be as likely to support the arts, and in the same ways, as we have been.  That's not to say that we don't still have a challenge in attracting them, much as we still have a challenge in attracting the Boomers and Xers.  But the challenge may not be to devise some wholesale way to fundamentally change how we present art.

Millennials are very likely, in my opinion, as they age, to become, as generations  before them,  more conservative.  They aren't likely to stay some course of fundamental rebellion that will herald a new order of things.  As in another Don Henley song line:  "Things in this life change very slowly, if they ever change at all."

Of course, Millennials have grown up with different experiences than did we.  Of course, their world is different, but their world is still our world as we continue to grow in it too.  I think we may be wasting some time trying to identify some magic new pathways to doing what we do; believing somehow that that is necessary to relate to a generation as so foreign and different from us that they might as well be from another planet.  In large part, they are us - just younger.  Do you remember when you were their age?

So how do we approach marketing to them?  What strategies do we adopt to include them as part of our sustainable future?

In an article in Ladders,  Amazon's Jeff Bezos is quoted as saying:

"The true secret to business success is to focus on the things that won’t change, not the things that will.  For Amazon’s e-commerce business, for instance, he knows that in the next decade people will still want low prices, fast shipping, and a large selection."

What won't change for us?  People, including all the generations, will still want exceptional artistic experiences, they will still want reasonable pricing; they will still want convenience; they will still want opportunities for enjoyable social outings, they will still seek fun as part of their social lives.  We are told they want "authenticate" experiences.  Well, we all want authentic experiences.   That's exactly what all our customers want.  To provide those things is already challenging, and we struggle to meet those needs.  And that won't change.  But to believe that the Millennials want art via some tech delivery system - perhaps even ones not yet developed - is a risky conclusion, largely unsupported by reality.

Perhaps Bezos is right and we ought to focus on delivering what we do in ways that satisfy those basic demands that won't change. That is not to suggest that we ignore societal changes, nor that we fail to reasonably consider and employ every new device that might help us.  And I'm not saying Millennials are exactly like us in every respect.  But I am saying they are not all alike either, and that they are far more like us, than different from us.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit