by Leo Jakobson | September 01, 2012
The Millennials Are Coming
Companies have always adapted to demographics shifts in the workforce, but the differences in the new millennial generation seems too profound for incentive planners to treat as business as usual.

Incentive: How should companies be adapting their incentive programs to the growing number of millennials?

McArthur: A pretty significant development that we at Maritz have been trying to stay ahead of is the impact of changing demographics or multi-generational participant bases in programs, and the importance of finding not only awards that are going to be motivational to people regardless of whether they're [Generation] X-Y or millennials, but also communications channels and media that are going to work across those generations as well.  

We've been talking for a while now about a participant-centric design approach for programs that lets our customer interact with their targeted audiences in a much more highly segmented fashion.  

Beauchine: I don't want to generalize about millennials because that's when you get into trouble because they're very different. [Based on] our research, we think millennials have to be divided into personas. Before, we divided people into age groups - the boomers, the millennials, the Gen Xers, the Gen Yers. But we think attendees and participants are really about the persona - the foodies, the exercise nuts, and so on. We have to really understand them, and then within those subsets, understand their behaviors. 

Stotz: My experience, based on the research we've done [at the IRF] is yes, there can be differences, but it really goes back to basics: Whenever you're operating an incentive or recognition program, you need to know your audience. [A company planning an incentive program] needs to profile its audience, understand their particular lifestyle and their income levels, [know if] are they urban or rural, are they athletic, [and so on.]

What we find is that in this diverse workforce and society we have single persons in their 50s and 60s that are empty nesters, that [have some traits in common] with millennials, who are single, in terms of some of the things they're looking at doing. Before we look at millennials - Gen X, Gen Y, boomers, et cetera - as generalized [and assume that] they all want X or Y or Z, [we need to look at them] as an audience, are that we're trying to reward or recognize, and -so we need to get into the specifics of the audience we're dealing with and use that as a starting point. 

Now having said that, there are some generalities you need to be sensitive to. If I were to make a generalization about the millennials, it is they grew up in a technology-rich world, and so they have a much higher affinity for technology, and an expectation that they will be connected everywhere they go. And I think more [members of other] generations - whether it's Generation Y or boomers - are getting there, if they are not there already.  So as we create our programs we need to be sensitive to how [participants] like to communicate: the social networking aspects of it, the mobile apps, etc. 

Hart: The first thing that I would suggest a client look at is their mission-vision values or their business objectives. Those are the things that are all supposed to be uniting people in an organization. And rather than looking at what's the difference between this generation and that generation, I would really focus in on the things that that unite people.

Secondly, I don't think that there's that much more of a difference between the generations [now than in the past]. When I go back to the '60s and '70s, and I remember my generation [when it was] just coming out of school - we knew everything, our elders knew nothing, and we were going to change the world. I think that repeats and repeats.  

The third point is, I think our industry is missing a huge opportunity. We've been putting so much focus, time, and energy on millennials. What we ought to be doing is looking at the boomers that are starting to talk about walking out and leaving the workforce. 

I know that this talent crisis that everybody keeps talking about has been delayed because of the economy. The strategic opportunity is for companies to look at how they keep those folks who are thinking about leaving the workplace, and transferring knowledge over the next several years, rather than letting them actually go. 

Because a lot of the time, the reason they're leaving is that they feel disrespected. You turn 46, 47, 48, and all of a sudden, you're starting to be washed up, [people think] you can't work a computer. I think that organizations that reach out and strategically target that generation might be making a wiser investment of their time and effort.

Incentive: How are millennials changing incentive program communications?

Fenhaus: We think with the movement to millennials is a movement to immediacy.  Take a health and wellness program: I go to my health club, I complete my workout, and I can log my points on my smartphone. I've now accumulated enough points to get me to a level that I can cash out. I know that I need to go get new running shoes. That electronic gift card is sent immediately to my smartphone. I can redeem it online at retailer like Amazon, or I can take it into a specific [brick-and-mortar] retailer because I've downloaded the barcode, so I can just go right to the store and redeem it.

Beauchine: How to interact with [millennials] has changed, particularly in the form of effective communication. That's where I think mobilizing incentive programs using game mechanics has to become mainstream in incentives for this age group, because that's how they're living outside the incentive program. They're gaming, they're living a mobile lifestyle, so you can't bring them to a program and hand them paper and expect them to be happy. Communication with them has to be participatory. It's not a one-way street: they expect to be tweeting, communicating back and forth on everything. Applying that to an incentive program, you better be thinking about hash tags and places they can comment.  

It's no longer, “Here's the program, here's the agenda from beginning to end and then we'll send you a survey at the end of the program.  That, to me, is old style. New style is we're talking to you throughout the entire experience, getting feedback, getting your views, letting you tweet about things, letting you comment. I think you want them to say, “Boy it was cool last night talking to the CEO at the party.” That's what they expect because that's how they live their lives today. So it's pretty hard to crunch them into a group program without some of those aspects accompanying them.

McLain: I think we [as an industry] have been slow to adopt and adapt. Right now [the Palm Beach CVB] is trying to come up with an adaptable app for our convention centers, so that any convention will have an automatic checkbox to create an app for their meeting. 

The beautiful part of that is the viral nature, the fact that they are on the incentive [trip] versus a non-qualifier. They're sharing that stuff with their peer group back at home, and if that involves co-workers, there's a built-in social power. You better believe somebody's sitting back at the desk is saying, “Wow, I've got to figure out a way to get there next year.” It's a built-in incentive generator.

Hart: When you look at the stats for [adoption of] Facebook and some of these other social media sites, you'll see that the boomers are actually the fastest growing segment. Yes, millennials are leading the charge, but I do think that the other generations are catching up.

Incentive: How are travel programs changing to accommodate millennials?

Hoddeson: We see more events becoming paperless. [Incentive planners are] communicating final program details to people's smartphones. The typical exploration, walk, scavenger hunt, or whatever you want to call it, now they're using smartphones and tablets in these programs. 

McLain: What our hotels are saying is that millennials want to be given more free time to explore on their own, rather being locked into a group reception. The format, the logistics of putting together a group experience is changing. Millennials have much more of a sense of independence from the normal group experience. 

I think we're in this transitional phase and that makes it a little more challenging. Even though we do have some mixed attendance, the millennials are pushing up into our attendance percentages. It's coming quick. I heard a statistic recently that just 10 years from now, 75 percent of attendees will be millennials, or people that came up through the millennial generation.