Human Resources

May 31, 2017

Taking Millennials Mainstream

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Written by: Brian Hemsworth
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Taking Millennials Mainstream
What one marketing professional and part-time university professor has learned about millennials may surprise you! They are not who mainstream media thinks they are!

They are lazy. They are loners. They are narcissistic.

That’s the millennial stereotype. Always on their smartphones, probably Snapchat or Instagram, or the social media du jour.

But is it true? Is that who the largest workforce in our world’s history really is? Is this group, more than 80 million strong in the U.S., who will really inherit the country? Are they really as lack luster as business articles and 24-hour new channels would lead us to believe?

I don’t think so. Here are five mistakes I have found in the way people are looking at millennials and how they are getting this generation wrong, in terms of understanding their habits as employees and catering to them as customers and clients.

Life In The Trenches

Shortly before the 2008 Recession, I was asked to “cover” a class for a semester by a departing professor at Pepperdine University. Somehow I must have done all right since I have now taught more than 30 classes at the university.

In my very first class as a professor, an advertising media class, students urged me to check out a website called MySpace. This was circa 2005/2006. I jumped in, got the lay of the land, and even executed a promotion for a client based on what my students had taught me about the new “social media.” That was a spring semester. By fall, ­MySpace was over.

“Facebook, Professor Hemsworth. You gotta get on the Facebook,” they all said, just months after telling me MySpace was “the best.” With my .edu email, I created an account, but found it to be a big waste of time. But by 2007, something started to click, and social media took off. I jumped on, and though double the age of most millennials, I had a front row seat, both physically in my classes, and virtually, as an early adopter of social media.

I watched carefully as students fell away from books, and into iPads. They were less concerned about dating, but rather with Friday nights of “Netflix and chill.” Their phones became their most prized possessions. And in school, they believed that they were invincible, the most “wired” generation ever.

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Myth #1:
Millennials Are Lazy

Here’s the one I think baby boomer managers (and sociologists) get totally wrong. I don’t believe they are lazy, I believe that millennials have generational ADHD. They are suffering from a tremendous saturation of information—immediately, constantly, and uncontrollably.

I teach the Senior Seminar each spring semester. It’s the capstone course in Integrated Marketing Communications. Students dutifully give me their attention up until about spring break, and the BAM! They check out. Gone. Sometimes physically. Always intellectually.

I’ve studied this, interviewed students, shared notes with other professors, and I have a few theories on this. It’s more than just senior-itis, which everyone of every generation gets in the last semester of undergrad. “I just want out.”

Well, millennials want out, but it’s more than that. They want also want “in.” They want out of school but they want in to work, to jobs, to society, and to wealth. I think they’re more like the young child attracted to the shiny object, and as seniors, there are lots of shiny objects out there.

I have learned the key to keeping them engaged in class is like a page out of John Wooden’s playbook…change of pace and change of direction. If I change pace or direction, they are curious and hang with me. If I don’t, they move on. I also found that the second half of the semester is less about traditional class time, and more about projects that can be done on their own time. During a recent semester, the time of the day most assignments were turned in online? Between 1:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m.

Myth #2:
Millennials Don’t Know What Hard Work Is

Another common misconception is that millennials aren’t hard workers. They always look for the easy way out.

It might be true that they look for the easy way out, but that’s not such a bad thing. Their easy way out is probably a better way to do things.

Here’s a true example. In 2009, I had a college intern working on out team for the summer. He was the son of a client of ours. On his first day, we called him into a meeting. We were discussing social media strategies for a big sports equipment of ours.

About two minutes into the meeting, he took out his cell phone, and began typing away. I was pretty agitated, but thought I’d give him the benefit of the doubt, that maybe his dad was texting him or he got some kind of important message. He occasionally looked up, but then kept typing.

I was baffled by the behavior (something that was relatively new at the time, but par for the course nowadays). I gave it about one minute, then I figured it was time to let him have it. I was going to give him a dose of “what for” about business meeting proprieties.

A millisecond before I opened my mouth, he said, “You know their competitors have a lot more friends and likes, but a lot of them are fake.”


“Yeah, I just checked their numbers, and spot checked a few of their followers, and they’re fake. They’re all from Eastern Europe, and they don’t even distribute there.”

What I thought was rudeness was, in fact, market research being done in real time. This intern did more quality market research with his phone in 60 seconds than I had done in a week.

That’s when I learned that for millennials, it’s all about channeling the effort. Don’t stop their efforts, just change their efforts and trajectory slightly to align with your company’s.

Myth #3:
Millennials Are More Socially Responsible

This one is not entirely a myth, but it’s not exactly as it seems.

There are countless articles and studies out saying how important social responsibility is to millennials. The disconnect I have witnessed is in what millennials say versus what they do.

For example, millennials say they want greater transparency and higher ethical standards. I hear it all the time in my class. Yet they are the generation that has embraced companies like Uber, Chipotle, and Volkswagen. Millennials say they want fairness, yet Uber is the virtually unregulated and unlicensed arm of transportation that is putting licensed taxis out of business (not that I mind it). I think they want fast, affordable fares. Chipotle, having built a customer base of millennials with organic and locally grown ingredients, suffered heavy losses after well publicized E. Coli, sexual harassment, and drug scandals. Millennials dropped Chipotle like a hot burrito. How did Chipotle lure them back? Free food. Not exactly appealing to their sense of fairness, but definitely to their wallet. And Volkswagen, the environmental liars of the new millennium, were recently named one of the top five auto brands of millennials by

What do these have in common? I believe millennials think they are more socially responsible, and maybe they are, but I don’t believe they are appreciably different in action than previous generations when it comes to spending. They want deals, they want to stretch their dollars, and they want more value.

I think the key is not to pander to millennials and then not deliver, but rather have social responsibility as a key component of your brand, but don’t overlook value. Millennials still have a lot of student debt to pay off!

Myth #4:
Millennials Feel Overly Entitled

Like #3, this may not be completely wrong, but I don’t think it’s the whole story.

The baby boom came of age in the ’60s. It was the pot smoking generation. The hippies. The war protests. Dropping out. If you asked the average parent during that time, the country, if not human civilization, was going downhill fast.

And now look at the results: Wealth, prosperity, trips to the moon, advances in medicine, and the Internet. Not bad for a bunch of slacker hippies, eh?

That’s the context with which I think we need to view millennials and their sense of entitlement. Gen X gave up, but millennials want what’s coming to them. They want success, they want wealth, and they want the accolades.

Some complain that millennials want to “get rich quick.” Does that make them any different than previous generations?

Baby boomers climbed the corporate ladder, but we were just as likely to jump off and make our own ladder. We wanted to create cable TV shows, build better mouse traps, and explore/exploit new markets as much as any generation, and maybe more. We didn’t want to wait, but we didn’t know any better.

Gen X, on the other hand, tossed in the towel, as a generation. They became baby boomers or millennials. We didn’t hear of their yearning for opportunity, their creative business sense, or their entrepreneurial spirit.

Millennials have seen people create products, programs, technologies, and websites that have made millions and billions of dollars. Why shouldn’t they want some of it? And for a lot of them, their parents worked hard and earned a lot, and the truth be told, the millennials are standing in line to inherit the whole shooting match. Economists believe we are on the verge of the largest generational shift of wealth the world has seen.

Dealing with entitlements is difficult. I have seen it in the classroom, with students feel they “deserve grades” for effort, despite lack of results. They are very protective of their time (don’t ask them to stay after class, that’s their time).

One tactic I have tried and appears to work is to be painfully explicit in communicating expectations. We, as employers and creators of products must communicate what our brands and companies are “all about.” We must let people know what we stand for, and what we don’t. Additionally, we must solicit the expectations of our customers and employees. What do they want? What are they willing to work for…pay for…fight for? The more we can articulate these expectations, the better we will all be.

Myth #5:
Millennials Are Loners

Every generation has its loners. Some feel this generation has more than its share, but I don’t see that. They appear to have more loners, but that’s in large part because the baby boomer and Gen Xer’s sense of group is different.

We, the previous generations, hung out at the school yard, the soda shop, or the mall. Millennials hang out in the chat room online. I recently told a group of students that as a guy growing up, it took all courage we could must to ask a girl out on a first date. Time was when it had to be in person. Then, thanks the technology of the telephone, we could at least partially hide our embarrassment on the phone line.

Today’s millennial swaps phone numbers (for texting) and social media handles in a much freer way that we did phone numbers. They also have the ability to “stalk” online. We used to have to stand afar, out of view, wondering what someone was like. Today millennials can check out profiles, blogs, social media, and other online sources to know all about someone before ever texting, calling, or Heaven forbid, talking to someone.

A recent study indicated that heavy users of social media actually get small shots of dopamine when they receive likes, follows, shares, or comments on social media. It’s become their drug of choice. When we look at millennial sons and daughters, students, and employees, and we see their faces in the smartphones, we think they are by themselves. In fact, they are hyper connected to one, several, or even many friends all at the same time.

Psychologists and sociologists can argue if it’s healthy or not, but the fact is that this is not just a tech fad, this is a way of life…the way of a generation.

Possibly the best way I have seen to harness this and channel it for the better, is to find ways to being inclusive. Millennials want to be a part of something. It may be a group chat, or a social movement. They may want to be one of the many going to Coachella, or they may want to be one of the many downloading a new app, but they want to be included.

So, as employers, or brand purveyors, I suggest you find ways of inviting millennials in. Let them join the club. Maybe it’s the “Let’s go to Starbucks at 9:30” club, or the “We’re working for Habitat for Humanity this weekend” club. Maybe it’s asking them to lunch, so that you can ask them what they care about, what’s on their mind. And it always needs to be about including them in a mission. Millennials want to get somewhere, accomplish something, so you can do a lot for yourself and your company or brand if you let people know where you’re going.


Millennials do represent change, but it’s my experience that they are not really all that different from what we’ve all experienced with other generations in the past. Mary Tyler Moore threw her hat up in the air. Michelob told us we can have it all. Napoleon Hill told us to think and we would grow rich. Ford said they had a better idea.

Millennials want it all, too. And they are thinking about it, and they have a lot of great ideas. But like every generation, there are forging their metal during these formative years. The reality will continue to unravel as they move up the corporate ladder, the payscale, and the age ranks.

Success in working with or marketing to millennials is more about learning where their habits and our habits intersect, and knowing where our hopes, dreams, and values come together rather than clash. •

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About the Author

Brian Hemsworth
Brian Hemsworth is the president of Newman Grace Inc., a Los Angeles-based marketing and brand consulting firm. He is also a member of the adjunct faculty of Pepperdine University, and has published more than 100 articles on business, marketing, technology, travel and fitness. Visit Newman Grace Inc. or to learn more about Brian and his professional services. Read more about Brian Hemsworth...


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