Yesterday I read a slim but interesting book called Marketing for Millennials, by Jeff Fromm and Christie Garton. It verbalized a lot of my gut instincts, and especially the gut instinct that most orchestras suck at marketing to millennials.
Roughly speaking, millennials are carbon-based human life forms aged 18-35. (For a point of reference, I’m 24.) It’s tough to generalize about an entire generation, but I’m about to do so.
- use the Internet a lot
- tend to be more politically progressive
- are extremely well-educated
- value companies with consciences
- frequently live with our parents thanks to the recession
- possess larger social networks than any other generation
And here’s an interesting factoid: there are more of us than there are baby boomers. Yup, you read that right: we’re the largest generation in American history.
You would not know any of these things based on most orchestras’ marketing efforts.
So here, without further ado, are seventeen suggestions for orchestras to keep in mind as they think about how to attract young people.
1) Don’t set up a Facebook account and a Twitter feed and then congratulate yourself on being a social media master. What matters is how you use the Facebook account and Twitter feed. In my opinion, if you use them badly, it’s worse than not having a social media presence at all.
From the book:
It should come as no surprise that Zappos scores high marks among Millennials like Caroline who say they prefer brands that value their input and strive to keep their customers happy. It’s not simply about providing good deals, although that can help. As a LuxuryInstitute.com article states, “It is crucial for social media to be treated as a service channel in addition to a promotional channel. The installation of an uninformed employee, armed with no more than a hyperlink to a customer service page is only slightly better than ignoring comments made within social networks.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
2) You’ve got to create interesting content. Not just in the concert hall (although that is of paramount importance, too), but online. Blog entries. Interesting Tweets. Videos with the ability to go viral. Create creative stuff that shares information about your product and, just as importantly, your people. You don’t need a lot of money to do this. Just time. And creativity.
Speaking of which…
3) Groom, respect, and value creative people. They will be the centerpiece of your marketing and business strategy. You can throw all the money you want at a marketing campaign, but if the people who actually create your content aren’t groomed, respected, and valued, your outreach is going to fall flat.
On a related note…
4) Tap into the knowledge of young staff, volunteers, and musicians. They are a priceless resource, especially if you are over the age of 40 (as many orchestra CEOs are). If you’re over 40, no matter how expensive your phone is, no matter how often you check Facebook, no matter how cool your kids tell you you are, you are not a digital native. Sorry! A 52-year-old man who claims to fully understand how young people interact with social media is only slightly less painful than a root canal without Novocain. That being said, not being a digital native isn’t a good thing or a bad thing; it just is. It’s certainly nothing to be ashamed of. (I firmly believe millennials are going to be technologically crushed by our kids, who, after all, learned how to work iPads as toddlers…) But the sooner you acknowledge the reality of the generation gap, the better.
5) Encourage whatever form of human connection you can. Interestingly, millennials value relationships even more profoundly than preceding generations! Personal relationships are hugely important to us as we decide what organizations to spend time or money supporting. You don’t buy that kind of loyalty; you have to earn it. Often you can do that just by reaching out, whether online or in person. One of the major reasons I started blogging in earnest was because in the summer of 2010 one of my reviews was mentioned in the Minnesota Orchestra’s blog Inside the Classics. I’d link to that entry, but the blog was nuked by management without explanation, apparently because it was written by a musician. I firmly believe this was just as big a mistake as Domaingate, and maybe even bigger. I remember writing a thank-you note afterward and saying, the Minnesota Orchestra has a fan for life! Funny story, though: my loyalty didn’t extend to the institution; it extended to the people within the institution. An important distinction. This brings us back to the precept: value your people.
6) Millennials have close ties with our parents and immediate family, and we affect their purchasing decisions. For any number of reasons, millennials tend to be closer to their parents than previous generations, and we often do things together. This happened in my own family: I went to orchestra concerts as a teenager and my mom came along. We both loved the experience. Now she’d go to concerts even if I didn’t.
7) Millennials want to co-create with you and have their voices heard. You’re begging for irrelevancy amongst millennials if you don’t allow for copious amounts of conversation and feedback. Leadership needs to be open, accountable, and accessible. I think this is one reason why anti-management fervor has burned so brightly among Minnesota’s young. We take it personally when we don’t feel valued and respected by the organizations we invest our time and energy in. There are plenty of other arts organizations that understand this and who do value our input (for instance, the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra, who are always just an email or Facebook post away).
8) You need to keep an eye on what is said about your brand online. In this day and age, you can’t see a major online event like the Minnesota Orchestra’s Domaingate and cover your ears and yell La La La and think you’ll emerge unscathed. Sorry. The people who support you online, you need to work to court. The people who don’t support you online…you need to work to court. In the reality-based business world, it’s a problem when a large number of people don’t like you. Just because bad publicity is happening online doesn’t make it any less real or any less of a problem.
9) Millennials have high expectations for customer service. We don’t have the time to be treated like crap by an organization. There are too many alternatives too easily accessible elsewhere. So step up your game.
10) We respond to organizations that have social consciences. It was a huge mistake for the Minnesota Orchestra management to turn down the chance to work with El Sistema Minneapolis, because this is exactly the kind of partnership that would make the Minnesota Orchestra appealing to socially conscious millennials. If orchestras present themselves as organizations that exist primarily for the entertainment of the pampered elite, or as “venues” with $50 million lobbies that corporations and private individuals pay to rent out, that is a massive turn-off for millennials. Even if the well-marketed “venue” makes some money and encourages corporate donations, that will come at a big expense to the organization’s image among young people. Not sure that anyone at the Minnesota Orchestra has connected those dots yet.
11) Millennials tend to be politically progressive. The Bush presidency and the astonishing election of Barack Obama shaped our worldview. Fortunately symphony orchestras don’t tend to get too political with their work, but it’s certainly worth keeping millennials’ political identities in mind as you try to figure out what appeals to them and makes them click. Especially since many major orchestra boards are made up of older white conservative businessmen, who often find it hard to get into the brains of younger multicultural liberal bohemians.
12) Millennials love adventures and trying new things. “New things” even include orchestral concerts!
13) Don’t assume that young people won’t support you financially. Yeah, a lot of us are broke, but remember: we’re the biggest generation in American history. Even if percentage-wise a lot of us are poor, that still means huge numbers of us aren’t! Many millennials were able to buck national trends and find high-paying jobs, or they grew up in families who have money and share it. And even the poor ones frequently buy tickets for or contribute to things that are deeply important to them; they just skimp on other things that don’t mean as much to them.
14) That being said, many of us don’t like marketing or messaging that is exclusionary. There is a trend for orchestras to try to capitalize on the ascent of millennials by forming social groups with hip names. These groups are usually for “young professionals.” I hate the phrase “young professionals.” What about young freelancers? What about young musicians? What about college students? What about young people who can’t find jobs? Are they not welcome? If the description of your only group for young people includes the phrase “young professional”, you’re sending a message, intentionally or not, that the only young patrons worthy of institutional investment are those who make a lot of money.
15) Don’t assume that just because millennials can’t give a lot of money (yet!) that we don’t have other valuable things to give. For example, because of the technology we grew up with, we are more interconnected than any other generation before us. Therefore, we can spread the word about things that provoke good (or bad) reactions in us. (I think this blog is a prime example of that…) If we really love you, we will be brand ambassadors…at no cost to you! You just need to give us something to share and a reason to share it.
16) Millennials are very price-conscious. We’re very savvy shoppers, in large part because of how easy the Internet makes comparison shopping. We respond well to great deals, especially when they’re offered by an organization that has made it a stated priority to value the business of young people. From what I’m hearing, the Cleveland Orchestra is doing an amazing job with this right now. Kudos, Cleveland! The Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra also took a step in the right direction when they sold $15 student tickets for one of Osmo’s farewell concerts.
Here’s the most important point of all, copied verbatim from the book. Point 17:
Brands with an older target demographic cannot neglect the Millennial generation, given their size and influence. The sooner that established brands can begin creating a relationship with Millennial consumers – even if by merely starting a dialogue – the better.
So how to summarize?
Millennials are driven by creativity, technology, amazing experiences, good deals, and, above all, meaningful relationships. Symphony orchestras can provide all of those things. So if millennials aren’t making up a decent-sized chunk of your audience, that might not be a failure of the art or the product as much as a failure of the organization. Initiate dialogue in whatever way possible. Work with people who are fluent in millennial culture and technology. Don’t be afraid to let creative people do their own thing. Constantly prove the relevance of your institution to a broad audience. Count your lucky stars if you’re in a city with a large millennial population, and even more so if those millennials are well-educated. In short, don’t underestimate millennials when planning for the future.
One final question to ponder:
How can an orchestra afford not to prioritize outreach to the largest generation of all, which has the theoretical capability to support you for half a century or more?