Millennials, says the New York Post, are taking over the workforce - by 2020, they’ll comprise half of the people currently in employment in the USA. Forbes claims they’re the most educated generation in history, command $200 billion in annual buying power, and have a strong influence over half the workforce.
But what does that actually mean for the events and exhibitions sector?
On paper, ‘millennial’ is an age bracket - a term for the 18-34 demographic (born in the 1980s and early 1990s) - but that doesn’t accurately describe what a millennial is. After all, a 17 year old boy and a 34 year old woman are bound to have distinct needs and desires.
What they are going to share, broadly speaking, is a cultural mindset, shaped by trends and events in society at large. Lauren Greschner - event head of Millennial 20/20 Australia - described the millennial mindset as one “driven by authenticity, connection, creativity, trust, convenience and digitalisation” - and she adds that “this will forever change how businesses attract and engage with their consumers.”
It’s true. The millennial mindset has changed audience expectations across the other demographic groups it touches. Regardless of age, gender or race - millennials are always connected. They have easy access to a wealth of information, at any time, and they believe that live events and real experiences make them “more connected to other people, the community, and the world.” They represent an estimated $1.3 trillion in annual consumer spending - and to secure that spend, your events team have to create the connections that millennials value.
Skyscanner’s Millennial Travel Survey found that 80% of millennial travellers prefer exploring international destinations - and 53% prefer to spend on activities and experiences, with a marked preference for adventure, culture and sightseeing over food, partying and shopping.
Event organisers, therefore, don’t need to worry so much about post-show entertainment. You don’t need to throw a corporate party every night of a three or four day event - instead, present your attendees with recommendations on what they can do in the city at large.
Think about accessibility - how good is the public transport (or at least how reliable are the Uber drivers) to get your millennials from the airport to the venue - and how easy it is to explore the city at large. A convention centre on the edge of town will be too isolated - what you’re looking for in a venue is a downtown location that’s interesting, but safe.
Environmental issues - particularly around food - all hold sway over the millennial consumer. Millennials are highly aware of what they’re eating and where it comes from - 52% of organic consumers are millennials. Sustainable, organic, fair trade and locally-sourced are all powerful terms - but as US market researchers at the Hartman Group have found, millennials can’t always afford to follow through on their convictions by actually paying premium rate for ethical goods.
Instead, millennials seek out organisations which share their personal values and support them. According to Deloitte’s definitive millennial survey, millennials are steered by strong values at all stages of their careers, and will seek out organisations which share their personal values when they’re choosing to buy, work or do business.
What this means, in practical terms, is that event organisers are often better positioned to act on millennial values than millennials themselves. The economic stability of a large company affords it the luxury to hire locally, build sustainably, and trade fairly. Doing so will attract a millennial crowd who want to see their values enacted.
According to Tom McGee at Forbes, “Millennials want a customer-centric experience in which they feel wanted and valued” - one which speaks directly to them, making them feel like they as individuals are important to the business. This means careful use of customer data to personalise your events and communications, addressing customers directly but with their complete consent.
Within the events industry, social media feeds into personalisation in a direct way, based on the communications organisers need to have with their attendees. For example, RFID technology lets event planners send personalised notifications to attendees based on their location and interests. Planners can then quantify attendee actions (such as link clicks or session attendance) using the reporting features in event management software, which contributes to a more nuanced understanding of what attracted people to the event, and what was actually popular and successful on the day.
Millennials are collaborators. According to a 2015 report by Cvent, 41% of event planners are themselves millennials - and 64% are highly influenced by peer recommendations when making planning decisions. This suggests that the collaborative mindset needed to engage and entertain a millennial audience, making them interact and participate throughout an event, is already present in the event planning workforce. Approach an event not as a product to be presented to but a process to be worked on with your attendees. Think about how you keep your own colleagues interested in your pitch - and do something like that.
Millennials also look for networking opportunities: they’re motivated by career progression in order to pay off the student debt with which 63% of them are burdened. 41% are putting off home ownership, 31% car ownership, and 17% marriage - not because they want real estate, auto dealerships or wedding planning businesses to die, but because they want to approach these moments from a position of stability.
This means that selling to millennials demands a collaborative approach - one in which your business is helping them achieve the security towards which they’re working.
Millennials are the last generation for whom technologies like digital screens, event apps and web widgets are a novelty. They’ve embraced the technologies that have emerged during their lifetimes, but they’re not jaded by a lifetime’s exposure. They’re enthusiastic users of tech - which means your event space will benefit from giving them opportunities to do so.
Provide charging stations for phones and laptops to keep attendees juiced up. Send push notifications to smartphones and smartwatches. Run ticketing, notifications, scheduling, mapping and even networking through apps - either bespoke builds or off-the-shelf platforms. Millennials expect technical convenience - and they’d rather work through their phone than carry a folder full of handouts and a carrier full of giveaways around the event.
Interactive websites create strong consumer impressions - and so do interactive events. If you’ve designed a bespoke app for your event you have an opportunity to create a truly interactive tech experience, using Bluetooth Low Energy or iBeacons to trigger app content or notifications depending on where visitors are in the venue.
Even if you’ve opted not to create your own event app, you can still harness smartphones. Introduce live polling, voting and feedback to the event. Apps such as conferences.io or makelight are ideal ways to invite your attendees into an interactive community, for the duration of the event.
Millennials’ love of tech and convenience has a dark side - millennials expect instant gratification. If anything about your event is slow, or inconvenient, or requires too many stages, you’ll lose them.
Create a seamless experience. Make it easy to buy tickets, make it easy to download an app, make sure the app is easy to install and use. An absolute focus on user experience, speed and simplicity will keep the millennial audience’s attention. Be sure to share presentations after the event - you want attendance to be exclusive, but they want to come back and refer to your presentation again. This feeds into the culture of collaboration we’ve already discussed - make it easy to collaborate and easy to share notes, experiences, feedback and content. If it only takes one button to livetweet a short video from your presentation, that button will be pressed - and your audience will be tapping into a wider potential base of followers and peers.
With talk about ‘Generation Z’ and ‘Generation Alpha’ already in the air, it’s easy to feel that millennials are yesterday’s news - but a moment’s thought should prove that wrong. The earliest millennials have been in the workforce for a decade or so - they have a whole career ahead of them, and for the next thirty years or so, marketing events and exhibitions will need to deliver the experiences millennial delegates and managers want to see.
That means thinking about accessible, exciting locations for events; it means ethical, sustainable event management; it means personalised communications and collaborative happenings on the day itself. It also means tech - not employed for its own sake, but to make the event experience as seamless, interactive and simple as you can.
If you want to see how we’ve already reached out to the millennial mindset with Audi, Swift and Innotribe, take a look at our case studies of work by Rapiergroup.