If You’re Not Where Millennials Expect You to Be, You’re Nowhere

Oct 7, 2014 10:00 AM ET

If You’re Not Where Millennials Expect You to Be, You’re Nowhere

By Pascal Beucler, SVP & Chief Strategy Officer, MSLGROUP

While we were building our Corporate & Brand Citizenship Practice and our PurPle (Purpose + People) methodology over the last few years, we identified early signs of a change in mindset amongst Millennials, which is now evident amongst a large majority of them around the world. We launched our global research study to investigate this further and thus help our clients understand and embrace the fast changes happening with Millennials, especially the younger ones.

The Future of Business Citizenship study confirms that the change is massive, radical, and positive: Millennials say they want to be an active part of the change they want to see in the world, together with businesses. Why is this so important for businesses today? Because after a decade of crises and difficulties in most markets, it looks like there’s room for resilience here, for businesses to make a comeback in all complex areas of their Reputation (purpose, citizenship, employer branding and employee engagement), as well as their Corporate Image and communications at large. It’s a great opportunity; one that shouldn’t be missed.

Millennials already play a growing political and economic role in the world. They are fully empowered by the digital and social reinvention of everything. “Disintermediation,” our new norm, is a given for them. Day after day, they develop their own ecosystems based on collaboration, peer-to-peer information sharing and accessing rather than owning.

At nearly 2 billion, Millennials are a force to reckon with, but how companies connect with and engage them as consumers, employees, business partners and fellow citizens now and in the future is still being defined.

MSLGROUP conducted The Future of Business Citizenship study to explore what active citizenship actually means to Millennials:

  • what they want it to stand for
  • what resonates and what doesn’t
  • how it differs by country
  • and most importantly, how it will change and impact businesses over time

Many of the findings are disruptive. Overall, it’s clear that Millennials themselves have embraced the responsibility to solve today’s social issues, and they expect businesses to do the same. This is more prevalent amongst younger Millennials, the real game changers, who are more confident in their potential to drive change, more able and willing to give time and energy, and in general quite different in how they approach the challenge.

This is probably because they spent half their young lives in a world dominated by tough crises; they are post-ideological, pragmatic and action-oriented folks who distrust institutions. Younger Millennials are also more globalized; they are aware of events taking place near and far away and are influenced by the views and actions of their global peers. And let’s not forget, they are digital natives; well connected on digital platforms, empowered and experienced in using their networks to drive change. In many countries, Millennials view citizenship as both a personal commitment and a business responsibility.

To engage with Millennials, brands and corporations must move from looking at such activities as a constraint and strategically reposition business at the heart of society.

Managing Resilience, Relevance and Resonance

If you are a corporation or a brand and want to appeal to the Millennial majority, you must focus on what is really important to them, which is essentially making the world a better place. Millennials care about a diverse range of issues, but they are quite clear that they expect business to focus inwards (at how the company functions), and also outwards (at the company’s impact on the world and its inhabitants). Checking the CSR box is not enough. You must be resilient in troubled times, relevant to their expectations, and tell a consistent and cohesive story that resonates with their vision and values.

Designing a Road Map to Business Citizenship Today

We believe a priority for the times to come is to design a roadmap for business citizenship that includes actual partnerships with people and communities.
It should outline:

  • How to connect – and often re-define – Purpose and Citizenship?
  • Given the business’ purpose and Millennials’ expectations, what could be the areas of opportunity for the brand/corporation?
  • How should Millennials be involved – what form of partnership could be offered to them?
  • What should the action plan be, over the next three-five years?

For PR as well, the Future Doesn’t Fit into the Containers of the Past

I had the good privilege of being a jury member at the inaugural Young PR Lions competition at the Cannes International Festival of Creativity this year, sharing the experience with 14 teams from 14 countries, each comprised of two young Millennial PR professionals, all born after 1985.

The teams were briefed with a challenge from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and given 24 hours to create an effective and creative PR strategy to galvanize public opinion around the organization’s Blue Heart campaign against human trafficking.

It was inspirational – but hardly surprising, given the initial findings of The Future of Business Citizenship study – to see the hunger and passion with which these young professionals took up the citizenship challenges. These Millennials from Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America, displayed genuine enthusiasm, clarity in vision, true maturity from a creative standpoint and a lot of agility in the execution. Many of the insights they shared revolved around Millennials’ commitment to making the world a better place. “Rouse the Millennial Army! We can change the world!” said one of the winning teams. Yes, they love to be a part of the change they want to see, they’re helping make it happen and that’s terrific. But they also expect businesses, organizations and PR agencies to tap into this passion. Over the past few years, we have moved from mass propaganda, with its heavy bombardment of “big” and simplistic top-down messages, to multifaceted engagement strategies. We – experts in PR, People Relations, – are far better at the latter.

Our PR “agency of the future” model should make room for Millennials’ expectations, and subsequent business needs, with more business intelligence, data analytics, creative content, conversations and engagement around individual and business citizenship.

The Future of Business Citizenship – People’s Insights Magazine by MSLGROUP