I work closely with a group of people who have spent over a year trying to reach larger target audiences with their organization. One of the demographics that has been elusive for them is the Millennial generation. When this organization first began to expand and branch out, they felt very confident and proud. By writing an agenda that spelled out their desire to diversify in several directions, they felt forward-thinking and cutting edge.
Fast forward a year and a half and that same confident group is now discouraged, with everyone casting blame on whoever they think should have been responsible for doing better outreach. There have been some positive changes that have happened, but those are small and by and large everything about the organization and its customer base remains relatively the same as it always has.
But the truth is, this organization didn’t just get unlucky or hire the wrong marketing staff. They had the wrong expectation. You see, they wrote down their intentions, but not their strategy.
There were some among them who had the foresight to notice this problem. “Yes, but how are we going to reach Millennials?” one member asked. “You can’t just pick up the phone and ask them to come. First we have to have products or events that they actually want.” It was a good point — and others acknowledged that it was a good point — but it still didn’t motivate them far enough. They put in minimal effort behind their bold words to increase outreach.
Many businesses are under the mistaken impression that the formula for engaging young people is Hire a Millennial + Occasionally Market on Facebook = Successful Age Diversification. If only it were that simple. Marketing — regardless of what group you seek to reach — is about cultivating relationships. It’s long-term, it’s strategic, it’s multi-faceted and, unfortunately, it’s also expensive.
In order to build a relationship with customers, you have to be paying employees to cultivate those relationships. As we all know, employee salaries are some of the biggest expenses a company has. In addition, if Millennials aren’t naturally frequenting your business, there is something you have add in order for that to change. You may have to add products — more than one — that you don’t currently sell. You may have to take out additional advertising in places you aren’t currently placing ads in. You may have to host sales, special events or unique activities to try to coax new people in the door. All of that comes with a price tag.
If you are serious about needing to reach the next generation — and for the long-term success of your business, I hope you are — then you need to have three things:

  • A specific point person. There should be one employee whose job is outreach and it should be clearly defined so everyone knows who will be taking this responsibility. Make sure the chosen employee knows, of course, (believe it or not, I have met people who said, “Um, I didn’t know that was part of my job…”) but also make sure your other employees know, too, so they aren’t stepping on the point person’s toes and getting in his or her way. It will take a team effort and many employees to implement certain changes, but there should still be one clearly defined leader and he or she can request help when they need it.
  • A detailed strategy. This should be written by your point person and approved by his or her boss or overseeing committee. If you don’t meet every goal in the strategy, do not feel like that is a failure — you won’t get best case scenario, especially the first year. The strategy is for guidance and will help that point person know what is expected and also help you to remember what you promised to support. I would make this strategic roadmap cover at least a full year, with specific items listed every month. It doesn’t need to be something big every month, but continual momentum is important.
  • A budget. This entire outreach effort will be a waste of time (and money) without the proper monetary support. But it will also bleed you dry without proper limits. Be willing to open the purse strings, but be clear about how much you can afford for each idea on the strategy roadmap.

Increasing your customer base is always a worthy investment, but never a simple one. In order to succeed, you will have to make sure the issue is a priority and not an afterthought.
Emily Enger is a Millennial farm kid turned farm journalist. She also works in marketing, serving as communications director for a nonprofit that covers nine rural counties in northern Minnesota. These opinions are her own and should not take the place of legal or professional advice. To comment or pitch future topics, email her at emilygraceenger@gmail.com . For reprint permission, email editor Joan Kark-Wren at jkarkwren@leepub.com.