For some time now, I have been talking to companies about how to communicate both inside and outside of their organisations. Technology has transformed how humans engage with one another and this has had a massive impact on the business environment.
In terms of business processes sales, marketing, recruitment, human resources, governance, finance, customer relations, employee engagement and IT all contain elements of communications. Each will have its own audience, channels, content and calls to action.
But who are these people you are communicating with and why should you have a strategy to engage with them?
First let me take you back, right back to the 1940s. People born in this decade and before are known as Veterans. They are the oldest group of customers and will generally engage in a traditional way whether it be face-to-face, the phone or reading quality printed materials. However, even this group may now be used to using smartphones, Facetiming grandkids and online banking so don’t rule out their ability to engage online.
Next up are the Baby Boomers. Aged between 55 and 73, they are the generation growing up in the ‘60s. Many business owners, Board members and leaders are in this age group. They tend to split into two groups – those who embrace the modern world and those who hark back to a simpler, pre-digital time. As a group they are the last to remember workplaces without computers and are therefore happy using the phone as a key communications tool.
In terms of customers Boomers may be happy to buy online, send texts and watch YouTube videos but equally, they could act more like Veterans. Inside businesses, they may well resist change and stifle innovation if they feel it threatens their position.
Our third group of individuals is Generation X. Born between 1965 and 1979, this is the generation which has seen (and adapted to) the greatest changes within communications. There are two stand-out features of Gen X. Firstly, they are the greatest users of social media (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter) and secondly, they are the last generation to go out and buy news. This last fact is potentially seismic as it has sown the seeds for the current ‘Fake News’ epidemic.
As customers and employees, Gen X can be the hardest to pin down as they could be using a wide array of communications channels – phone, email, social messaging, face-to-face meetings – depending on their mindset and background. So whilst one group of 40-something customers may spend hours of time on Facebook, others may not even have an account. And while some may be comfortable using the phone, others will prefer emailing.
One thing they are all comfortable using though is the internet – whether on desktop or mobile – and email.
We are now onto the digital natives – those who have grown up surrounded by the technology that we all take for granted. The oldest of these are the so-called Millennials. Born between 1980 and 1999, which in technological terms is a huge time period, these people now make up half the work force and a good proportion of customers, stakeholders or clients. Whilst it would be wrong to generalise too much, as a generation Millennials often possess the following traits:
- First to embrace, then come off, Facebook
- Don’t enjoy using a telephone
- Prefer to engage with content which is visual rather than written
- Are more collaborative and community minded
- Expect to be respected early on in their careers
- Don’t enjoy being sold to or marketed to
As employees then, they need to be guided and managed in a different way from Gen Xers. As customers, businesses may need to rethink how they can usefully engage with them rather than using traditional methods.
As a note of caution though, an increasing group of Millennials are now starting to eschew digital channels after experiencing burn-out from too much time spent online.
Here’s where things start to get really interesting with the advent of Generation Z (born after 2000) and a brand new Generation Alpha who started to be born after the year 2010. Tech-savvy, used to ubiquitous internet access from a host of devices and exposed to more information than any generation before these youngsters are perfectly geared up for the 4thIndustrial Revolution.
However, there are some worrying statistics out which reveal the darker side of this – greater childhood obesity, rise in cyberbullying, changes in physiology. This is what happens when children have iPads in the pushchair, smartphones at primary school and go online before they are in double figures.
Again, it is worth remembering that (a) the oldest of these people are already in the work place and (b) they will all be your customers in the future!
The big question is how on earth do you build a communications strategy which helps you engage with all these different audiences? The answer is all about understanding your audience. Who are they, where are they, what channel and content will you use to communicate with them and how can you give them what they want for the least amount of investment, either in time or money.