Tuesday, 3 September 2013

David Coletto on engaging younger generations

Millennial Members – We’ll Come to You

It’s easy to overlook things about this generation when you’re not connected to anyone from this age group. If you try to think about what an average day is like for a Canadian Millennial you will probably think about someone who you know from this age group, maybe your son or daughter or niece or nephew, a neighbour’s kid or a new employee at work.

Your perception, the way you imagine, an average day for this person might be close to accurate. But the most important to think about is that people in this age group are all over the map when it comes to life stage. You might understand those kids who walk past your house on their way to high school every morning. But this is a completely different life than those who are just a few years older and living on campus in university. And completely different from those who are only a few years older than that who are looking for their first job in their field and thinking about saving up for a house or car.

Some are studying, some are working full time, some are working part time, some are having children of their own and some are still living in their parents’ basements. 

We consider all those born between the years of 1980 and 2000 to be Millennials or members of Generation Y. This is the key group of young people that organizations are aiming to target today as they seek to develop their careers and follow their passions.

For associations, Millennials represent the next wave of members, conference attendees or donors, leaving them to ask two important questions; Who am I looking for? And how do I reach them?

Abacus Data’s Canadian Millennial Research Practice has developed a proprietary segmentation model of the different personality and life style clusters that fall within this generation. The Stampeders are one of the six segments; made up of younger males who want it all – they are athletic, career-oriented and they are always the first to get the newest technology and learn the newest trend. On the other hand the Pacers, another group made up mostly of male Millennials are content to stay at home and would rather be surfing the net or playing video games than going out.

It is important for the organization to really understand who they’re looking for before they think about how to reach them and interact with them.

Association members who are Pacers might not want to go to ten networking pub events this year. They might rather participate in an online forum. If you’re seeking out those in the Stampeders group then a well-planned, invite-only networking event would likely be more appealing.
As young people operating in a social-media world, Millennials are always looking to define themselves. They will seek out hobbies and interests, additional education, books, films, video games, Facebook statuses that help them to define their personal brand.

Sarah Sladek’s book, the End of Membership As We Know it: Building the Fortune-Flipping, Must-Have Association of the Next Century talks about carving out your niche, showing the benefits of membership and focusing on member ROI instead of program ROI.

We think this is good advice. How do we know? Well for one, we are all Millennials. But second, Millennials are unlike any generation before. Think of us as one huge group (24% of the Canadian population) who spent most of our lives in some institutionalized environment (day care to post-secondary) receiving constant feedback and being told that we can achieve anything. Only to find out that all our dreams can’t come true even though we have 500 friends on Facebook.

We love customization, think we are all special (because you told us we were), and have adopted personal brands.

So how does your association deal with us? Here are three tips:

Carve out your Niche

If your organization has figured out who it is you’re looking for the next step is easy; let the Millennials come to you. Usually people in this age group will do their research ahead of time. If you articulate the benefits of your organization, in a way that is authentic, they will find out themselves if you are what they’re looking for and they’ll find you.

Who’s going to be there? Is it my scene? Is it a better way to spend my time than hanging out at home or with friends or seeing a movie?  Is it better than the other place?

If you can help those in your Millennial target to answer some of these questions easier – with photos, social media interaction, a simple website then you help them to understand that the organization will fit in with their personal brand.

Show the benefits of Membership

From our 2012 study we know that the Millennial generation is interested in opportunities for education and networking. Most notably they are seeking opportunities for mentorship at a much higher rate than older generations.

Understand your target and understand what they’re looking for from your association. When you understand what the target group is looking for, then you can better communicate the benefits your association provides them.

Consider the results from a survey we conducted last year when we asked Canadians who are employed to rank possible benefits of joining an association. 29 % ranked skills and education first, followed by network.

But when we compare results between Millennials and older generations we can tell that there are differing expectations. The Millennials are far more interested in education and far less interested in networking events.

This is probably because we have extensive networks of our own through online connections to basically everyone we’ve ever met. Instead we value opportunities for real mentorship and ways to help us develop our own leadership skills.

The chart below shows which of the possible association benefits Millennials value most (and least).

Focus on member ROI instead of program ROI

The third most important thing that will help you let the Millennials come to you is to enable your current Millennial members to promote the organization among their own groups of friends and networks.

By allowing them to share events and news about the organization on their own social media networks, they can directly emphasize the activities they are participating in and the cool things they’re learning about as a member.

Again, it is essential that you understand the target because different segment groups will have different interests and seek to share about different things in different ways, online and in person, on campus or at work.


It won’t be easy getting Millennials to join and participate in your association, but the survival of the organization likely depends on it.

Get to know your members, target services and messages to them based on their preferences AND personalities and deliver what you promise. Research this generation, and research who it is that your organization is looking to attract.

Abacus Data’s Canadian Millennial Research Practice

To succeed, organizations need to understand and engage this generation.

Our company practice was founded to help marketers and policy drivers understand where to start when it comes to engaging the Millennial generation.

Gen Y, or those in their teens, 20’s and early 30’s today are an elusive group when it comes to tracking and traditional market research methods. We found it necessary to expand and innovate recruitment, messaging and the channels used to measure Millennial opinions and find feedback.

Our Millennial research team sets out to find who you’re looking for and ask them the right questions, the right way to optimize your campaign efforts.

David Coletto, PhD is CEO of Abacus Data, a full service market research firm with offices in Ottawa and Toronto specializing in public affairs, association, and consumer research.  


  1. Interesting article. You mention focusing on Member ROI versus Program ROI. How would you suggest that we approach upper management to help them understand the difference (and reasons for importance)?


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