Millennials As Clients and CompetitorsTuesday, August 11, 2015
For Generation X, hiring a planner or a team of wedding professionals wasn't just about being too busy to spare the 250 plus hours it takes to plan a wedding. It was more deeply engrained psychologically. Gen X values personal success and personal achievement. The U.S. Army recruiting slogan for Gen X was "Be All That You Can Be", putting the emphasis on personal achievement, fighting through the limitations of your mind and body and coming out the winner. This focus on the strength and importance of the individual is partly why Generation X was also dubbed "The Me Generation."
And so, when marketing to Gen X, selling wedding services tapped into that line of thinking. You are too busy and too important to plan your wedding yourself because you are SO successful. You have reached a level of success where you can delegate not just because you literally don't have the time to do it yourself, but also because the ability and resources to delegate is a status symbol of the level of personal achievement you've reached.
But in 2007 millennials became the majority bridal consumer and in 2011 millennials accounted for 83% of wedding clients. Yet mainstream wedding marketing has largely not changed. The focus is still on the values that Gen X hold, and that millennials largely do not relate to. And so people blame social media for not working, but the fact is that they're pushing outdated messaging through social media and that is what is not working. The problem is not the platform, the problem is the way the platform is being used and the lack of understanding of the person on the other end.
When it comes to the millennial generation, the U.S. Army's recruiting strategy is very different. Their slogan is now "Army Strong." The emphasis is on community, teamwork, and being in it together. For millennials, success isn't as sweet if it doesn't include everyone in the group. Millennials truly believe that they are better together, and stronger together than they are as individuals. This mindset is why they are also known as "Generation We." When it comes to weddings, they value the input of everyone in their social circle, including not only their wedding party, but family, close friends, and friends they haven't seen in a while but keep in touch with via Facebook and Google Chat.
It's important to note here that both sets of values have their merits and one isn't better than the other. However, if you are a Boomer or Gen X selling to a millennial, trying to get potential clients to buy into your set of values is a losing battle. If a millennial client is sitting in your studio and you need a decision right then and they can't reach friends or family via text, DM or a Facebook message in that amount of time, then they will either postpone the decision until they can get group feedback or second guess their decision until long after their wedding day. Even if the decision turned out to be a great one, the discomfort they feel from having to decide without peer feedback is going to sour the overall feeling of the experience they had working with you.
The generational issue is tough for millennial business owners as well. Right now, they are faced with two choices: do things in a new and different way that makes sense to them and face the fact that it will likely be misunderstood by their older colleagues, or model their businesses and marketing on a value system that neither they nor their clients share because that is the "norm" and the way "it's always been done" and ensures an invitation into the "wedding club" in their area. Not being accepted by your peers because you don't do things the way they do is a bitter pill to swallow, particularly for millennials who value peer feedback.
This is already causing friction in the industry. In every single city I visit, the conversations go something like this -- Millennials: "The older vendors in this town just don't get it. I'm talented, I have a right to be here and I'm not going to wait around to make it happen. My god, they are not willing to help anyone but themselves." Boomers and Gen X: "The newer vendors in this town just don't get it. I had to work my way up, they should too. My god, they are so entitled."
Gen X values paying your dues and working your way up. Millennials not so much. Yet, millennials want mentorship, value heritage, and are willing to listen to anyone with a smart idea, regardless of how old that person is. They do not share the Boomer mindset of "Don't trust anyone over 30" nor the "Damn the man" mantra embraced by so many Gen Xers. Millennials believe that the industry is also "stronger together" and many are mystified as to why their older colleagues aren't willing to sit down in a group and work together to make that happen.
And so, in addition to the wedding industry trying to figure out how to reach this new generation of brides and grooms, it also needs to figure out how to coexist as different generations of competitors and colleagues.
Originally published March 2012