Appealing to Gen Y? Customize!

Written by Paul Marchildon, on August 26, 2014.

gen y

You know you’re old when your back goes out, but you stay in. When you say “dude,” thinking you’re hip; or when you think “hip” means with it. You’re old if you wait all year for a Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbucks, and don’t realize there’s a whole secret menu of customized beverages available to those in the know. And, if you don’t know that said drinks aren’t really for drinking, but for Instagramming.

Of the many cultural differences between generations, the demand for customization is one of the most striking. Gen Y-ers don’t get what they get; they get what they want. Personal choice and individuality is essential to them – in everything from their drinks to their workplaces.

“I want to be different. Just like everyone else.”

Author and journalist Gillian Tett describes hitting Starbucks with her tween daughter, who ordered a “secret” Cotton Candy Frappuccino. She observes that “children these days are growing up in a world where ‘personal choice’ is considered paramount, if not normal.” And: “Today’s kids…are not so much Gen X, Y or Z – but Gen C, or Generation Customized.”

Whether it’s a teen ordering a drink or a young adult seeking a job, appealing to their need to be different, to be “themselves,” is key. At Atlantis, we were prepared for the Millennials well before the millennium and took a number of steps to create a custom workplace and honour the individuality of our people. They’re just as applicable today, if not more so given the influx of Gen Ys into the workforce:

Welcome Them With Business Cards

Whenever I hired someone, I made every effort to ensure their business cards were waiting for them on their first day. Having it all ready – work environments, email, computer, cards – was like a gift. It set the tone: “They actually care about me. I’m important!” Think back to all of your first days: how many times did you feel the exact opposite? That you were a cog in the wheel instead of a valuable, and valued, contributor? That doesn’t fly with Millennials.

Employees Lacking Motivation?

Paul Marchildon, an experienced Leisureologist, can work with you and your team to increase productivity by incorporating a leisure mindset into the workplace.

What about customization? We had three pillars: Analyze, Attract, and Act (representing Strategy, Creative, and Execution), each of which had its own icon and colour treatment. We printed three sets of cards for everyone (including receptionist), and employees could decide when and to whom they gave which cards. It was a great conversation piece, a chance to deliver elevator pitches on the pillars, and an opportunity to customize their experience and approach.

When new employees went home after that first day, they had tangible evidence of their success and status at their new workplace. We felt that every employee deserved the investment – no person was left behind. It was a huge win, every time.

Let Them Have Fun With Their Website Profiles

Atlantis featured all of our employees on the Meet the Team section of our website. After a photo shoot, they chose two of their favourite shots – one with a business feel (maybe reading Marketing Magazine in the lounge) and one with a leisure flavour (shooting pool in the cafeteria). Our people were able to customize the shots to fit their personal brand, and it reinforced our commitment to work/life integration.

We also asked each employee a dozen questions (such as, “What’s your communication superpower?”) and featured three or four answers on their profile. (Taking a mean brief, by the way. That’s my superpower.) When a client, prospect, or potential employee looked at the website, they saw unique people with different interests, skills, and talents.

Perfect and Leverage Employee Bios

Loved the bios. We used them everywhere – websites, proposals, company marketing materials. Our people were our service. We’d interview our employees extensively and extract their Unique Selling Proposition (USP). What made them different? Why were they uniquely qualified to work on the client’s business? Without a doubt, this helped our people build customized personal brands.

What Good’s Customization if You Can’t Share It?

Another point in all this: customization is critical – but so is providing avenues for Millennials to share it with their peers. One of the biggest reasons that they order things like Cotton Candy or Cake Batter Fraps is so they can immediately text or Instagram about it.

It’s not the drink. Just like it’s not the business card or the website bio per se – it’s the social cache associated with it and the status it confers. Offer that, and Millennials will be much more engaged in your company and motivated to contribute their best.

Previous generations customized their own coffee – by adding cream and sugar. Millennials expect to have choices that reflect their interests and needs. This mentality extends to where and how they work. When companies get this and make personal choice, individuality, and customization a priority, they get employees who are motivated to achieve. But, unlike Starbucks, make sure it’s not a secret. You want everyone to know you’re Gen C-friendly.

Paul Marchildon

Paul Marchildon

A self-proclaimed Leisureologist and Motivational Speaker, Paul Marchildon applies his vast expertise in human engagement to help leaders create more productive, effective organizations. Building on an influential career as a pioneer in employee incentive and loyalty programs, strategic creative communications, social media and mobile marketing, Paul provides insight into the advantages of incorporating a leisure culture in the "work" place. He is past president of Society of Incentive and Travel Executives’ (Site) Canadian Chapter and founder of Atlantis Creative Group (now part of Maritz Canada). He is one of a select group of Canadians who have received the Certified Incentive Travel Executive (CITE) designation.