B2B Marketers: The Millennials Are Taking Over, Are You Ready?

March 21, 2014 by

By now, you are likely well aware that Millennials (aka Generation Y, age 18-32 today) hold the keys to your company’s future. Many of them are already customers, vendors, and up-and-coming sales rock stars (even though many avoid writing complete sentences or care to use the shift key). By 2025, they’ll also make up 75 percent of your workforce, and businesses will be vying for their creativity and fresh thinking. Why wait to move forward and bring them into your fold? How can you win over the “best and brightest” of these rising stars now? What are the best platforms and strategies for reaching this social and mobile generation? 

This isn’t just interesting food for thought - it’s serious business for big B2B industries like manufacturing, which is responsible for $1.9 trillion of the U.S. gross domestic product. A recent ThomasNet.com® Industry Market Barometer® (IMB) survey of more than 1,000 American manufacturers shows a troubling trend: they’re not working hard or fast enough to attract Generation Y. These companies are dominated by 45- to 65-year-olds, many of whom are ready to hang it up. Yet, they have very few Gen Y staff to succeed them, and they don’t see this changing soon. The results show a serious disconnect - manufacturers acknowledge there is a problem, but are not taking sufficient action to tackle it. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are going begging in manufacturing, and many could be filled by this important group.

Manufacturing needs a brand makeover to capture and hold the interest of this key demographic. Indeed, three-quarters of the survey respondents say that negative perceptions of the manufacturing profession are preventing younger people from joining them. At a time when additive manufacturing, robotics, and other advances are making manufacturing a hot technology sector, many Americans still view these jobs as “dirty, rote, grease under their fingernails” positions.

Today’s digital and mobile platforms and strategies offer manufacturers - and other B2B marketers - abundant opportunities to inject the “cool factor” into their industries. Social media, blogs, video, and mobile all support this objective.

Related Class: Building a Social Media Strategy for the Manufacturer

These are the channels where Gen-Yers work and live, and just “showing up” improves B2B marketers’ chances of reaching promising new talent. The magic really starts when marketers leverage them all and strategically link them together, using compelling and informational content to engage and interact with young people by sharing stories, perspectives, and more.

In the manufacturing industry, much of the content that appeals to these individuals will be visual. Want to make over a “dirty, stodgy” image? YouTube is the perfect channel for showing a gleaming manufacturing plant, with 3-D prototypes being printed, engineers operating complex machinery, and robots handling assembly work (with lots of sparks flying, of course). Want to show that a day in the life of a manufacturer means innovating new technologies? Post compelling video interviews that showcase some of your younger stars.

Visual also means pictures and graphics. Engineers, for instance, are starting to share interesting images, infographics, drawings, and more on Pinterest. Instagram is bleeding into the commercial space, too, and presents a fun way to humanize a B2B company and connect with people visually.

You never know where you’re going to meet just the right talent, and that’s why engaging across social media platforms is so important. Todd Berg, president and CEO of Liftomatic, which makes drum- and barrel-handling equipment, was thrilled to land a speaking engagement at the University of Wisconsin because of his Facebook presence. He saw this as an opportunity to get students excited about Liftomatic and the innovation associated with manufacturing.

Accessibility should extend to mobile platforms, too. By 2015, tablets will outnumber desktop computers, and companies need to be ready for them. Your website should be optimized for viewing on smartphones, which are permanently attached to Millennials. Consider developing apps that will make prospective employees’ and customers’ jobs easier, as well.

And back to your content - which today represents your brand, whether you are recruiting talent or customers. Remember that content that “attracts by educating” and is fundamental to helping, engaging, and influencing people. Quality, unique content is key to reinforcing you as the “go-to” company in your space. B2B marketers who use digital content like a magnet, and in all the right places, will be the winners in the race to engage Generation Y, positioning their companies for a more successful future. 

For techniques and tools to help you create great content to deliver on your B2B content strategy, view Online Marketing Institute's class, How to Create Content for B2B Marketing. 

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