Maximizing the Millennial Moment
First we called them GenY. Then we called them Millennials. Now that they’re getting married and having children, they have become Parennials.
And, at our schools we call them: our parents.
Demographers and sociologists examine the prevailing attitudes and societal circumstances that surrounded the coming of age of successive generations. Based on that, they ascribe common characteristics—attitudes, mindsets, preferences and behavior—and a name to each generation. For example, Baby boomers were born in the late 1940s and the 1950s. Millennials, born between 1980 and 2000, are now our largest living generation. For schools, the important fact is that millennials are now 18-38 years old, which means that in elementary schools, most prospective parents and the majority of current parents with children in lower grades are millennials. This is the millennial moment.
Better understanding the nature of millennials or parennials will enable schools to develop strategies to effectively anticipate and meet the needs of prospective and new parents. This has clear and important implications for marketing success, enrollment success and overall school success. With that in mind, we present seven characteristics of the millennial generation and corresponding strategies for success that Jewish day schools should consider implementing.
This generation is the product of the “crayoning on the walls is a form of self expression” parenting approach. Self-esteem was paramount. Millennials were praised as being intelligent, talented, important and special whether they won or lost, passed or failed. Every student at the track meet got a participation ribbon. Today, they are self-focused, seek personal gratification and fulfillment in every situation and crave their own experiences.
Focus on the parent experience. Every interaction parents have with someone in the school is going to be significant. You will want to ensure that the amalgam of those interactions—the experience—is positive and communicates that parents are valued and respected.
Personalize. The personal tour is a more effective recruitment tool because it allows prospective parents to ask questions related to their children and their needs. Wherever possible, include child-specific information in summaries of class or grade activity. Pre-complete forms with names, addresses and previously provided information.
Prepare for stealth applications. Increasingly parents are taking the completely me-centered approach by researching schools and making choices without any prior school contact. Your introduction to your new family is the application you receive. The admissions process conveys a great deal about school culture, and now you have to find a way to transmit all of that to families who have followed their own path to your doorstep.
Millennials have great confidence in their own abilities and as a result are establishing themselves as achievers. This is an extremely well educated generation. In fact, a recent Pew study indicates that millennials are on track to be the most educated generation to date, with women dramatically outpacing the educational achievements of previous generations. This is also a goal-oriented cohort and that, combined with their educational and professional prowess, produces parents focused on data and outcomes.
Prove it. Ensure that all your value-proposition messaging is accompanied by proof points. If you say that your school offers high-quality, immersive Hebrew language instruction, be prepared to provide the details that demonstrate its unique nature and quality.
Use data. Wherever possible, empirically support the case you make for your school. What percentage of teachers have advanced degrees? How do your students’ standardized test scores compare to those of competing public and independent schools? What percentage of graduates get their first choice of high school or college?
Talk long term. Parennials are looking beyond the preschool class for which they are applying. Thinking about goals and outcomes means understanding where their kids will be after eighth or twelfth grade. Talk to parents about the enduring impact of the full educational journey at your school.
Raise the bar. These prospective parents are highly educated. Respect their intellectual ability and without using jargon, don’t be afraid to discuss advanced educational concepts and approaches. They will likely understand what’s being discussed and will definitely appreciate being treated as intellectual equals.
This is the sharing generation. Not only do millennials incessantly share experiences online, they overwhelmingly value and are influenced by the opinions of peers. Millennials feel that User Generated Content, the views and experiences of peers, family and friends, to be more memorable and more trusted than any other content. 68% of millennials consider the opinion of peers to be trustworthy, while only 64% feel the same about the opinions of experts. That means that prospective parents value the opinions of friends and family more than those of a head of school. Millennials are also crowd-sourced decision-makers. 94% consider at least one outside source (someone outside the brand/school being evaluated) when making a purchasing decision, and 40% of millennials consider four or more sources. In turn, 74% of millennials believe they influence the decisions of others.
Use social media to build brand. Your posts on Facebook and Instagram (which about half of millennials use) have to be way more than basketball scores and upcoming events. Your social media feed should be a window to your brand. Every Jewish day school does model seders. What makes your seders uniquely you? If someone scrolled through your Facebook timeline, would they ascertain the elements of your school’s brand?
Make social media about community. Post items that will encourage others to comment and share. You could make your social media feed into an important source of information. The goal is to create a community that extends beyond current stakeholders.
Influencers. Influence marketing is a well-established business technique. Companies identify social media users whose network aligns with the profile of a prospective customer and whose posts attract shares and comments. They then approach these users with offers of compensation to mention either the company or its products in their posts. Your school also has natural social media influencers, users with large networks whose posts regularly engage others. Whether they are current or prospective parents, identify them and go out of your way to make sure those users have content about your school they can share.
Sheltered childhoods, helicopter parenting, constant affirmation of talent and potential combined with social media’s almost inescapable compulsion to compare oneself with others has created a pressured, almost perfectionist generation. A study done for Inc. revealed that 67% of millennials felt “extreme pressure to succeed” compared to 40% of Gen X-ers and 23% of baby boomers. In open-ended responses, a majority expressed the sentiment that “they hadn’t done enough yet and time was running out.” When it comes to parenting, millennials are just as anxious. A study by Time magazine reported that 80% of millennial mothers felt it was “important to be the perfect Mom” and 64% of moms believe parenting is more competitive today than it used to be. The Internet has catalyzed parental angst, with 7 in 10 moms saying they go online to look up symptoms and solutions for their kids and 58% of millennials reporting that the available amount of parenting information is overwhelming.
The remedy of information. This generational characteristic provides a superb opportunity to differentiate through content marketing. An effective remedy for anxiety is information, and millennials crave all kinds of it. You can provide a host of valuable content like parenting tips, advice on dealing with homework, strategies for non-Hebrew speaking parents helping kids with Hebrew homework, home activities for preschoolers, executive functioning tips as well as curriculum-related information. Make your website a valuable reference for all Jewish parents. Programming is also an excellent and effective vehicle for providing the information that parents crave.
Be patient and partner. Accept that millennials come to your school with this burden of angst, and meet them where they are by helping them deal with it. Teachers and administrators may have to reassure parents regarding their children’s progress. This could be an excellent basis on which to establish an effective home–school partnership.
Grounded and Conventional
These are not the rebellious social activists of the ’60s or the Breakfast Club malcontents of the ’80s. Millennials are very respectful of their parents and have very conventional attitudes. In addition, millennials crave authenticity from companies and organizations. In a recent study, 90% of millennials say that authenticity is important in deciding which brands to support. Not surprisingly, the data also demonstrates that this is a generation that dislikes and distrusts traditional advertising—both print and online.
Walk the talk. It’s more critical than ever that you live your brand. What you say are your defining qualities and priorities have to be mirrored in the day-to-day experience of students and parents. There can be no gap. As Steve Freedman, head of school at the Hillel Jewish Day School in Detroit, says, “We must deliver what we say we are delivering for both students, and today, for parents. Schools that provide great experiences not only for students but also for their millennial parents will have the advantage.”
Involve grandparents. This isn’t about “grandpals and special friends” days. The reality is that millennials respect their parents’ views and welcome their involvement in the lives of their children. Grandparents are likely very involved in schooling decisions and may also be involved in paying for those decisions. Make grandparents a target of your marketing efforts. Create vehicles to open lines of communication with grandparents. Invite grandparents to recruitment events.
Cause-oriented and optimistic
Millennials’ preference for companies that align themselves with social responsibility or purpose is well documented. They want the companies with which they do business to have a mission that is much greater than just turning a profit. Those attitudes also extend to related areas. For example, 57% of millennials buy local or organic foods whenever possible and are often more willing to pay more for a product if it supports the environment. Millennials are also more optimistic than other generations. 86% of millennials said they were optimistic about their own future as opposed to 74% of Gen Xers, and 64% said they were optimistic about the future of the children compared to 54% of Gen Xers.
Character is an expression of mission. Parents want more than educational outcomes for their children. In studies of independent school parents, the perceived ability of a school to instill strong, positive character traits is a key differentiator. Character development is an expression of mission. In Jewish day schools, we sometimes take the development of strong values and character for granted, but it is just as important to our parents as it is to those at independent schools. We should put that character development front and center in our efforts. Michael Kay, head of the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester, implores day school leaders to “cultivate a culture of radical mentschlichkeit within the school.”
Incorporate cause into curriculum. If millennial parents are cause-minded, they are going to want social justice and communal service to be integral parts of their children’s educational experience. This means more than the monthly visit to the seniors’ residence and preparing food packages for the less fortunate. At the VBS Day School in Los Angeles, for example, fifth-grade students undertake a two-day mission to the state capital to lobby legislators on a different issue each year. Some independent schools have created the position of director of service education to ensure that their communal service programs are grounded in curriculum and integrated into the school experience. These approaches also appeal to millennial optimism.
Incorporate wellness. Healthy lunch programs are already a staple in many schools and should be in yours. You may want to consider adding yoga, Pilates and other wellness-based programs.
Eager Technology Adopters and Disruptors
Although millennials are often described as digital natives, that isn’t necessarily the case. Those born in the ’80s may not have had a cellphone until they were teenagers and likely only acquired a smartphone as adults. Perhaps as a result of personally witnessing the advent of the Internet and the blossoming ubiquity of technology, this is a generation that views technology as a means to an end and seeks the ways in which technology can radically improve—or disrupt—the way we live and do business. They also look to technology to make their personal lives more convenient.
Use technology effectively. A millennial-friendly school will allow parents to complete transactions (application, registration, tuition, etc.) online and ensure that the process is user-focused and seamless.
E-communicate effectively. Over half your parents are getting their school communication on a smartphone, and that demands particular attention. Your e-communication has to be mobile-optimized so that it’s formatted for the smaller screen, and the user experience, necessary clicks or steps, must be smartphone-specific.
Embrace disruption. For millennials, finding ways for technology to enhance processes is a reflex. It’s what they do, and the more attached they are to your school, the more likely they are to find disruptive opportunities. Let them. Odds are it will improve the experience for all parents.
Don’t neglect face to face. Millennials weren’t born with smartphones in their hands and laptops in their cribs. They relish personal communication. Maximize the opportunities for in-person contact. They will be the most appreciated and the most effective.
The most important strategy in reaching out to millennials is to accept them for who they are. Don’t judge them, and don’t try to change them. Rather, find approaches to engage and welcome millennials. With that in mind, you can use the strategies above as presented or as inspiration to find your school’s unique means of maximizing the millennial moment.