Milwaukee Biz Blog: How to make Milwaukee relevant with millennials

Attract innovative and socially-conscious entrepreneurs

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A recent survey by the Public Policy Forum found that members of the Millennial generation living in the Milwaukee area point to cultural, educational and entertainment opportunities as well as parks and outdoor activities as reasons to live here, and keep them here. Public Policy Forum president, Robert Henken said the survey results should assist community leaders “who are working to define a vision for metro Milwaukee that will be attractive to younger generations and help us to secure the talent we need to grow a 21st century knowledge economy.”

Millennials, also referred to as Gen Y, were born between the early 1980s and early 2000s. This generation now accounts for about one-quarter of the U.S. population with mounting buying power and influence. So as members of this group progress in their careers and have more buying power, retailers, manufacturers, and communities must prepare to meet their needs, buying preferences, changing cultural interest, housing preferences, and increasing spending power.

You might know millennials as tech-savvy and social media-obsessed young adults, but the roughly 80 million millennials in the U.S. today could mean big business for a community. According to a report from Accenture, a strategy and digital consulting company, millennials spend approximately $600 billion each year, and their spending is only projected to grow.

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But what do millennials really want from retailers?

To gain a perspective on ways that cities could attract and retain millennials I wanted to offer some ideas we often share with retail pharmacies across the nation struggling with the same conundrum. The goal is similar: Create more personalized and localized experiences focused on increased engagement.

Here are five ideas that I often encourage our retail clients to consider in their quest to earn loyalty among Millennials.

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1.       Give back to the community

To attract and keep millennials, put emphasis on local charities and demonstrate ways to give back to the community. Ongoing community support can get millennials’ attention, encourage participation, and showcase a genuine desire to help others. At the city level, demonstrate to millennials how the area is reinvesting in infrastructure, supporting cultural diversity, or creating community-centered activities and events.

2.       Make social media matter

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Blogs are a popular source of information for millennials – as recently cited in Forbes, about ten times as influential as traditional media. Focus on issues important to millennials: natural health, fitness and exercise, and localized specialties. Millennials don’t want retailers to just be on social media, they want to engage with them. For cities looking to make this connection, social media cannot simply be a checkbox on a to-do list; rather it must become an integrated strategy that encourages interaction and relevance.

3.       Deploy mobile-friendly platforms

The easiest way to start appealing to millennials is to reach them where they are – on a mobile device. Ensuring access to pertinent information whenever and wherever millennials want to retrieve it is essential. Imagine a mobile platform promoting a city’s current events, weather issues, traffic and infrastructure, new developments and growth within the community, and cultural happenings. Boosting engagement is one of the most important steps to remaining connected.

4.       Listen to them

Who understands how to appeal to and reach millennials better than millennials? Young talent understands the millennial viewpoint. I encourage retailers to invite them into the strategic process and use them as a sounding board for marketing ideas and future planning exercises. What would prevent a city from doing the same?

5.       Dig into the data

Retailers and cities alike should conduct continuous research to discover trends in the community and among the constituency to determine where to pivot or adjust. Connecting with any generation is about identifying demand and quickly adapting.

It is my belief that cities positioning themselves to attract innovative and socially-conscious entrepreneurs will ultimately be the best positioned to appeal to the millennial generation (coincidentally, that’s the same advice I offer to retailers). The question I have is whether the greater Milwaukee area is ready to accept the challenge and uncover ways to be relevant to this emerging group?

David J. Wendland is vice president at Hamacher Resource Group Inc. in Waukesha.

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