Will Pearson – Understanding Millennial Influencers

"This is the most educated generation in all of human history.. Resist the urge to dumb it down."

“This is the most educated generation in all of human history.. Resist the urge to dumb it down.”

William E. Pearson is the co-founder of Mental Floss, a bi-monthly magazine, which he started with Mangesh Hattikudur when both were students at Duke University. The idea was to blend knowledge with entertainment in such a way that it would be educational and fun. Mental Floss then started as a magazine, and has since found a way to capture the attention of the Millennial generation through engaging in multiple forms of social media, which is, as many of the most successful brands will tell you, no small feat.  Will’s talk was around how they have learned to engage their fickle audience, and how to embrace the way they view the world when you deliver content.

First he dispelled some well known stereotypes (which was good, because the majority of the room was not millennial). This generation is young, but it is resilient, optimistic, smart, and adapting faster than any other generation in history. Data shows that despite how much it seems like millennials are not prepared for their future, they are in fact saving money, and investing it, on average about 10 years faster than gen-x counterparts.  Will seems to think that the reason there is so much fear of this generation is that its behavior doesn’t fit the behavior of previous generations. We aren’t rebellious, like are parents. The scariest part may be that we are nice, and we love our parents!

I agree with him completely on our level of attention, speaking as a member of this generation. We absorb so much content from so many different mediums, and that has some effects on traditional marketing. Negative selling does not work with this audience, because negative messages can easily be tuned out in favor of something else.  Further than that, they need signals of intelligence, something to get out of your content that elevates it from pure noise. This can happen when your audience, using social media, becomes part of the discussion.

It’s also the solution generation. They grew up knowing that if they wanted to learn how to do something, they need only ask and the internet would provide the answer. They have been conditioned to expect quick easy answers, and this is as much a strength as it is a weakness that they need to understand as they move into adulthood; not everything has a simple answer, after all.

Will’s view is that to win this market, you have to succeed in providing intelligent solutions or information, in a positive manner, and you have to win in every conceivable medium, since you can’t depend on them to stay with your content in one place. Below are some examples of their twitter feed, which is very successful at driving facts or content in a short format that makes it intriguing enough to read more. In other cases it is a way for your target audience to be part of the discussion.

Mental FlossHe tells the story of the 2012 Presidential debates when Mitt Romney famously (or infamously) mentioned Big Bird. Within seconds, Mental Floss posted Big Bird is 8’2″ on their twitter feed, which was retweeted several thousand times in a few hours, with many comments resounding the following sentiment :”thank you @mental_floss for the only thing I learned during the presidential debates last night.”

Millennials were expressing their frustration at the quagmired political situation they were enduring. While Big Bird’s height may not be terribly useful to know, that’s not really the point.  The point is to engage this audience, which is rapidly growing to be the vast majority, you must be on their turf and terms. You can’t just dump content on them to drive traffic, it has to be meaningful. They want conversation, ownership, empowerment.

Moral of the story: Don’t discourage the story, let them make conversations about your product. Encourage it! Don’t dumb it down just because they need it faster. This generation is far more focused on trust than brand loyalty.  We have to meet them where they are, and then, as if that weren’t enough, we have to lure them in and keep their attention, which can only be done by making your content likable, valuable, and worthwhile.


Interested in Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) work culture and millennials? Check out this post.


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