We are approaching a tipping point this year when Millennials (individuals aged 23 to 38 in 2019) will comprise the majority of America’s work force. As a result, businesses and marketers are scrambling to understand their habits and behaviors. (And if they’re not, they should be.) To be expected, these digital natives possess their own preferences, which researchers are just beginning to understand. Or as Leigh Watson Healy, Chief Analyst Emeritus of Outsell puts it, “While [Millennials] are still revealing their behaviors in the workplace and as knowledge workers, the industry will feel the real impact of their decision-making in the next three to five years when they move into management positions of real influence.”
One of the biggest differentiators between Millennials and their predecessors is how they approach information gathering. In the course of their lifetimes, Boomers and Gen-Xers experienced a radical transition in obtaining knowledge. Rather than having to dig information from books, magazines, and other printed material, they suddenly found themselves with information at their fingertips. Because of this evolution, these previous demographics bring a traditional approach to internet searches and are more likely to take deeper dives on fewer sites with a more personal research and search-oriented methodology.
Millennials, on the other hand, view the internet as something as natural as air and water. After all, it’s always been there for them. As a result, they’re more demanding in how they use it. They want information fast and they want it now. And, because they grew up with search technology, they have become extremely adept at deploying it to uncover the relevant data they seek. This acquired expertise is so significant that it turns out Millennials discover, use, and share information in ways vastly different than any previous generation.
Based on Millennials’ increasing influence on business and culture, it’s time for tech to take note of innovative strategic research solutions that directly address the needs of this sophisticated and powerful demo. Here are three significant factors I believe should be considered in light of this important development.
- Millennials tend to be collaborators, not searchers.
A study by IBM’s Institute for Business Value found that Millennials feel better about making decisions once they’ve gathered input from colleagues and recognized experts, as they tend to value these opinions over personal research and prefer a “browse-to-content” model to find what they seek. What they don’t want is to waste their time getting bogged down in this process.
The traditional search engine, whose paradigm essentially hasn’t changed since the early days of the internet, doesn’t really address this kind of approach. What would be more useful to Millennials instead of simply a blank query box would be something approximating a referral engine — a portal that would not force them to slog through pages of vaguely defined search results, but instead would directly send them the useful, targeted information they’re after.
- Millennials want to customize content to their needs.
Having grown up with online access, Millennials (rightly) feel like digital experts and quickly grow impatient with sites that don’t deliver at a high level of efficiency. “Used to getting their data immediately, Millennials have little patience with vendors who don’t quickly provide the requested information,” says IBM’s Bill Grady. “What they want is data, speed, and advisors they can trust.”
That’s why the optimal user experience for Millennials is customizable, topic-specific dashboards that deliver an organized presentation of relevant, high-quality content useful to the Millennial consumer. When large, research-driven organizations implement these types of dashboards as the primary user experience, business research content downloads double. That’s a number difficult to argue with.
- Let the machine do the work.
Millennials know that computers, mobile devices, and websites are getting smarter. They wonder why these smart resources aren’t impacting their work environments. “Why can’t the machine just read the reports on the search result and tell me what it finds?” they ask.
With machine learning, this is possible. The technology exists now for figuring what text represents important ideas in the documents responsive to a search query. These important ideas can be pulled into an automatic “insights report” that can transform the experience of search.
- There is a greater need than ever for an organization’s internal information publishing platform to enforce copyright.
Millennials have a propensity to freely share…everything. And in general, the availability of web content has increased the sharing of content throughout organizations by all generations. Even “free” and “openly-accessible” Web-based content typically is not “copyright-free,” so the appropriate precautions must also be taken into consideration.
That’s why platforms must take extra steps to protect themselves from having material shared in the wrong way, while encouraging users to share it in the right way. One effective approach is to share links and metadata within the portal, which is copyright compliant, while keeping document access restricted through a robust authentication system. Such an approach protects organizations from potentially costly, though inadvertent, copyright violations of subscription-based premium research content.
- Time to retire search.
In conclusion, it’s time to retire the decades-old search engine model. Instead, we should be building new models of information portals that are more collaborative, yield more relevant high-quality results, enable customized controls, and allow for more content control. At my company Northern Light, we’ve put AI and machine learning to work in our SinglePoint enterprise portal platform to bring these ideas to life and the results have been exciting beyond belief.
But we shouldn’t stop there. It’s clear the effort to accommodate the work styles and preferences of Millennials will only become more important in the coming years. Technology always ends up evolving with the needs of its users—so let’s get ahead of the curve, roll up our sleeves, and create the change Millennials are looking for now.