Is anyone else tired of talking about millennials? Millennials have seemingly been on everyone’s mind, with many worrying over their spending habits, charitable giving, large debt, voting behaviors, and other things. Why do we care so much about this generation? Don’t they already have a problem with entitlement and being all about “me me me”; we probably shouldn’t feed into that, right?
Pictured: Gregory (myself) the Millennial
Fun fact: depending on where you draw the line, 70% of Corona staff are classified as millennials.
As annoying as it might be, there are some very good reasons to focus on the millennial generation. The baby boomer generation is now on the decline and currently there are 11 million more millennials. It is estimated that millennials will comprise over a third of adult Americans by 2020, up to 75% of the American workforce by 2025, and currently account for over one trillion dollars in consumer spending in the U.S. Despite this, millennials have less money to spend and are encumbered with greater debt. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the conclusion is that millennials are important because they are the new money – they are very quickly becoming the largest group of consumers and are therefore greatly impacting all businesses and organizations.
The millennials, as a generation, share some commonly seen characteristics:
… and the facts don’t end there. If you haven’t already, I highly encourage you to pour over some of the linked materials to familiarize yourself with this impactful generation. If they haven’t yet, millennials will be disrupting your organization sometime in the near future, and it’s inescapable that we all need to adapt.
Research that just sits on the shelf (or these days, in a digital folder) is research that probably should not have been conducted. If it is not going to be used, then why do it?
Effective research takes many things, from the beginning through the end. We’ve blogged before about the need to start with end in the mind, but what happens when you get to the end? Then what?
Sharing results internally, with the right audiences, and in an effective medium, is key. Here are several ideas of how to do that beyond the common report or PowerPoint deck.
Make it interactive. Can the data (in part or whole) be made to allow for manipulation by users? This could be a fully interactive dashboard where the user gets to select variables to look at, or it could simply be a predefined analysis that users can pull up, filter, and review. For example, Corona often delivers open-ended verbatim responses with a series of filters built in so users can quickly drill down, rather than just reading hundreds or thousands of verbatim comments.
Video summaries. Can you tell the story through video for greater engagement? We have found that video works best in short clips to convey the primary findings and are often best accompanied by more detailed reporting (if users need more). Longer videos can be harder to digest and cause people to disengage. Corona has created short videos to communicate general findings to larger groups of employees who may need to know the general gist of the research, but do not need to know as much detail as core decision makers.
Initial readouts and workshops. Can you involve the users in designing reporting, such as holding a workshop to help build their dashboard so it includes the metrics they want? This not only helps create a more effective dashboard for them, but also creates buy-in since they were involved in its creation. Similarly, sharing preliminary findings can help focus additional analysis and ensure their questions are being addressed in the final report.
Also, consider the following to make any of the above more effective:
- Who needs what? Who in the organization needs what information. Share what it is most important so critical points don’t get lost in the larger report.
- How much? Consider the level of detail any one person or team needs. Executives may want top-level metrics with key points and recommendations; analysts may want every tabulation and verbatim response.
- Who has questions? I think when people read a report or finding, they often think that’s it. Encourage questions and allow for follow-up to make sure everyone has what they need to move forward.
What challenges have you had making use of research? What have you done to try and overcome it? We’d love to hear bellow.
There are a multitude of tools available these days that allow organizations to easily ask questions of their customers. It is certainly not uncommon when Corona begins an engagement for the client to have made internal attempts at conducting surveys in the past. In some cases, these studies have been relatively sophisticated and have yielded great results. In others, however, the survey’s results were met with a resounding “Why does this matter?”.
The challenge is that conducting a good survey requires a much more strategic view than most realize. This starts with designing the survey questions themselves. We always begin our engagements by asking our clients to think through the decisions that will be made, the opportunities to improve, and the possible challenges to be addressed based on the results. By keeping the answers to these questions in mind as you design your survey questions, you can minimize the amount of “trivia” questions in your survey that might be interesting to know, but won’t really have any influence on your future decisions.
Even after having questions designed, you have to consider how you will get people to participate in the survey. If you have a database of 100,000 customers, it may be tempting to just send invitations to all of them. But what if you plan to send out a plea for donations in the next few weeks? Consider the impact of asking for 15 minutes of time from people who might be asked to support you very soon. Being careful to appropriately time the survey and perhaps only send it out to a small segment of customers might help to minimize fatigue that could negatively impact your overall business strategy in the near future.
Finally, once you’ve collected the results, simple tabulations will only tell a small part of the story. Every result should be examined through the lens of the actual strategic impact of the results. A good question to ask throughout the analysis of your results is, “So what?”. Keep the focus on the implications of the results rather than the results themselves, your final report of what you learned with have a much better chance of making a meaningful impact on your organization moving forward.
Obviously, we at Corona are here to help walk you through this process in order to ensure the highest-quality result possible, but even if you choose to go it alone, keeping a strategic view of what you need to learn and how it will influence your decisions will help to avoid a lot of wasted effort.
We all know that anxiety and stress can bring out the worst in people. They go to extremes in behavior as they attempt to navigate unknowns and exacerbating risks. An inability to cope leads to three behaviors.
- The flame thrower – this person may initially show up as the conversation dominator who simply must have the last word. What if this person is in fact a bully, or maybe worse? The flame thrower is the person who torches people and ideas they perceive as threatening to their preferred role and view of the world. They make incendiary comments, attempting to belittle, berate or anger those in roles of positional power. Rather than view the strengths and talents in others they prefer puffery and falling on the sword.
- The feral cat – in the blink of an eye this person will lash out with claws and fangs. You never even saw the paw sweep through the air towards you. They appear like an average cat, perhaps with a bit of a different manner, but wowza, who would have thought they could pounce like that? After they harm they tend to slink away.
- The poser – hey, let’s go along to get along. Why take a risk – and share an opinion or recommendation – that may rankle someone, especially if there are flame throwers and feral cats in the room. This person is a survivor. They appear to be a team player but you can’t assume true buy-in or cooperation.
What do all three of these people have in common? Self-preservation. Regrettably these behaviors and habits run counter to creativity, collaboration, and change. It’s difficult to have a meaningful design session when group members are committed to a scorched earth policy.
Who is showing up at your meetings?
One of the most important drivers of long-term success for nonprofit organizations is having a solid financial model. It’s often one of the primarily areas of focus when Corona assists organizations in the development of a strategic plan. Typically, some combination of unearned income (such as grants or donations) and earned income (such as goods or services that people pay for) will yield the most stable foundation on which a nonprofit can thrive.
It is easy to be envious of nonprofits that derive significant portions of their revenue from earned income, but we at Corona have recently worked with a number of organizations that have found themselves on shaky ground because they almost went too far and lost sight of opportunities to generate broader support for their mission because their earned income programs were so successful.
When it comes down to it, the problem is when nonprofits think of their constituents as customers rather than patrons. Just to emphasize the difference as we see it:
- Customer – A person who purchases goods or services from another.
- Patron – A person who supports with money, gifts, efforts, or endorsement an artist, writer, museum, cause, charity, institution, special event, or the like.
The problem with this is simply that nonprofit organizations exist to fulfill a mission, and simply selling tickets (or cookies) should be the means to that end – not the end itself. Consider these issues that we at Corona have observed among some of our clients recently:
- One organization relied heavily on ticket sales to support their organization. However, focusing on that audience over the long-term resulted in an overreliance on a certain demographic (generally, older individuals), so no new programs were developed to reach younger, more diverse, audiences. Declining attendance resulted in drastic changes being necessary just to sustain the organization.
- A recent survey of one of Corona’s clients’ “patron” database revealed that only around one in four had ever actually made a donation to the organization. What’s more, fewer than half of such patrons had ever interacted with the organization beyond attending a concert. This indicates that many such patrons were really nothing more than customers; they enjoyed the events put on by the organization, but they didn’t truly understand why the organization exists.
Again, earned income isn’t a bad thing and, in fact, is a vital piece of many nonprofits’ funding models. However, nonprofit leaders should be careful not to become over-reliant on earned income to the point that telling people about the organization’s mission and impact isn’t necessary. Don’t miss out on key opportunities to convert simple customers, who could go away simply due to cultural changes or increased competition, to patrons, who truly believe in your organization’s mission and will support you through the tough times.
It’s inescapable. Every day I see more and more examples of it. Consumer behavior is at the core of sweeping industry change. Too often we get caught up in thinking about technology as the disruptor and forget that people are at the heart of the transformations all around us. Here are four examples from this past week:
- Sears. J.C. Penney. Bebe. Macy’s. Target. Kohl’s. Neiman Marcus. And that’s just for starters. The epic decline of department stores and apparel-focused retail is linked to Amazon’s domination of the online marketplace. At the heart of that change? Consumers who expect something more – and something different. Increasingly, consumers are saying no to the traditional retailer and shopping mall. What do they demand? Convenience, cost and a user-defined experience.
- Who would have thought that consumer choice would lead colleges to guarantee that their degree will get you a job – and a job with a decent salary? As college students – and their parents – increasingly question the return on investment given staggering student loan debt, higher ed is having to respond creatively to compete for students. Both educator and student take on the risk – and reap the reward.
- Decades of tradition are on the chopping block as movie studios plan to release films to online platforms mere weeks after release to theaters. As reported in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, movie companies have experienced declining home entertainment revenues for 2 years straight and global box-office growth has also been slowing. In a quest to increase revenues they are looking to meet consumers where they are – in the comfort of their home on a tablet, pc or tv.
- And lastly. Bruce Springsteen. We are experiencing the beginning of the end of rock and roll as we’ve known it. Boomer rock stars became global corporations in the days when record companies invested in them like R&D. That era is over. The concert business is bifurcating into festivals and small venues as consumers expect more intimate and novel experiences. No longer satisfied with paying high prices for poor sound quality and a miniscule view of the band, consumers are pursuing other entertainment options. Today’s young stars will build careers in an entirely new era. Welcome to Me, Inc. rock and roll style.
Each of these stories has a common denominator – consumers demand the experience on their terms. They define the where, when, how and how much. These changes are sweeping and have only begun. The question now is, who is next?
What will this mean for other industries and sectors?
As a strategist, I’m frequently looking over the horizon to see what’s next. At other times, you’ll see me scanning side-to-side looking for forces that may be coming together in new or unexpected ways.
Sometimes hindsight puts much of it into perspective.
Looking back at 2008 it occurs me that I was well ahead of the curve when I designed Corona’s Synergistic Business Model. At the time I noticed that nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver and companies like New Belgium Brewery – both former Corona clients I may add – had integrated engagement deep into their respective business models. Each realized that fostering loyalty, connection and contribution required a long-lasting approach to relationships.
They were smartly ahead of the curve.
Since then engagement has become top-of-mind for organizations. The old transactional approaches simply don’t hit the mark when people are searching for meaningful relationships and ways to make a difference.
Perhaps engagement isn’t enough.
We need to enmesh relationships into our business models.
- How are we using online communication channels to fully engage donors before, during and after a fundraising event? What is the immediate call-to-action waiting for them when they get home? Have we thanked them (enough)?
- What will define the patron experience from the first email message to the thank you note?
- How will volunteer love for us be returned in 3 months? 5 months? 1 year?
- Have we thought about the ways that a board member could entrap that new neighbor or business colleague into adopting our cause as their own?
Maybe it’s time to:
We need to activate our language if we want to activate our relationships.
It’s pretty common for Corona to combine qualitative and quantitative research in a lot of our projects. We will often use qualitative work to inform what we need to ask about in qualitative phases of the research, or use qualitative research to better understand the nuances of what we learned in the quantitative phase. But did you know that we can also use qualitative research to help design quantitative research instruments through something called cognitive testing?
The process of cognitive testing is actually pretty simple, and we treat it a lot like a one-on-one interview. To start, we recruit a random sample of participants who would fit the target demographic for the survey. Then, we meet with the participants one-on-one and have them go through the process of taking the survey. We then walk through the survey with them and ask specific follow-up questions to learn how they are interpreting the questions and find out if there is anything confusing or unclear about the questions.
In a nutshell, the purpose of cognitive testing is to understand how respondents interpret survey questions and to ultimately write better survey questions. Cognitive testing can be an effective tool for any survey, but is particularly important for surveys on topics that are complicated or controversial, or when the survey is distributed to a wide and diverse audience. For example, you may learn through cognitive testing that the terminology you use internally to describe your services are not widely used or understood by the community. In that case, we will need to simplify the language that we are using in the survey. Or, you may find that the questions you are asking are too specific for most people to know how to answer, in which case the survey may need to ask higher-level questions or include a “Don’t Know” response option on many questions. It’s also always good to make sure that the survey questions don’t seem leading or biased in any way, particularly when asking about sensitive or controversial topics.
Not only does cognitive testing allow us to write better survey questions, but it can also help with analysis. If we have an idea of how people are interpreting our questions, we have a deeper level of understanding of what the survey results mean. Of course, our goal is to always provide our clients with the most meaningful insights possible, and cognitive testing is just one of the many ways we work to deliver on that promise.
The strategic planning process that is used by many today was created decades ago during a more predictable time. By nature, the process is based on an underlying assumption, namely that changes and trends in the external environment can be predicted with some certainty.
So, what about changes that can’t be predicted? Or are unprecedented in our lifetime? We only have to look to our smart phones for a glimpse into the near future. As a recent piece by the World Economic Forum noted, we are in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and what many refer to as the Digital Revolution.
This one is a game changer my friends.
“There are three reasons why today’s transformations represent not merely a prolongation of the Third Industrial Revolution but rather the arrival of a Fourth and distinct one: velocity, scope, and systems impact. The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. When compared with previous industrial revolutions, the Fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. Moreover, it is disrupting almost every industry in every country. And the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance.”
How to set strategy now?
- Drop the SWOT – this tool is out of date and too often focuses on naval gazing instead of a true assessment of the strategic environment.
- Create a sense of urgency – too many organizations plod rather than sprint. Our decision making processes are too slow or cumbersome. We don’t have agreement on the big issues (mission, vision, values and strategy) and so we can’t (or don’t) really empower people to act. And act we must.
- Fast twitch for the win – I don’t see enough evidence of agility either. Develop your fast twitching muscles as you’re going to need them.
- Think map app – today’s map app alerts you in real-time to the best route. Your strategic plan should do the same.
Remember, strategy is a choice. It focuses attention, resources and commitment.
And strategy isn’t static.
Got your latest app downloaded?
I’m often asked, “How can we ensure our strategic plan doesn’t sit on a shelf?” The question typically arises as executives and boards consider how best to approach the planning process – and which consultant can facilitate a successful outcome.
By its very nature, a strategic planning process raises expectations and anxiety. And no plan is worth the investment if it sits on a shelf.
While the question is spot-on, it’s being asked of the wrong person. The next time I find that question directed at me I think I’ll pull the small mirror out of my purse as I say, “What a great question. It’s simple really. Success actually begins with you. You’ll need three things: committed leadership, access to resources and accountability for results. I can help you get there, but you’ve got to keep the dust off the plan.”
Wanna know a secret? Strategic success is as easy as…