Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A Generation Gap that Will Affect Law Firm Marketing

The "Millennial's" are people born between the early 1980's to the mid-1990's, that are now beginning to trickle into the workforce. What defines this group is that technology has not changed their life experience -- it has defined it. I believe their attitudes and values will create the great generation gap that "baby-boomers" (like myself) have long anticipated but have yet to experience.

This gen-gap was revealed to me while researching the effect of social networking sites like MySpace for a talk I was giving to executives on the impact of social networking on business. While I could write much to illustrate my opinion I'll just highlight the most relevant indicators.
  • The majority of leaders in business today are baby-boomers with values about privacy born in a cold war culture. Everything about us is held to be private. We only reveal what we choose when and where we want to. That right is sacrilege. Millennial's believe that everyone already knows most everything about them individually already. They've been posting and talking online, exposed to the world, their entire life. They do not choose what to reveal; they choose what to hold back.
  • Millennial's consider all knowledge as free. If they ask for data "no" is not an answer they understand. Their first reaction to "no" is, "What! Are you kidding?" There is no power in hoarding knowledge -- only in using it.
  • Millennial's use technology as fluently as oral language. My youngest daughter (23) will multitask all day long on IM's, cellphone, text messaging, posting to a blog, Flickr, or listserv, while meeting with friends and doing her college work. She is not in four dozen conversations in a day... she's just continuing a handful using whatever technology is best suited in the moment. For her the conversations are seamless even as she leaps from one platform to another.
So what does this mean for law firm marketers? Actually, a LOT!
  • We have a generation of fresh marketers coming into the workforce that will challenge, like no other time, everything we accept as normal, competitive practices.
  • We have a generation of fresh marketers coming into the workforce that will challenge most of the information sensitivities that baby boomer partners have grown accustomed to.
  • We have a generation of fresh legal services buyers coming into the workforce that will not be satisfied unless connectivity to their attorneys matches their expectations. That means community connectivity like IM networks, MySpace-like openness, and access to information that is anytime, anywhere.
After my presentation to the group of executives I talked for a moment with a young marketing woman who'd put the gathering together. She is a Millennial of course. She said, "Bruce, I was amazed at the reaction in the room. While you were talking about my generation I could visibly see the visceral reaction of the executive's in the room as they struggled to understand things that I take for granted."

Yes. There is a generation gap of epic proportion barreling at us Baby Boomers at the speed of technology. Oddly enough -- we created the technology. The challenge now is, how to be a Baby Boomer in a world that embraced our changes?