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Rob Jones
Written by Rob Jones
August 22, 2017

7 Things About Millennials That Every Hospitality Brand Should Know

There is a reason why there is so much discussion about brands engaging with millennials across nearly every industry right now. In the hospitality industry specifically, millennial consumer expectations of a guest experience are what’s driving leading brands to take on new technology, to implement new processes to manage it, and to foster new ways to engage and to serve guests better in the present as well as in the future.

Highland Coffee House by Jacob Ufkes, Unsplash.com
So, what are the most important facts to understand about millennials in relation to the hospitality space? Here’s a list of 7 facts to know to create more effective engagement with this emerging generation of consumers in the present, helping brands evolve technology platforms to transition into the future at the same time.

1. Millennials are currently the fastest-growing demographic

In 2016, millennials officially surpassed baby boomers as the largest demographic in the United States according to the U.S Census Bureau. The reason for this shift is down to a number of factors. An important one is the surge in immigration over the years into North America from many destinations abroad. Another is the natural decline of baby boomers as they reach their golden years. In any case, this is a significant shift for business leaders to consider. 

According to the Pew Research Center, the projected peak number of millennials by the mid-2030s will be 81.1 million people, leveling off to 79.2 million by 2050. For the hospitality industry, that is reason enough to invest in learning more about what millennials value as consumers. They are literally the future. But they are also a vital force in shaping the present, too. So, the mission to re-think the guest experience and to create a technology platform to support it right now is clear. Because millennials have distinct cultural and consumer expectations that every brand must meet in order to be successful.

2. Millennials are more culturally diverse and aware than previous generations

Millennials in North America and in many other Western countries are more culturally diverse, with 42.8% identified as minorities in the United States. They often speak more than one language, with 24.6% speaking a language other than English at home. This means that they are more culturally sensitive to language and culture far more than boomers or Gen Xers. To millennials, multiculturalism is a given. They have more interest in experiences that reflect a greater level of diversity no matter what their backgrounds or which languages they speak. 

These cultural factors should have an impact on how guest experience is planned and executed. In part, this means working with tech partners who have enabled language options into their products to more closely reflect guest preferences and backgrounds. It also has impact on things like more diverse food menus and even décor. Cultural authenticity as it translates into products, surroundings, and communications is important to this demographic. Getting the details right when planning the guest experience around it should be, too.

Multicultural millennials, Jens Johnsson, Unsplash.com

3. Millennials respond to brands who best reflect their values and individuality

The authenticity discussion leads into an even wider one when engaging with millennial consumers. They want to interact with brands that reflect their values, and recognize their appreciation for identity, independence, intelligence, and creativity. They mistrust big corporate presences that shoehorn them into a one-size-fits-all structure. They want to retain control over their experiences, not give it up when they engage with a brand. They want brands to go to them, demonstrating an understanding of what guests value most.

Methods of reflecting these important values of identity, independence, creativity, and intelligence can include lighthearted and welcoming on-screen greetings in apps or kiosks, creatively executed loyalty campaigns, customizable combo options at a self-serve kiosk, and anything that puts the guest in charge of the experience. All the while, millennial consumers want to express the key narratives of their experiences to their friends and family as they interact with a brand. To that, here's another important point for hospitality brands to note; millennials will create and broadcast personal narratives at any point during a guest experience.

4. Millennials engage with brands before, during, and after their guest experience

Whether their guest experience is a good or bad one, millennials will express their opinions and stories to their social networks as a matter of course. This generation knows how brand marketing works better than any other. They expect the promise of marketing to match with what they actually get from the brand at any time during the engagement process. So, proactive check-ins with guests should occur during the whole span of the guest experience to support that expectation. Examples of this kind of engagement can include:

  • Live notifications via SMS applications, chat, and email functionality to allow brand reps to check-in on guests by name, and to act on their feedback immediately if applicable
  • Non-intrusive in-person check-ins from staff while consumers are on-site to ensure a good guest experience
  • Short surveys at the conclusion of a kiosk transaction that allow guests to submit ratings on the quality of their experience, informing tech partners and brands themselves how to improve those experiences 
  • Social media monitoring and other engagement tools to get a general feel as to the quality of the whole guest experience while guests are still on the premises, or on a company website. 

This shift toward this more wholistic approach to engagement is very good news for hospitality brands. It's now much easier to turn a complaint into a rave review just because actions can now be taken faster before permanently bad impressions can be made. Brands just need the tools to succeed.

5. Millennials are mobile-first consumers

The primary modes of communication for millennial consumers revolve around mobile devices. Any brand environment should be friendly to their use. As an extension to the values of independence, identity, and retaining control during a guest experience for millennial consumers, this stands to reason.

Mobile optimization goes beyond websites and apps, which are a given. More recently, it includes integration with IoT functionality and expanded payment options that allow guests to order meals, change their orders, and settle their bills using their phones. When it comes to scaling for the future, a solid mobile strategy to accommodate mobile use is an essential provision to feature on any hospitality brand tech road map.

Millennials mobile-first, Eaters Collective (Toronto), Unsplash.com

6. Millennials expect all processes to be supremely flexible

With the advent of disruptive models to the traditional hospitality industry, emphasizing flexibility and operational agility is becoming more and more necessary as a market differentiator. This means concentrating on how services and products are delivered according to guest expectations. Allowing guests to take control of the ordering process is one major thoroughfare to success. 

A prime example of this is kiosks that allow the guest to manage the flow of the process beyond the linear model of options, decision, order placement, and delivery that is traditionally managed by staff. In this new model, items can be added, removed, or altered during a transaction, enabling guests to backtrack from any screen at any point in the process to further explore an offering at their own pace. For use cases like kiosks in hotel pantries, orders can be placed day or night, with or without staff intervention. This also means that the guest isn't limited by regular location hours or staff availability, appealing to another key principle that applies to millennial consumers; being active is always better than being passive.

7. Millennials actively seek out rewards for loyalty more than any other generation

Millennials are less inclined to accept the standard offerings extended to them without looking for add-ons and incentives. They're looking for brands who understand this, and have the programs in place to prove it. In this, there must be momentum and continuity. Millennials will remain loyal as long as the brand holds up their end of the bargain. According to a 2015 study, 80% of millennials stated they would switch brands if the loyalty offering of another brand afforded them a better deal compared to 69% and 59% of Generation X and baby boomers who were asked the same question.

That means scalable integrations with loyalty programs is an absolute must for the hospitality industry. Millennial consumers make up a significant piece of the loyalty program pie. But they don't want to feel like they're just fueling a depersonalized marketing engine. They're looking for programs that are fun, easy, and that (once again) put them in control by basing rewards on their individual actions and unique profile histories. In exchange, millennials will share their experiences on social feeds and in reviews, and help to tell the brand story to create greater potential for reaching even more consumers just like them.

Investment in technology and strong relationships with vendors

As consumer profiles and expectations shift, it's important to invest in the right tools and in the right technology partners. Cloud-based tools like ours are designed to seamlessly integrate with a rapidly growing pool of useful applications to evolve a tech platform to meet new challenges. These tools are supported by strong partnerships with vendors like Vivonet to help hospitality brands create a better guest experience and maintain a competitive edge. From there, the ultimate goal of establishing long-term relationships with guests for years to come is more easily accomplished.

Where are you in your process to streamline your tech platform to better serve a new and emerging generation of consumers?

If you haven't already talked to us by now, we'd love to hear your story and see if we can help you meet your goals.

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