By Elana Alfred
[Editor’s note: While this post is geared to the JDS world, there are lessons for all organizations.]
Have you ever been in a conversation with someone and called the person a “millennial”? If you have, you may have experienced a less-than-pleasant reaction. The term “millennial” often has a negative connotation – one that indicates selfishness, entitlement, a lack of ownership and responsibility. While this generalization may be true for some of that cohort, being a millennial means so much more.
Technically speaking, millennials are those born from 1981 to 1996, making them between the ages of 22 to 37, according to the Pew Research Center. This generational category has surpassed the number of baby boomers, constituting over 80 million of the US population, of which an estimated 20 million are parents, a number expected to rise to about 60 million in the near future. As this generation becomes parents, it is critical that the Jewish day school field understands how best to market to, communicate with and relate to millenials’ unique characteristics.
In many ways, millennials are just like every other generation of parents; they love their children and would do just about anything for them. But it would be a missed opportunity to ignore key features of this generation and how to capture their attention, as they are and will continue to be our primary marketing target audience. First, let’s start with what is usually the most obvious difference of millennial parents: technology, more specifically social media. Though the oldest of this generation did not grow up with Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, it has become a strong presence in their lives. Conversely, the youngest of millennials have grown up with social media as a staple, as Facebook was founded in 2004 (as was Yelp), Twitter in 2006, and Instagram in 2010. So for those born in the later 90s, social media has been in existence for the better part of their lives.
Parents turn to social media for just about everything, from advice about which diapers to purchase, to finding children’s activities on weekends, and yes, to what school is best for my child. Users of Facebook are constantly looking for recommendations from friends, or seeking out parent groups to search for what complete strangers are saying and suggesting about any given topic or brand. Information, whether good, bad, positive or negative, has never been so easily accessible, and for any brand, it is critical to be strategic as to how best to control the message that your “customers” are sharing.
What does this mean for Jewish day schools? Most importantly, our schools need to be where the parents are, and that is on social media. Once that is accomplished, and for most day schools it has, the presence on any given platform needs to be strong, strategic, consistent and meaningful. Start with one social media tool, for example Facebook, and focus there. What is it that you want to convey to both current and prospective parents? What is it that you want them to feel when they see a post? To get your ideas and thoughts organized, create a monthly social media calendar or plan that will support you in keeping on track.
Then comes the hard part: How can you benefit from the overwhelming power of social media in reaching a large and vast audience? Encourage your current parents, teachers, community members to like and share your posts. Did you know that millennial parents have an average of 500 Facebook friends? Imagine if five parents shared one post from your school. You would reach an estimated 2,500 people – at no cost! As a first step, call on some of your most loyal parents to ask them to be social media ambassadors and use the strength of their social networks.
Millenials’ use of technology extends well beyond social media. Young parents are known to perform extensive online research before making a purchase or big life decision, of which choosing a school for their child is both. This means that a school’s website is usually the first point of contact with a parent, even when you don’t know that they are out there exploring. Your school’s website must share your story concisely and compellingly, be user-friendly and informative, and have a place for parents to take the next step at looking into your school whether it be an inquiry form or noticeable place to request a tour.
As parents continue through the enrollment process, technology allows for ease and efficiency to which millennials have typically grown accustomed. For example, think about creating a video for a virtual tour to get parents excited about your school and what it has to offer. Make your applications accessible online, and be sure that your website is mobile-device friendly. For many young working parents, researching and information gathering happens on-the-go, so make the experience as convenient as possible. It may help to visit other school websites in your area to gather ideas.
Thinking beyond technology, millennials hold some other traits that are useful to understand in our approach to connecting with them. Generally speaking, younger parents more often treat their kids more as equals compared to parents of other generations, with an estimated 74% of millennial parents including their children in making household decisions. Additionally, over the years, data has shown that children are becoming more involved in influencing decisions at a younger age. No longer is it assumed that we are only marketing to parents. The students themselves need to feel a part of the process and enjoy their experiences with the school, because their opinion will matter.
Beyond including their children, there is a major external factor that affects millennials’ purchasing decisions, which is not commonly discussed. According to the Pew Research Center, “Most Millennials came of age and entered the workforce facing the height of an economic recession. As is well documented, many of Millennials’ life choices, future earnings and entrance to adulthood have been shaped by this recession in a way that may not be the case for their younger counterparts. The long-term effects of this ‘slow start’ for Millennials will be a factor in American society for decades.” While the cost of tuition for Jewish day schools is a barrier for parents of any generation, younger parents who felt the burn of the 2008 recession immensely are likely to be more financially weary.
Yes, affordability is a concern across the board, but marketing to parents who typically were becoming financially independent at a time that our economy was struggling adds a new dimension to the challenge. This is also coupled with the fact that research over the years has pointed to a younger generation who is less and less religiously affiliated. Given these two strong obstacles, schools must market more proactively by analyzing new target segments to determine potential for growth; understanding your school’s superior value propositions and creating messaging that speaks to your school’s unique value. This is the time to be thinking more strategically, and to be more proactive and aggressive in sharing who you are and what you offer in educating children.
Every generation has been labeled by certain distinguishing characteristics, often based on global and unifying experiences that define an age group. Millennials are no different. They have been molded particularly by social media, along with other elements. To reach this population, we need to capitalize on these differences and create opportunities. If we are willing to shift or enhance some of our outreach efforts to best suit our customer’s needs, we will see results.
Elana Alfred is Prizmah’s associate director for recruitment and retention. firstname.lastname@example.org