A few weeks ago I gave a talk to the ice skating industry about reaching, attracting and retaining Millennials. But before we get to that, I offer you an admission guilt: Yes, that is me wearing blue tights with sparklers in my hand when you Google my name.

Because of my figure skating past, I was a natural fit for the event organizers when it came time to talk about Millennials and ice skating. Despite my deep industry expertise, though, it was somewhat difficult to figure out exactly how to convey Millennial values to a niche industry that hasn't changed much in decades. How, I asked myself, could I possibly convey all of this information in a way that could rapidly update such an old fashioned industry?

It turns out that that was the wrong question. The right question was, what is the one question I can ask that will transform the industry's mindset and prepare it for some updated, Millennial thinking?

No matter what industry you're in, that is the golden question for anyone hoping to make a serious mental shift. In fact, if there is one thing that prevents companies from effectively reaching, attracting and retaining Millennials, it is that they fail to change their mindset. Instead, many companies rely on fly-by-night tactics, like "let's advertise on Facebook!" without even realizing why they're pursuing those tactics in the first place.

Most companies can greatly enhance their Millennial marketing efforts by asking (and correctly answering) this one, simple question:

What business are we in?

For decades, businesses defaulted to their industry as the answer to this question. So, to help the ice skating industry change its answer, I put up a slide with a multiple choice question:

What business are you in?

A. Ice Skating

B. Team Sports

C. Facility Management

D. Experience Design

For the audience who had listened to me blather on for nearly forty minutes, the answer was hopefully clear. In fact, it's the same answer no matter what industry you're in: Experience Design.

Whether you manage a figure skating rink or a flower shop, a non-profit or a community bank, you must understand that you're in the experience design business if you want any chance of reaching, attracting and retaining Millennials.

There are obvious reasons for this; for instance, it is well known that Millennials prefer experiences over things. Turn to HGTV and the tiny house movement for proof of this concept. And we know why: Millennials saw the crash of 2008 decimate lifetime savings accounts to historic lows, forcing many people out of their homes and lifestyles.

But, the better reason to accept being in the experience design business is that experiences lend extremely well to additional marketing necessities like affinity, trust, attention and brand evangelization.

For the ice skating rink manager, picture a scenario where the rink transforms for an evening into a gala space for a local non-profit that is particularly aligned to Millennials -- like a local animal shelter, for instance. A partnership like this would produce a memorable experience, which in turn would lead to a natural affinity for the facility. With this affinity, the rink could work with the non-profit to offer special skating classes or one-time discounts, delivered by working with the non-profit to secure attendees' names and emails. In turn, this data could be used over and over again by the rink facility to sell additional ice-related activities.

But even before turning to direct selling, imagine what that data could be used for. For instance, the rink could reach out to those attendees to ask them what their favorite ice skating activities are in the first place. They could use the data to drive Facebook engagement, and use Facebook to construct polls and contests that reveal how the community might want to creatively use the ice skating facility. Managers might even discover new types of classes they hadn't even thought of, or new community partnerships they had never previously considered.

All of these revenue-driving results come from mining data, and there is no better way to ask for a Millennial's data than to first offer a memorable, enjoyable experience that creates affinity.

Of course, this is just one example of how this cycle can work -- but I assure you, if it can work for an outdated industry like ice skating, it can certainly work for your industry, too.

So, the next time you're wondering why you're having trouble marketing to Millennials, remind yourself what business you're really in. Then, design an experience that no Millennial can ever forget.

Just remember to ask your attendees for their email addresses on the way out.

Published on: May 5, 2017
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