Millennials are not to be ignored. Fifteen- to 35-year-olds are the largest generation, and in two years they will outspend baby boomers, according to the Pew Research Center. Business looks bright for those who embrace the millennial culture.
How do you influence the actions of millennials? By being relevant and relatable. Comparing millennials to boomers often evokes negativity and condescension toward youth—a tendency that repeats itself with every generation. In business, one must develop empathy for the customer. That begins by recognizing the events that shape their values.
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001; the collapse of Wall Street; the rising cost of education; and a decreasing number of jobs largely form the palette from which millennials paint. Pew Research Center surveys indicate that interests in religion and military have hit an all-time low, likely because terrorism emphasizes religious conflict and the astronomical cost of war. For millennials, meaningful activities outweigh profit, since high finance equates to corporate greed. Millennials are the most educated generation to date, but they heavily scrutinize the value of highly regarded institutions that ultimately drown students in a sea of debt. Why invest in the future when the promise has defaulted?
Millennials are truth-seekers who value people and purpose over products and profits. They are skeptical of authority, lack patience for bureaucracy, and relate best to peers within an electronic social context. They are not as technologically savvy as they are technologically transparent—mobile devices are extensions of their beings and a seamless means for self-expression to cultivate social circles. Previous generations found like-minded friends locally by wearing sports team jerseys and rock band T-shirts. Today, we broadcast “likes” globally on social media and instantly engage with respondents. Millennials are consequently the most socially connected and diverse generation.
To reach them, virtually all advertising should be mobile friendly and channeled through social media, conveying socially responsible brand messages over capitalistic promotional jargon. Yesterday’s campaigns no longer cut it. Aviation is fun, but “fun” and “adventure” are not millennial buzzwords—they are assumed. A pilot and technician shortage should be a draw, but millennials have been burned repeatedly by false hopes. However, the themes of personal development and changing the world remain lures.
While every generalization has exceptions, aviation is rooted in culture and traditions that are losing relevance. We can turn this around by loosening some strings. Innovation must eclipse nostalgia; and airline seniority systems, workplace hierarchies, and even uniforms should make way for independent identities and individual achievements.
We often gauge industry health by counting aircraft owners. However, millennials favor renting homes over buying, and they ultimately prioritize experiences over possessions. Trying to increase airplane ownership is counter-intuitive to generational evolution since material satisfaction has been replaced by the fluidity of less being more. Therefore, innovative aircraft rental options are more likely to succeed.
Perhaps the greatest challenge is the flight training model. Homegrown schools are not providing the most efficient path to the commercial cockpit, and this is apparent to both millennials and their future employers. With career pilots mostly pursuing four-year college degrees, local flight schools that market exclusively to those who will fly recreationally or work in some general aviation capacity (medevac, tourism, agriculture, et cetera) may have the best chance of survival. Aviators represent less than 0.2 percent of the national population, and there are enough deep pockets among the remaining 99.8 percent to fill spots at the most deserving flight schools. Since millennials are frugal, the cost-effective, weather-independent, video-game format of simulators will be an incentive rather than a compromise, which also invites a new model of off-airport flight training within city centers.
The benefits of aviation must be touted well beyond the airport. Flight training is not just the means to a certificate or even a career. Rather, it is a means toward everything—including college admission. GA cockpits are under-rated classrooms for most school subjects, and they provide a skill set that serves growing humanitarian and economic needs worldwide.
The most effective way to attract millennial customers may be to hire millennial employees. The silent generation worked hard to support their families, while baby boomers work long hours to advance their careers. Millennials work comfortably and view going to work as a results-oriented endeavor, rather than a location-based or punch clock activity. They work 24/7 when motivated by the larger vision, and they constantly promote their every effort on behalf of your brand to peers around the corner and across the globe.
Saving aviation is every pilot’s mandate. For expenses to diminish, growing the pilot population will create the greatest leverage. Rather than repeatedly trying to bring the public to the airport, take a strong “STEM in the cockpit” (science, technology, engineering, and math) message to local schools and community events. Since millennials relate to people more than products, pilots are more influential than airplanes.
Aviation offers at least one innate attribute that beats with the millennial heart: the desire to control the outcome of an experience. Millennials embrace interactivity and the ability to navigate more than anything else. Video games have eclipsed cinema; streaming single songs overshadows purchasing full-length albums. Aviation provides that freedom and control, but to sell this to millennials, we must first paint that big picture before laying out the rigid steps to getting there.
Ravi “The Raviator” Hutheesing is a motivational speaker, pilot, and musician. See his website.