David Morrison knows about people in their twenties. When a reporter from The New York Times needs an authority on Generation XY, the author of Marketing to the Campus Crowd: Everything You Need to Know to Capture the $200 Billion College Market is their go-to guy. When Fortune 500 corporations such as General Motors, Apple, Coca-Cola, and Sony want to know what the average twentysomething thinks of their consumer products and services, they call Morrison. He's even a consultant to the Navy.
It helps that his 16-year-old Philadelphia-based company, Twentysomething Inc., is aptly named. And that he has an MBA in market strategy and consumer behavior from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
So when Corporate Meetings & Incentives wanted expert advice on how to drive the youngest generation's performance with incentives, we turned to Morrison as the guy who gets inside their heads.
CORPORATE MEETINGS & INCENTIVES: What characteristics of the twentysomething age group might affect what motivates them?
DAVID MORRISON: First, they are highly independent. Money, while important, is not the end-all. It's getting the experience out of life and building their résumé to have job security down the road. It's a chance to see the world and experience its cultures.
This group is extremely diverse. It's a mistake to assume that all individuals in their twenties are the same and think the same. Everything from socioeconomics to ethnicity and politics, this part of Generation XY is one of the most diverse generations in American history.
CMI: Is this group different from previous twentysomething generations?
MORRISON: Without question. This group, you've got to remember, came of age during 9/11. They grew up in the world of Columbine, AIDS, Hurricane Katrina. This is a very tough, gritty generation, one that is very much in survivor mode all the time.
CMI: Are they driven by competition that, for the purpose of what we're talking about, is the foundation of a company's incentive program? Do they compete to sell the most or the fastest? Does that interest them?
MORRISON: Competition definitely plays a role, but over the past 17 years, we've seen that sense of competition shift from being externally driven to being more internally driven. If they have a goal, they force themselves to work harder to accomplish it for themselves as opposed to keeping score against their colleagues to get the corner office or some other perk.
CMI: What kind of incentive destination would appeal to this age group?
MORRISON: This generation was raised first on MTV and then on the Net, so their definition of the world is dramatically different from that of earlier generations. So when they hear, “Hey, we've got a trip to the UK,” or “You're going to go to Venice,” they roll their eyes and go, “Yeah, I was in Venice when I was 5. I was in Venice after college backpacking.”
If we're talking international, the South Pacific rings heavy with this market — Bora Bora, Tahiti, they go crazy on that. A great benefit is that we've got the Caribbean right here. There are places such as the Grenadines that are up-and-coming with really awesome food and undiscovered beaches and everything else. There is so much to choose from between Mexico and the Caribbean
Within an organization, you're probably gonna have people on a similar page. Why not start to craft a couple different incentive trips? That could really be a blast for senior management; they've been on enough golf trips themselves. Instead, why not “Let's take them to Tokyo and have some blowfish?” Or just step outside the ordinary, whether that's a dude ranch or going to Costa Rica and doing an eco-trip.
CMI: In terms of the types of places to go, is this a Ritz-Carlton generation?
MORRISON: Again, it depends on what you're trying to convey. The Ritz-Carlton, that'd be awesome. At the same time, camping at an eco-tourism place could be totally cool, too. This past weekend, I was at the only five-star B&B restaurant in the country in Virginia, of all places — way out in the boonies. Because it was outside of D.C., it was totally different. That's what this market really appreciates first — comfort second.
CMI: Is the public recognition that's characteristic of incentive trips — the award ceremony for example — appealing to this age group, or are they more self-actualized?
MORRISON: They say that they're self-actualized, but at the end of the day, to be able to say, “My boss's boss's boss saw me win an award and get a pat on the back for doing a great job,” means something. If it's a piece of paper without somebody saying, “You did a great job and you deserve it,” it's kind of a hollow victory. But to have the chairman or the president send an e-mail and say, “Congratulations on winning the trip, you really deserve it, and it's great for us and for the company that there are people like you,” is worth its weight in gold. The trip itself or whatever else that incentive's going to be lasts only a certain period of time, and then you're back in the race again. But to have had that personalized letter — that is something that you carry with you forever.
CMI: This generation has grown up almost expecting to be famous, so I would imagine that public approval is very important.
MORRISON: Exactly. The Paris Hilton generation. Not that they deserve, for the most part, to be famous, but especially when recognition is well-deserved, they would like to be embarrassed. It gives them a chance to be humble and play it down, but at the same time, it gives them that much-desired visibility, especially in a larger organization where otherwise they run the risk of becoming lost. And suddenly people can start searching them out and saying, “I have a special project I need a twentysomething for. I see you did great stuff. I want to get you now.” It gets them on the fast track.
CMI: Incentive trips are traditionally all about schmoozing. Does this generation care about the wining and dining that's characteristic of incentive trips?
MORRISON: It does. It's important to think about things like the corporate culture. If it's a more traditional corporate culture, then an incentive trip that is a continuation of that mood may be a bit unsettling. “What do I wear? I'm going to be with the bigger folks, the muckety-mucks, and hanging out with them, yet I still need to be on my game.”
CMI: Many incentive programs are online now, and people can check their progress. Is that connectivity essential for this age group?
MORRISON: I think it's great, and I think it can be taken further because everyone in this market lives with their cell phones. The ability to check it through their screens as well as the ability to get alerts, i.e., “You've become No. 1” or “You were No. 1 and somebody just passed you,” is important. But let them opt in on what information they want to be able to track.
CMI: Are there other techniques that a company can use to appeal to their tech-savviness as they promote their incentive programs?
MORRISON: The ability to customize the trip; for example, to let them vote online for the top five destinations would be one. There could be some low-tech things. Everybody thinks about the twentysomething market as being high-tech, and they are, but good old low-tech can work well. Like do simple table discussions in the company cafeteria in terms of what that incentive is to create more buzz.
CMI: Incentive trips usually have structured activities, such as golf or a spa visit. What activities would this age group prefer?
MORRISON: If it's a woman, the spa could be great. If it's a guy, the spa could be great, too. You don't want to gender stereotype or make assumptions, so it's really important, first and foremost, for the company to get feedback from the winners. You really need to talk to your peeps, for lack of a better word, and see what's going to activate them. If it's another golfing outing, it might make them roll their eyes or make them freak because they don't play golf.
CMI: It's pretty clear that twentysomethings are a little different from other generations.
MORRISON: They largely are, and that's why you get a lot of intergenerational or cross-generational misunderstandings between senior management and the twentysomethings who work for them or alongside them.
CMI: I'm guessing, too, that you have to think of this as more of a Maroon Five generation than a Céline Dion generation.
MORRISON: Exactly! And way beyond that. It could be a Bubba Sparxxx generation. It could be a Who generation. It could be all those things. If you grab an MP3 player, especially from somebody in their twenties, you might have Britney Spears on there with Paris, with The Who, with some underground bands from the '60s, with Elvis.
CMI: And probably a sushi crowd rather than rubber chicken?
MORRISON: Without question. If we're to go to the Midwest, it may be a bit offsetting, but definitely on the coast or in the big cities they want something that's gonna allow them to come back and say, “Man, I just had the most amazing meal. It was so incredible. And the restaurant was written up by Condé Nast Traveler and was on Discovery Channel.” The more you can push that envelope to really create a customized experience, the better.
CMI: Would merchandise like a flat-screen TV or an iPod with an account balance on iTunes be more motivating than a trip?
MORRISON: It can be, or more like an iPhone. This market loves plasma TVs — they can't get enough. Or maybe five tickets to a VIP room at a great club with a bottle of Dom there, and they could bring a couple of their good friends.
Now, that'd be one heck of a night.
For tips on motivating twentysomethings from the co-chairmen of the Young Leaders Program of the Society of Incentive & Travel Executives, click on meetingsnet.com/incentives.