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GLOBAL 2016: Recruitment of talented individuals critical for future B2B brand success

Requires insight about millennials’ social values and work priorities
Recruiting and retaining talent is a central challenge for business-to-business brands, especially as they appeal to potential employees born in the final two decades of the twentieth century, who today are entering the job market or moving into management positions for the first time: the millennials.
There are currently about 75 million members of this generation in the U.S. alone, according to U.S. government statistics, making millennials America’s largest generation, having just surpassed the baby boomers, who are now in middle age or transitioning into retirement and opening up job opportunities for younger workers.
The term “generation gap” described the sharp wedge of social attitudes and behavior with which boomers asserted their independence and separate identity. The millennial coming of age, if less radical, is also disruptive. Millennials do not reject the existing order, but they assert a particular reformist vision powered with the communication tools of a connected world.
Millennials are not fond of borders. They affirm absolute social equality across all designations, including race, religion, nationality, sex and gender. They balance their individualism and entrepreneurialism with a commitment to communal well-being. For millennials, the earth is a sanctuary for all the earth’s inhabitants to share, enjoy and protect. They want to live well, but on their own terms.
Millennials express these attitudes in the marketplace. They have nudged beer drinking to craft brands, car ownership to car sharing, fast food to healthier options, luxury to more playful colors, apparel to fast fashion, banking to mobile payments, and personal care to more diverse views of beauty.
Seeking meaning in work
Millennials also express their attitudes in the workplace. The boomers viewed employment as an aspect of their quest for self-fulfillment. The previous generation, the boomers’ parents, acted more practically, coming of age during the Depression, when work, if available, implied a lifelong contract. Millennials typically look for work that has personal meaning, with companies that advance – or at least do not contradict – their concerns about social welfare, the environment and other issues. Like the generations that preceded them, millennials seek career advancement, but they resist time commitments that intrude too much on the rest of life. Technology is a popular employment destination for millennials, especially brands they view as innovative and mission driven that look to improve the world while making a profit from their good works.
The impact of millennials is a global phenomenon. The gap between millennials and prior generations may be widest in countries like China and India because of the sharp difference in life experience between parents who grew up in more traditional societies and aspired to a good life, and children, many of whom grew up living only the good life.
While generalizing about any generation is hazardous, research indicates that millennials present employers with many specific challenges. Millennials are more transient than earlier generations. In a global research study by Millward Brown, two-thirds of millennials expected to leave their current job within five years. The disruption caused by this churn – the loss of valuable experience and the constant need to invest in training – point to the importance of inspiring loyalty.
The research study found that salary was the top requirement for job satisfaction. But salary is a basic hygiene factor. Much more revealing were the three factors that followed, in priority order: work-life balance, opportunities to progress and flexible working hours. In addition, there was a correlation between loyalty to the company and a belief that the company had a purpose or stood for something meaningful.
LinkedIn, the B2B social network, discovered similar results in a survey of 10,500 LinkedIn members worldwide. People said compensation was important, but it was not the most important factor when deciding to leave a job or accept a new one. Rather, people named career opportunity as the key motivator in switching jobs. Half of the millennials studied, compared with 28 percent of the baby boomers, expressed concern about limited advancement opportunities. Similarly, 43 percent of millennials, compared with 22 percent of baby boomers, said they sought more challenging work.
Providing opportunity is key, but as a recruitment advantage in a competitive marketplace, opportunity can be strengthened when paired with purpose. Companies that are innovative, or seen as setting trends, seem to have a greater depth of purpose, according to BrandZ™ research. That purpose influences how people feel about the brand and, as it relates to employment, how effectively a brand can recruit and retain talented young people.
Communicate the brand emotionally
Human resource departments typically focus on the functional aspects of employment, such as compensation, health benefits or vacation days, but emotional components are especially relevant when appealing to millennials. Many of the leading B2B technology brands, renowned for rationality and scientific expertise, have begun to communicate more emotively.
IBM has explained the potential of its complicated shift to cloud computing and artificial intelligence by “humanizing” the computing power with the robot Watson as spokesperson. In one commercial, Watson sits in a circle with other robots, attending a group therapy session conducted by Carrie Fisher, the only human in the room. A General Electric commercial features a conversation among millennial programmers comparing their new jobs. A young man boasts about the apps he created with animals wearing funny hats. His friend describes how, working at GE, he can make hospitals more efficient. The commercial notes that an industrial company also can be a digital company; it ends with the tagline: “Get yourself a world-changing job.”
In these examples, 105-year-old IBM and 124-year-old GE, which includes Thomas Edison among its founders, relate as if they are millennial-generation brands like Apple or Google. HP takes a similar approach in an ad campaign about reinvention. A commercial tied in with Star Wars features a young man creating a C-3PO robot in his family’s garage and having the robot deliver two Star Wars movie tickets to a surprised and impressed young woman. The commercial is titled “Reinvent Romance.”
The voices of iconic B2B and B2C technology brands resonate emotionally in part because both are increasingly targeting the same prospective customers and employees. For the B2C brands that create ecosystems intended to captivate customers with frictionless experience, emotional communication seems natural; for B2B brands it is a step change.
Emotion also can be an important differentiator. When choosing technology vendors, IT directors typically consider only a few peer brands with comparable reputations for functionality and service. If a rational assessment of the options does not yield a clear choice, the emotional appeal of the brand becomes decisive. A strong brand adds implicit reassurance. In a similar way, when competing for talent, the brand, and everything the brand signifies, differentiates the company and increases its appeal.
What the brand signifies depends in part on how the brand is communicated, especially when competing for talent against B2C brands, which are faster growing and more volatile.
B2B brands tend to be more stable. The 2016 BrandZ™ Top 20 B2B brands have not changed from the BrandZ™ B2B Top 20 a year ago. In contrast, only 16 of the 2016 BrandZ™ B2C brands appeared in the 2015 B2C Top 20. The stability of B2B brands could suggest they are less innovative than B2C brands. Stability also represents commitment and long-term purpose, characteristics that appeal to millennials.
Walk the talk
Even the most emotional and well-crafted message, broadcast across all relevant social media, is insufficient, and probably a waste of resources, if the actions belie the words. The need to walk the talk is especially relevant in financial services, where banks need to attract more millennial customers and employees. It is a virtuous circle.
As wealthier clients age, banks need to attract younger customers with years of wealth accumulation still ahead of them. Appealing to these customers depends to a degree on also recruiting younger staff to which they can relate more naturally. However, bank efforts to recruit millennials are hindered by bank reputation problems, a hangover from the global financial crisis, but also the result of more recent, well-publicized regulatory misbehavior. In addition, financial technology competitors attract millennials with mobile banking options.
Many bank brands understand the challenges. They are both improving or acquiring technology. And they are initiating programs that match millennial career goals and social values. Citi introduced several options to better match the needs of young people seeking to balance career advancement with social-action priorities and other interests. One program provides an opportunity to take a year off to pursue charitable endeavors. Another program enables young employees to spend a month in Kenya working on microfinance projects.
J.P. Morgan allows young workers to spend a portion of their time helping nonprofits. Barclays developed a program called LifeSkills, an online resource for helping young people gain the practical knowledge needed for success in the workplace. Goldman Sachs changed the tasks assigned to new bankers to make the work more varied and interesting. ING Bank’s “Think Forward” strategy emphasizes the need for its bankers to be honest, responsible and prudent to make things happen and help others succeed.
The impact of millennials
The increasing presence of millennials in management positions raises questions about how companies may change with their influence and leadership. BrandZ™ research compared the business priorities of millennials with what millennials perceived to be the priorities of the current management. Both millennials and current management assigned priority to factors such as efficiency, ensuring the long-term future of the company, continuous professional improvement, and making the best possible products.
However, millennials said that they would also assign priority to two other objectives: creating services and goods that make positive differences to people’s lives, and creating jobs. Millennials also said it was important to increase workforce skills and to make the company the best possible place to work.
Millennials take their values with them into the boardroom, according to BrandZ™ findings that suggest millennials are more likely to make decisions based on personal values. Perhaps because of their concern with purpose and their more balanced, less careerist attitude toward the workplace, millennials might be more emboldened than prior generations “to do the right thing.”