By Hanna Aronovich, CAE, Dental Assisting National Board
In order to sustain their certification programs, certification organizations must be skilled at engaging with certificants and potential certificants across a variety of age groups. One of the most talked about generations is millennials, those born between 1981 and 1996, as defined by Pew Research Center. But Generation Z, those born between 1997 and 2012, have also started grabbing headlines, as they are gaining purchasing power and starting to enter the professional workforce.
So how can certification organizations reach and appeal to young professionals, especially in this era of information overload? The answer is to develop strategic and targeted communication methods ― by understanding where and how to connect with millennials and Gen Z.
1. Start With a Survey
There is considerable secondary research available on millennials and Gen Z, however, each certification organization’s stakeholders may have slightly different needs and communication preferences. Consider surveying certificants, exam candidates and even recent graduates or those who are new to the profession to find out their preferred communication channels and social media platforms. For example, some stakeholders may prefer to receive important updates over text message, instead of mail or email. Or, your audience may be active on Twitter, but not on Instagram. Knowing how your audience likes to receive communications and where they spend their time online can help ensure your organization is using the most effective communication channels. Since technology changes rapidly, it’s wise to repeat the survey at least biennially.
2. Tune in to Social Media
To successfully reach millennials and Gen Z, certification organizations should have a presence on at least one or two social media platforms — or perhaps more, depending on budget and staff. If the resources available to invest in social media are limited, it’s critical to take a thoughtful approach because trends can change quickly. Think about where the greatest impact can be made and build a presence on the one or two platforms that will deliver the most returns.
According to Adobe’s Voices of the Generations report, millennials reported being most active on Facebook (74%), Instagram (56%) and YouTube (48%), while Gen Z was most active on Instagram (73%), Snapchat (63%) and You Tube (62%).
Millennials and Gen Z said they were primarily on social media to “share pictures and updates” followed by “hang out and chat with friends.” Getting advice and expanding their professional networks ranked lower.
While being on the right social media platform is the first step, creating the engaging content is a critical second step. Social media content should be designed to build engagement, rather than simply promote or educate. Use a human and personable tone and look for ways to entertain and connect, not just push out information. Organizations are competing with an abundance of content on social media and need to find ways to stand out. Find ways to bring your brand to life in engaging and meaningful ways for your audience.
3. Leverage Technology to Get Personal
Maximizing the abilities of marketing automation tools can create more relevant messages that drive more meaningful connections. Personalized marketing is nothing new, but millennials and Gen Z expect it. In email marketing, for example, organizations that send out the same message to their entire database are likely to see lower results. Instead, invest in email marketing tools and employ database segmentation to send the right message at the right time. New certificants, for instance, could benefit from a welcome campaign to nurture them through their first year, while longtime certificants might appreciate messages that highlight their longstanding commitment to the profession.
Beyond email, engaging with website visitors who may just be considering certification is an excellent way to grow your audience. Consider retargeting and remarketing efforts through platforms like Google or Facebook to follow up with those who left the site without taking action. Although older generations might consider activities like this as having a high “creep” factor, younger generations have grown up with this type of marketing and are generally comfortable with this level of personalization.
4. Find Meaningful Messages
Millennials and Gen Z are generally strivers, with high expectations and hopes to become their ideal selves. They are motivated to find success in their careers and are looking for the knowledge, experience and credentials to help them get there. They are also very aware that the future is uncertain.
A PwC survey shows that millennials’ view of their careers has been shaped by their experience living through economic downturns and they do not feel strong loyalty toward employers. Millennials expect to change jobs several times throughout their careers. In fact, 38% of millennials who were currently working said they were actively looking for a different role and 43% said they were open to offers. Career progression was cited as a top motivating factor.
Gen Z is also focused on professional growth. An Ernst & Young report shows that Gen Z feels “very or extremely” worried about the future, in particular, having enough money (67%) and getting a good or better job (64%). Similarly, according to a LinkedIn Learning survey, the majority of Gen Z (59%) doesn’t feel their job will exist in the same form 20 years from now.
Gen Z also believes that the skills they need to succeed are rapidly changing, with 62% reporting that “hard skills have changed faster than ever.” This could reflect their motivations to learn. In the same survey, Gen Z cited the top three reasons to learn are to improve at their job, make more money and get promoted.
These results align with the research findings of Knapp & Associates that show the top two reasons millennials and Gen Z would pursue credentials are to earn more money and advance in their careers.
The messages that certification organizations should craft must be practical, authentic and clearly articulate how earning credentials can help young professionals achieve their goals.
5. Consider All Brand Touchpoints
Although marketing and communication activities are important, they are just pieces of the organization’s overall brand. When evaluating how to best serve young professionals, look at every brand touchpoint. Millennials and Gen Z expect are looking for transparency and honesty from organizations. They also expect information to be readily available and responses to be fast.
With this in mind, certification organizations must evaluate everything from their website to customer service operations to the exam application process and recertification, and identify where there could be frustration or friction in the process for young professionals.
Research around voting behavior has shown that younger generations tend to be more easily derailed by obstacles, and it’s likely that this extends into other areas, including earning certification. If the process is burdensome or slow, young professionals may quickly abandon it. By enhancing the brand experience to be responsive and personal, young professionals are more likely to engage and, hopefully, become your best advocates for the next generation.