The "Participation Economy": Work with Millennials Just As You Would Market to Them

Franchisees are looking hard at how to recruit and retain Millennial employees. The oldest Millennials are in their mid-30s (born in 1977 and 1978) and have been a part of the workforce for more than a decade. The youngest, though, are still a few years away from working age. The group in the middle (late teens to mid-20s) is the one that many franchise companies have working on their front lines.

So what's the best way to work with this group, which is becoming increasingly more powerful in the workforce? The same way you should market to them: embrace the Millennial-inspired "participation economy."

What is the participation economy?

The participation economy developed because Millennials want to be active participants, not passive consumers. The same goes for how they want to work at franchise companies. To win with this cohort, companies should incorporate participative benefits into their models. The first chart shows how marketers should market to Millennials. The language on the left shows the old model of marketing. It used to work, but it's outdated now. The new marketing model has replaced it. The new marketing model involves engagement, interaction, engaged participants, personal gestures, and active co-creators.

Old Model/ New Model

Keeping these five concepts in mind will help franchisors win with Millennial workers. First, let's continue to dissect the participation economy, which breaks down to include "participation" and "shareworthiness."

What is participation?

Driven by advancements in digital and technology, when it comes to marketing Millennials are practically demanding to be a part of the process. They want to be a part of the process when it comes to their work, too. Franchisors should capitalize on opportunities to include Millennial workers in decision-making.

When Millennials are being marketed to, their participation falls into three types. They want to co-create: 1) the products and services that you sell; 2) the customer journey or the customer experience; and 3) the marketing, which goes beyond social media. Franchisors can consider similar tactics for including their Millennial workers in the process.

What is shareworthy?

Shareworthiness is rooted in Millennials' strong desire for peer affirmation. According to research Barkley did in conjunction with the Boston Consulting Group and SMG, 70 percent of Millennials say they are more excited about decisions they've made when their friends agree with them.

Common roads to shareworthiness include purpose and disruption. Is your franchise causing Millennial workers to pay attention and engage in your brand? Does your company help Millennials feel better about themselves at the end of the day?

Franchises that are getting it right

Dairy Queen is an example of a franchise that is scoring well with encouraging Millennial workers. (Full disclosure: Dairy Queen is a Barkley client.) In March, DQ employee Marissa McGee tweeted that she wasn't looking forward to working on "Free Cone Day." Instead of seeing Marissa as a disgruntled employee, DQ capitalized on this chance to make her have a more enjoyable time at work that day. The @DairyQueen account sent Marissa funny pictures, GIFs, and words of encouragement every hour that she was working. Dairy Queen showed that it was paying attention to its employees and supporting them at the same time.

Dairy Queen tweet

This example involved the main corporate Twitter account, but it could be applied perhaps even more effectively by franchisors that maintain social media accounts at the store or group level.

By interacting with employees through social media, not only can a franchisor demonstrate interest in engaging with employees, it can also help head off any negative posts or comments by workers. A solid social media policy is a great start, but frequent direct interaction can enhance relationships and keep the lines of communication open.

Jeff Fromm is executive vice president at Barklay, a "fiercely independent agency." He is co-author of Marketing to Millennials, lead editor of the blog, and founder of Share.Like.Buy, a conference about marketing to Millennials. Contact him at or 816-423-6195.

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