UW E-Business Consortium at a Glance

Two weeks ago I attend the one-day conference “Best Practices and Emerging Technologies” put on by the UW E-Business Consortium. I have attended this annual event for several years and enjoy the fact that it cuts across technology, customer service, marketing and supply chain disciplines.


It was a treat to hear two inspiring keynote sessions, one from a London-based futurist and the other from lead engineer for the Mars Rover Curiosity.

A key takeaway from the conference was the continuing and varied influence of millennials on business. Here are a few points that stayed with me:

  • McDonald’s corp opened offices in downtown Chicago, Silicon Valley and India for the sole purpose of attracting the young talent they needed to move information technology, marketing and related functions into the digital world. At that point, they changed from a very traditional dress policy to no dress policy.
  • As discussed in an earlier post, your smartphone home screen is your new inbox. I am increasingly finding others contacting me via multiple channels (LinkedIn messages, text messages, Skype, Yammer, Slack, Spark, etc.) and with invitations to connect on social media (Twitter and others).
  • Presentation styles have evolved to a TedEx-like standard (tell me a short and concise story). One outcome is that sometimes the younger speakers are often better than those more steeped in the traditional style of yesterday.
  • Both speaker and attendee attire at business meetings has shifted away from the old norm of business wear or business casual. The new norm is to wear to a conference whatever style you wear to work, whether that is company logo wear (think Harley Davidson), fancy jeans/shirts/stylish jackets, golf club wear or traditional business attire. Anything goes…regardless of age or rank.

Another interesting topic was the role of emotion and empathy as part of the product experience. Companies that can understand, appreciate and create an emotional connection with their target audience will win in the marketplace. Making an emotional connection to your user applies whether you are clicking on your phone, at an event, or at a business meeting. Additional resources:

I’m already looking forward to next year.

Millennials’ Consumer Behavior

legs-407196_640My early 20s consumer behavior was mall-based at large national retailers, such as Gap, American Eagle, Barnes & Noble, Best Buy and others. Our generation didn’t have large quantities of belongings, mostly just basics like bookcases, stereo systems, hand-me-down furniture, desks and the like. Moving to school or changing apartments was accomplished in an afternoon with group of friends and their trucks, fortified with beer and pizza. Simple times.

Now, we have easy access to a ridiculous array of items 24/7/365. We’re all aware how Amazon has evolved from a bookselling to basically a cyber über-mall, but have you heard of or used the delivery services PostMates or InstaCart? What about transportation options like Zipcar or Lyft?

On a recent trip to Portland, Oregon, I went shopping for a few hours with my college-aged daughter. This experience confirmed an observation I’ve had over the past few months: we now have a very powerful generation of consumers who are ramping up their aggregate purchasing power. Their shopping choices are influenced by online research and access to current styles and trends in addition to real-time friends’ opinions via social media (no trip to a dressing room is complete without feedback from a friend via Snapchat).

Beyond these influences, I picked up on a theme that I am calling, “What Really Matters to me?” The answer can fit one of three categories:

  • Edited. What are the essential items that I use and enjoy? This may include a water bottle, coffee travel mug, essential electronic device and headphones or perhaps a special find from travel (scarf/shawl, sweater or photo).
  • Curated. Given all of the options, what high quality items do I feel passionate about to the point I am willing to pay more for them than for other products in the same category? What do these express about who I am? Think Longchamp bags, Tiffany jewelry, Ray-Ban sunglasses, Beats headphones and other premium items.
  • Signature. What items speak to who I am and the image I want to portray? It could be flannel shirts, hats or self-designed t-shirts. Multiple bracelets. A disposition towards specific footwear (Toms, Chuck Taylors or boots). Perhaps these items make a statement about your politics or sense of humor or favorite sport, band or hobby.

Everyone owns products from Target, Old Navy, and other mass retailers. What I’m getting at here is there is room (and growth) in the marketplace for stores and their products that are typically high design and high functionality—and these tend to fall in the Edited, Curated or Signature bucket.

Feeling like you need to add some Edited, Curated or Signature items to your collection? Check out these tempting sources:

  • Madewell—casual and cool clothes (a J. Crew brand)
  • Timbuk2—messenger bags from a San Fran start-up founded by a bike messenger
  • Canoe—beauty meets function in everyday items
  • Snow Peak—outdoor lifestyle goods
  • Bridge & Burn— functional, west-coast clothing, home goods and accessories
  • Urbanears—affordable, high performance headphones

The ultimate example is Sid Mashburn—I think he was born with style. Going well beyond clothes and shopping, it’s an experience.

Learn more about Millennial consumers:

They’re Here

It’s difficult to overstate the impact of millennials in the workplace. An interesting tension has developed as they have become the largest working generation, but their power is tempered by the fact that many organizations are led by their baby boomer predecessors. In roughly ten years, however, millenials will be taking the helm in droves. How differences in work styles, lifestyles and values are respected (or not respected) will shape the future of business.

startup-593341_640If you’ve ever found yourself questioning the work ethic of millenials or simply not understanding how and why they do what they do, take a gander at Why Millennials Understand the Future of Work Better Than Anyone Else. Maybe you’ll come to appreciate that, “…millennials are perfectly positioned to create the sustainable independent work economy that we—and they—need.”

If you haven’t done so already, getting up to speed on the nature and traits of millennial employees should be a priority for any leader. The payoff will be not only be easing the transition, but also maximizing the talents of this unique group.

Additional resources: