Strategy Session: Maximizing Millennials

Strategy Session: Maximizing Millennials


I was fortunate enough to be invited to the PRO convention in Scottsdale, Arizona, last week. And thanks to the brilliant programming of Mark Leonard and Bill McCurry, I was treated to a very insightful presentation on millennials from Michael Britton, author of YouthNation.

While most of us have been reading about millennials for quite a while, he put a few things in perspective that really jumped out at me. The first is that “the selfie is the new autograph.” I found that to be one of those lightbulb moments: I was thinking about waiting outside of Yankee Stadium with my son to grab Derek Jeter’s autograph, and collecting autographs in a shoebox for all eternity. (For him or for me??)

Today, it’s more important to experience the moment and capture that experience with a picture. The autograph will be in that shoebox forever . . . just like a printed picture. But the selfie of Derek (which was never taken) will be shared and bragged about and liked a thousand times. Sharing and experiencing—all at the same time. Barbara Kinney’s picture here says it all.

Photo by Barbara Kinney

Access vs. Ownership

Britton also talked about the difference in “Access vs. Ownership” for this young generation. My goals in life were to own a car, then own a house and continue to acquire a bunch of other things. Apparently, millennials look at this differently. They don’t want to own a car. They’d rather move into the city and use Uber and not sink their money into the car and insurance payments. Additionally, Rent the Runway offers dresses for rent for an evening affair or for a weekend. Houses are the same way. Why not use Airbnb and live in other people’s houses instead of hotels? They’re a generation who wants to experience, not necessarily own.

So what does this mean to our business? Is it unlikely that someone going on vacation would want to rent a camera for a week rather than buy one to own for a few years? Is it worth it to spend $100 a few times a year rather than $1,000 for a depreciating asset?

I’m not suggesting I agree with the philosophy, but you have to be ready for it. Maybe promoting consumer rentals, with an option to buy, might be a worthy proposition?

Millennials and the On-Demand Economy

Britton also talked about the new “on-demand” economy—created by a generation wanting to use their smartphones to get what they want, when they want it. His example was, where a team can come to your house to do hair, makeup and nails by appointment.

What services can you offer customers that they’re not getting now? Cathi Nelson’s Association of Professional Photo Organizers (APPO) will go to your customers’ homes and organize their years of images. Check out to see how you can integrate their services. Hooking up with local photographers for quick photo shoots (Halloween with the kids?) might be something to think about.
Britton also brought up Warby Parker (eyeglasses) and Zappos (shoes) as success stories based on two attributes that the photo specialty dealer owns—product selection and customer service. This combination, done well, has driven those companies to enormous success. True, much of it is done online, but Warby Parker is now opening retail outlets with a strong brand name and culture that match their online prowess.

My key takeaway from that session was customer service has to be ingrained across your organization—from frontline personnel to back-office staff. It has to come through in everything you do. Cross-platform marketing is also critical. Your website and your physical store should feel like the same place. If they don’t, this generation will notice.

VR and Drones

Two technologies on the horizon that have no upper limit yet are VR (virtual reality) and drones. Again, millennials are about experiences, and VR is the next frontier. The good news is that VR is about imaging—360º or 3D—and it needs to be explained.

If you haven’t looked into VR, then it’s time to do it. And you can’t just put it on the shelf and pat yourself on the back. Make your store a VR Experience store. Let people come in and experience it for themselves. And, at the same time, make sure your staff is totally immersed in the technology. Being on the cusp of new technologies is something camera stores have done for decades. It’s critical to keep relevant to new customers by reinventing your stores as destinations that showcase the most current technologies.

The millennial generation’s buying power cannot be underestimated. But it’s their outlook on culture, consumerism and technology that will dictate retail success for many years to come. It’s worth thinking about what you have to do to adapt.

For more inspiration, check out or pick up his book,
YouthNation: Building Remarkable Brands in a Youth-Driven Culture.