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posted: 4/14/2014 5:00 AM

The Millennials are coming. Will we be ready?

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More than preceding generations, maybe even more than the Baby Boomers, Millennials will impact how we manage our businesses.

Now between the ages of 18 and 33 and seemingly everywhere, tethered to mobile devices and a circle of friends who may be anywhere, Millennials are different.

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We should get to know them.

Briefly, Millennials are " ... linked by social media, burdened by debt, distrustful of people, in no rush to marry -- and optimistic about the future," according to a report by the Pew Research Center's Social & Demographic Trends project. (The Pew Research Center is an actually nonpartisan research organization based in Washington, D.C.)

That overview is the easy part.

In its "Millennials in Adulthood" report, released last month, Pew labels the arriving generation "digital natives, the only generation for which ... new technologies are not something they've had to adapt to." Millennials, the report says, have "taken the lead in seizing ... the new platforms of the digital era ... to construct personalized networks of friends, colleagues and affinity groups."

Whether you're selling clothes, cars or professional services, or are challenged to convince a Millennial purchasing manager that your company's widgets meet her company's quality standards, you need to understand the digital world Millennials populate and the devices they use.

Communication still matters, but the tools and the processes have changed. Watch how your kids, or grandkids, connect with their peers.

Other slices of Millennial information from Pew:

• If you want to sell to Millennials, you'll have to work at gaining their trust. Only 19 percent of Millennials say that most people can be trusted.

Social media may be the path: 81 percent of Millennials are on Facebook; 55 percent have posted a selfie (photo they've taken of themselves) on a social media site.

• Financially, Millennials are struggling mightily, burdened by debt and coming of age when the economy seems still weak even on a good day. Millennials, for example, carry record levels of student debt, averaging $27,000. Two decades ago, the average student debt was $15,000.

Millennials are the first generation "in the modern era to have higher levels of student loan debt, poverty and unemployment, and lower levels of wealth and personal income than their two immediate predecessor generations" had at the same life cycle stage.

That may be a big reason Millennials postpone marriage. Only 26 percent of Millennials are married. Median age of the first marriage is 29 for men and 27 for women, Pew says -- the latest age in our times and an issue if your customer is centered on traditional wedding activities and new households.

• There's hope. Pew researchers say Millennials are "the nation's most stubborn economic optimists." More than 80 percent say they either have, or expect to have, the money they need to live the lives they want.

You can find more data, some encouraging and some not, at www.pewsocialtrends.org.

• 2014 Kendall Communications Inc. Follow Jim Kendall on LinkedIn and Twitter and Kendall Communications on Facebook. Jim@kendallcom.com.

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