Jun 10, 2016 / by Channing Muller

Who is the typical “decision maker”? The ever-prized, often missing, key to a business’s or campaign’s success. The answer really depends on the maturity of the industry that you target — the real question is how do you find them and when you do, what will keep their attention?

According to a 2013 study by ThinkGoogle, the average consumer consults 12 sources before making a purchasing decision.

What content can you create that will become one of those 12, and how can you make sure your product or service is the end result? We’ll tell you.

The International Association of Business Communicators World Conference took place this week in New Orleans with a keynote presentation from thought leader Seth Mattison, founder of research firm FutureSight Labs which has been studying generational differences between the societal rules that influence how professionals act in the workplace.

The study looked at the different networking and communication models between baby boomers and Gen Y, who grew up with the ‘hierarchy’ value model, and millennials and Gen Z who have created the ‘networking’ model.

The Hierarchy Model


The hierarchal model is centered around the organizational chart and unwritten rules of society from the 1920s through 1970s. Information at that time was a one-way direction – top down. Beginning with the family structure, the original organizational chart, Mattison called out the innate rules of human behavior that affected how these generations grew up communicating.

Rule 1: It’s my way or the highway, no questions asked.

This may have been true of baby boomers but millennials have grown up in a world where they are part of the decisions made in the household. Fast forward 20 years and millennials are more technologically- skilled workers and communicators entering the workplace. If they don’t know how do something they can look up a YouTube video and learn, often from a peer rather than a mentor. The world they’ve grown up in is that of the Information Age. It’s accessible everywhere and transparency is key.

Rule 2: Children are meant to be seen and not heard.

This holds true for new employees and post-college graduates entering the workforce. The thought process is this:

  • Get a job
  • Do what is asked of you
  • Never question authority
  • 5-10 years down the line you’ll be rewarded with a promotion, then you can start to express your point of view. Until then, no one cares.

This “paying your dues” attitude has a direct effect on the way the generations studied act and communicate. Feature senior leaders from your target industry in your content marketing to build awareness of your brand and association to respected influencers.


The Networking Model

Millennials and Generation Z are the fastest growing population group since the post-war baby boom of the 1940s, and 50s. These generations have also flipped the hierarchy model on its head.

This new approach to communication is exemplified by two new keys:

1. Unprecedented Access.

Younger demographic grew up in the information age and have brought that innate sense of accessibility to information into the workplace. This opens the door for any brand to position itself as a thought leader. The key: sharing what you know and sharing it often.

“Brands that are the most powerful today, give away information,” said Mattison.

2. Exponential reach.

Today, anyone with a computer, phone, or YouTube channel can be a media source. This is exemplified in the rise of bloggers, influencers, and viral videos. In the hierarchal model, a one-way stream of communication, the ideas and decisions came from the people at the top with the most experience. The networking model challenges this with ideas from anyone with an internet connection.

When prospecting an organization don’t discount younger team members. Their influence may be greater than their job description implies. Provide insights that can help this generation of team members sell ideas vertically and laterally through the organization.

What This Means for the Future of Communications


As communicators, it’s up to you to bridge the gap between these two models. By better understanding what motivates each of these generations in work, you can target your messages to each more effectively.

“This isn’t about changing for millennials but the reality of the tension points between the hierarchy and the network worlds,” said Mattison. “It’s about how you can change and shape stories that influence culture since the world we are entering is one that is based around the network.”

Whether selling a product or service or controlling a potential crisis, more information and transparency is key. It’s what today’s decision makers, no matter their generation, expect and anything less will open your brand to scrutiny.

“Past experience is no longer a guaranteed predictor of future success – especially in communications, marketing and branding,” said Mattison. “[As communicators] you’re on the front lines and your industry is changing. We’ll see more change in next five years than we did in last 50.”


Image via Pixabay: 1, 2

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About Channing Muller

A New Orleans native and Washington D.C. resident, Channing has more than 10 years experience in all areas of the communications field including advertising, reporting and editing, and public relations. She is the Director, Marketing – Canada and North American Operations at Cision. When not crafting marketing campaigns, she's an avid event-goer and reporter in the District. Follow her exploits on Twitter and Instagram @ChanningMuller or @DCMCommLLC