How to Successfully Engage Millennials Using Incubation Labs

Posted by Sarah Clark on November 30, 2015


It’s been a long time coming, but 2015 is the year Millennials will officially surpass the Baby Boomers to become the largest living generation. This has far-reaching implications for a range of industries — but none more so than marketing.

More and more brands are asking, “How do we engage with the Millennial generation?” However, few are coming up with a definitive answer.

That’s because Millennials are redefining how they wield their purchasing power. The ways in which they engage with brands and the economy as a whole are very different from how their parents and grandparents did, and that throws a wrench in things. Older generations were eager to meet major life milestones like getting married, buying homes, and having children, but most Millennials are turned off by traditionalism.

Brands that hope to target this generation’s new approach to consumerism must understand what Millennials are truly looking for: novelty, connection, and a way to stand out from the pack. And one of the best ways to get a grasp on these concepts is to get involved with incubation labs.

Millennial Engagement Starts on the Inside

You’re always looking for new ways to surprise and delight your audience. By developing an internal incubation lab, you can experiment with new ideas and develop products and processes that will allow your company to survive and thrive for years to come.

Just last year, Microsoft’s internal incubation lab produced 16 new apps — three of which are just for Android. Similarly, there’s a wave of incubation labs cropping up across Africa, providing entrepreneurs with resources, training, and space to cultivate both their high- and low-tech ideas.

If you play your cards right, building an internal incubation lab can result in truly groundbreaking ideas. By getting involved on the ground floor, you’ll be positioned to sow the seeds of innovation, contribute to the growth of the economy, advance the entrepreneurial space, and engage your audiences.

You can start by leveraging your Millennial workers with task force groups, advisory councils, etc. Eighty-eight percent of Millennials prefer collaborative work cultures to competitive ones, so they’ll appreciate the incubation lab process. And by investing your time in understanding and engaging internal Millennials, you’ll better understand those on the outside, too.

Millennial consumers also want to feel as though their opinions matter to companies. In fact, 40 percent of Millennials report a desire to “co-create” with companies — which can come to fruition if you earmark some of your profits for supporting innovation and positive change in the form of incubation labs.

Jump-Starting Your Involvement

Despite the benefits, many companies don’t get involved in incubation labs simply because they don’t know where to start.

One possibility is to look to entrepreneurs for support, and another is to get involved with other incubation labs. While both can yield decent results, I recommend starting one internally to really capitalize on the rich vein of benefits incubation labs have to offer. You can use your internal incubation lab to test new products and creative communications on real consumers.

For example, the publishing house Houghton Mifflin Harcourt recently launched an internal incubation lab in Boston. The company’s developers plan to test new technologies to increase its “market-leading content.”

One of the largest U.S. power generators, Exelon, is also testing the incubation waters. “We started a methodology to programmatically capture the great ideas from our 29,000 employees, vet those ideas, figure out how they should be funded, and create intrapreneurs that way,” said Mike Smith, vice president Constellation Technology Ventures at Exelon.

Where to Start

You'll first need to attract members of your target audience — whether that’s middle-aged moms, Millennials, or preschoolers — to fill up your spaces. Then, begin engaging with them, making sure to keep their personal preferences in mind. For instance, Millennials love fast-paced, new technology, but they’re still heavily drawn to analogue experiences: books, jewelry, crafts, and other real-world objects.

Getting involved with incubation labs is, in a sense, an unorthodox way of engaging with Millennials. Start small, try this idea yourself, and see where it leads. By flinging your incubator’s doors wide open, you’ll have the greatest chance of uncovering a gold mine of innovation.

Topics: Innovation, Insights