ITB 2024 Special Reporting
Marketing to Generation Y: What You Can't Afford Not to Know.
By Bea Fields.
Thursday, 25th December 2008
We are at a very critical crossroads in our world - Approximately 70 million Baby Boomers (born between 1945-1965) are expected to retire by the year 2012 while 72 million Generation Y  (born between 1977-1990) will fill their roles they have so deftly held in corporations, government, education, business, the field of medicine and a variety of professional and non-professional circles.

What this means is that the purchasing power is going to be largely transferred from Baby Boomers, who are retiring, down to their children and grandchildren. You don't have to look too closely at advertising to know who the cutting edge companies are targeting with their messages . . . Generation Y.

This article will provide you with insight into how to begin reinventing your brand in order to reach this growing demographic of consumers. And . . . in order to know how to reach Generation Y as consumers, you must start by understanding their values and what really makes them tick.

Generation Y's Top Values
First, let's take look at who Gen Y is and what they most value. Generation Y includes the young men and women born between 1977-1990. They have witnessed the unfortunate events of September 11 unfold live, on television and stood by as many of their friends and Gen Y peers were gunned down at Columbine and Virginia Tech.

They were born with a cell phone and a laptop in their crib. To be "plugged in" 24/7 has almost become a natural extension of their being. They have had instant access to every bit of information available to them, have watched wars live and on television and listened in the next room as their dad or mom told a spouse that they had been fired, downsized or laid off.

As a baby boomer, I can tell you that this generation--sometimes called the "Connecteds"--are our own invention. Between all of these events, and our "helicopter parenting", we have raised Gen Y to believe that they can do anything and be anything . . . that the world is their oyster and every oyster contains a perfect pearl. We made their lives easy enough that they now believe they deserve to live first and work second. (How dare them!) So the first thing we have to do is stop being ticked off at our own creation and embrace the brilliance of this Gen Y community.

This is the most optimistic generation to ever walk the face of the planet. They absolutely believe that miracles are possible. They refuse to work a job that does not bring them a sense of joy. They care about the earth and servicing their community. In Gen Y, we have created the possibility for everything that we wanted for the world. So we must stop whining about them being entitled and embrace the power of this generation. Once we do that, we can then begin to take a closer look at who they are, what makes them tick, and what they want from our businesses.

Generation Y places an extremely high value on:

  • Connection
  • Diversity
  • Living first
  • Time with friends
  • Civic activities
  • Taking care of the environment
  • Authenticity
  • Quality
  • Inspirational experiences
  • Access to information
  • Ongoing learning
  • Career development
  • Freedom to travel
Marketing to Gen Y: What You Can't Afford Not to Know
Generation Y. You've heard that they don't watch TV, and you've probably been told that they don't read that much. Your research tells you that you can't target them through MTV anymore, and you certainly can't tell Gen Y what is cool. So how do you reach these 71 million "Millennials" that spend over 200 billion dollars annually and will soon replace the baby boomer generation as the largest percentage of the workforce? The answer is simple--you STOP marketing to them. Let me explain.

Let's look at who has been successful at marketing to Gen Y: Apple, Jet Blue, Trader Joes, Jones Soda, Mountain Dew, and Red Bull, to name a few. How do these companies speak to this demographic? They don't talk down to them. They don't push their brands into their faces. They allow their somewhat quirky, simple, high quality brands AND their raving fan customers to do the job for them. To effectively market to Gen Y, we first have to understand the four areas Gen Y considers before purchasing a product or service:

  • Cheap cost
  • Good quality
  • Fast service
  • An "experience"
When Apple created the 99-cent download that took eight seconds to transact, they hit the nail on the head with Gen Y. Music is an experience, the quality is stellar, the cost is low, and the purchase happens instantly. What did Apple do right? They spoke directly to Gen Y and asked the question: What do you want?

So who gets Gen Y's attention? Living in an age where information is everywhere and where everyone can reach them, the Gen Y community is VERY selective about who they listen to. Just look at their MySpace and Facebook accounts, and you'll recognize that they get their information from one another--NOT from us, and certainly not from the media. And the information they get from each other is not in emails, which most of them don't even touch anymore (I know you probably thought you were being hip with your 100 emails a day!).

They text one another. They IM. They watch each other on YouTube. And sometimes they do all three at the same time! Most importantly, Gen Y does NOT care about what you have to say unless you have been endorsed by their friends. They care about what their community says, and they take each other and their network's recommendations VERY seriously.

So taking that into account, how do you reach them? Well, understand that Gen Y is an "experience" culture. They do not want to be told what to like or what to do. They want to experience the world for themselves and pass their own judgment. They love to be in the trenches of life, and they want to be there with their friends. HERE is where you have to meet them if you want to be taken seriously and respected by this generation enough for them to buy from you:

  • Concerts (Gen Y LOVES live music.)
  • Extreme sporting events (skateboarding, snow boarding, BMX)
  • Movies (mainstream as well as art-house)
  • Hiking events (They love the outdoors)
  • Video games and video game competitions (Cyber Athlete Professional League, GameCaster, Global Gaming League)
  • Mashups (Weather Bonk, Where's Tim Hibbard, Y! Mash, Sims on Stage)
  • Social networking sites (Facebook, MySpace, Second Life, del.icio.us, DIGG)
  • Tattoo parlors (36 percent of them have at least one tattoo)
Before I wrap this up, there is one more major element we need to discuss, and that is how to earn their respect when you are talking with Gen Y: AUTHENTICITY. They don't waste time on people or companies that are not being real with them. Authentic is cool. Authentic is dorky. Authentic is hip. Authentic is truthful. This generation has seen it all, from televised wars to 9-11 to the hanging of Hussein. They know real when they see it, and it takes them all of three seconds to pass that judgment.

So what does all this mean to you? It means that you cannot directly market to them until you buy into them, until you value their perspective on life. So while other experts are out there giving you "tricks" to market to Gen Y, I'm here saying STOP marketing to them and START listening to them. Hang out with them. Experience life with them. Respect them. If you do, their outlook on life will change you. You'll begin to behave differently, take on some new values, and begin to live more yourself. When you do that, you'll find your audience within this generation. Then talking "with" them, not "at" them will sell your business.

The Top Gen Y Brands
Outlaw Consulting published a wonderful report in 2007 with the top 15 most loyal brands, and here is a synopsis of what the company found as the top companies Gen Y is showing its loyalty to (in this order):

  • Apple
  • Trader Joe's
  • Jet Blue
  • In N Out
  • Ben N Jerry's
  • Whole Foods
  • Adidas
  • American Apparel
  • Target
  • H & M
  • Levi's
  • Volkswagen
  • Converse
  • Vitamin Water
  • Red Stripe
According to Outlaw, here's the basic formula for success when marketing to Gen Y:

Clean + Simple= Hip (no fuss, no muss!) It's trendy to be simple and easy!

Quirky, unique and dorky (Jet Blue and Trader Joe's are both known for being one of a kind shops)

Happy employees (people who work at the aforementioned companies say, they LOVE their jobs!)

So . . . there you have it! I have to say, I agree 100 percent with this list. I am a Boomer/Gen X hybrid, and I love these brands too.

Steps to Get You Started
After reading this report, you have probably realized that Generation Y cannot be reached through traditional marketing channels. Direct mail, print ads, and television advertising bounce off these powerful consumers like bullets on Superman's chest. They are impermeable to the marketing messages that appealed to their parents and grandparents.

Generation Y represents a massive group of influencers -- the largest, and the most cutting edge generation in our history. They cut their teeth on technology, grew up with the knowledge they could do anything (because their parents and teachers told them so!), and the desire to make a difference in their world.

So how do you break through this marketing barrier when they can choose their own music without listening to a commercial radio station, can block outsiders from their social circle -- which revolves around cell phones and online networks like www.FaceBook.com and www.MySpace.com -- and only refer to newspapers when they need packing material to move on to their next venue?

In my work with emerging leaders, I've discovered many ways in which marketers have totally missed the mark with Generation Y consumers by not acknowledging their motivators. So let me clue you in to the ways in which you can effectively connect with this growing market of savvy spenders.

1) Respect them as consumers: Members of Generation Y are tech savvy and highly intelligent. Don't talk "at" or "down to" them.

2) Get to know them. Before they will do business with you, Generation Yers want to know that you care enough to find out what makes them tick. But don't rely on the old method of marketing surveys. Get out there and talk to them. Find out how they spend their free time, the music they listen to, and what they eat, wear, read, watch, and drive. You might just be surprised by what you learn!

3) Look cool and hip: As Steve Jobs said about his Apple iBook: "I wanted to make the computer look so cool and so attractive that Generation Y would want to lick the screen." Generation Y will buy based on a sleek, beautiful, cool-looking package. To see what's working, visit www.Apple.com.

4) Be socially responsible: Generation Y is incredibly conscious about social causes including the environment, animal rights, and world hunger. They want to know that your company is aligned with a cause that creates an emotional connection with them.

5) Be real: Young consumers can spot a phony from a mile away. Don't try to talk the talk if you don't speak the language. Be honest and open. Drop the old sales-speak and be sincere when marketing your products and services.

6) Join their networks: Generation Y will not come looking for you. If you want to attract Generation Y, go where they hang out: social networking sites. www.MySpace.com, www.Facebook.com, www.Twitter.com, http://Del.icio.us, and www.SecondLife.com are the hot sites for Generation Y and cost nothing to join. Invest time in reading what they are writing about and getting engaged in an online conversation, and your return will be the knowledge of how to market to them.

7) Take it to the streets: Today's youth love experiences. Promotional stunts, product sampling, and rollouts in a strategically placed venue attract the young urban buyer. They thrive on word of mouth marketing, and street marketing is one of the best ways to create buzz for the young consumer. Today's smart marketers use street teams and event marketing to reach Generation Y. For more information visit www.streetteampromotion.com and www.mryouth.com.

8)Give them a chance to win: Generation Y is wild about winning a contest or receiving a gift, especially if it's meaningful to them, like an iPod, a trip to a national snow boarding competition, or tickets to a hot concert. And you'll always be able to reel them in with great java and food. But one caveat: Generation Yers travel in groups so be sure the gift or prize includes enough spending power for them to bring along their friends.

9) Go viral: www.YouTube.com turned the Internet from an information highway into an entertainment complex without walls. Video (vodcast) and audio (podcasts) bits uploaded to your site can spread across the Internet as Generation Yers share their favorites with their friends, who pass it along to their circle, and so on.

10) Join GenYBuzz.com. One of the best ways to learn how to market to this Generation is to educate yourself, connect with others to gather new ideas and to begin engaging with experts who know the inside and out of this generation. The GenYBuzz.com site can serve as your guide to getting much closer to reaching these new consumers.

Bea Fields is an Executive Coach and the President of Bea Fields Companies, Inc. and the Founder of Five Star Leader Coaching and Training. She specializes in Leadership and Team Coaching for high growth companies, non-profit organizations and medium-sized businesses. bea@fivestarleader.com www.beafields.com

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