Unraveling Gen Y

I have been actively reading up on marketing to the Gen Y or the Millenials. As a generation whose oldest age group is 31 years, i.e. born in 1980 they have witnessed events that have altered the course of history. The Gulf War, 9/11, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and two economic recessions- the Internet bubble in 2000 and the other, most recently in 2008. They have also grown up in the digital era, and many of them, born in the 1990s, are digital natives. Their behavior has naturally been shaped by these events and more importantly, by the instant access to information at their fingertips.

Some key insights I gleaned from researching on this generation include them being more interested and active in working towards building their savings – average age when Gen Y begins investing is 21. They are socially mindful – this generation attaches particular attention to causes and tends to prefer brands that support meaningful causes when price and quality are equal. They value truthfulness in advertising – bombarded by constant messages from marketers they have high selective perception and getting their attention span, as limited as it maybe, needs efforts that go beyond simply one-to-many mass advertising simply extolling brands. And while they are brand aware and willing to engage with the brands on social media, they are also most likely to switch brands if they were to get better value.

A recent survey by L2 shows that most of the Gen Y projected to be affluents with an income of $100K in the short-term connect with brands on social media to receive coupons and promotions. This maybe partly because this group is projected affluents, i.e. they are currently not earning an income of $100K. However, with the growing popularity of Groupon this cohort is used to finding deals that also help them discover new activities and places and are more prone to choose one product/service over another for a better value. An e-Marketer study although, shows that the affluents connect with brands because of the brand affinity, not gimmicks and offers. Affluents need to see a consistent message that makes following a brand meaningful for self-expression, just like when buying a brand in real life. But even the L2 study had brand affinity as the second most important reason to connect with the brand on social media.

Engaging this generation requires stepping outside the conventional advertising and supplementing it with more personal one-to-one interaction in a manner that speaks to them and not markets to them. Social content is an important reason for Gen Y consumers to remain connected to the brand online. They look for transparency in communication and feel entitled to brand ownership. The VitaminWater flavor generator/creator lab on Facebook is an example of co-creation where consumers partook in shaping the product they believed they wanted. Not only this encouraged interaction it also gave the consumers an insiders’ view of how their favorite drink is created. Content as a driver of conversation is important and Old Spice campaign is one of the most well-executed examples of connecting and changing brand perception. The campaign began reversing Old Spice’s body wash share losses as soon as it started (AdAge).

This is a very fickle generation and very tough to reach without creating a two-way communication. In the words of Marshall McLuhan “Medium is the message” holds more true than ever when connecting to the Gen Y. Social media is only one of the ways albeit an important one. It’s not what they can do for your brand but what can the brand do for these highly connected, peer reliant, recommendation based, value-driven consumers?

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