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'Getting down' with Gen Y: 10 ways marketers can connect with millennials

11th Jul 2008
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Generation Y represents an important demographic for marketers, yet with a sceptical view of the world they can be a difficult group to market to successfully. Nick Johnson outlines how your marketing can make an impression on the millennials.

Generation Y

By Nick Johnson, Evo Reserch

They are the 'me' generation. Some might consider them the generation that has had it easy; a generation that did not endure the hardships of war the way their Baby Boomer parents did. They’re used to getting what they want, when they want it. They live in a global digital world full of information, high-speed internet, wireless technology, 24/7 connectivity, on-demand capabilities and ever-changing technology.

Their daily doses of technology include their mobile phones (now turned mobile media devices), iPods/mp3s, laptops/computers, Google, YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, Wikipedia, and video games. A nice life if you can get it?

They are Generation Y, also known as 'Gen Y', 'Millennials' or 'Echo Boomers'. Or simply put, the narcissistic generation. As this generation ‘comes of age’, we ask: what do we need to know in order to market to them?

Who are they?

Born between the second half of the 1970s to the first half of the 1990s, Gen Y are extremely friendship-centred and masters of multi-tasking. Being constantly surrounded by stimulation and immersed in instant gratification means that they can simultaneously IM chat with multiple friends while downloading and listening to music whilst talking/texting on their phones. Not only do they do this, but they’ve named it: media snacking. But then it is easy to ‘snack’ when you have all the information they need at their fingertips!

"Gen Y are creating their own messages about brands, companies and products and love the freedom of doing things their way."
Having all these available resources means they are not afraid to voice their opinions (28% are bloggers or vloggers - video bloggers), as they know what they want and rarely settle for less. They are also a socially conscious generation, being the most diverse (1/3 non-caucasian) and racially/culturally/sexually tolerant. A quarter of them come from a single parent household.

They are also sceptical of traditional ways and large institutions, so they take their time to inform themselves – and each other – before making a decision. Whilst this is equally true with traditional marketing, Gen Y are adding their own spin with sites like YouTube and other social networking sites. They are creating their own messages about brands, companies and products and love the freedom of doing things their way.

Why should I care?

So why is this generation so crucial to us today? They are a generation that has yet to live through a recession, to ‘feel the pinch’ and to ‘be careful’ with money. Consequently, the attitude of most Gen Y-ers is 'why wait to buy tomorrow when I can stick it on a credit card today?' Instant gratification frequently translates into instant cash. To marketers, they are walking opportunities.

So how do I engage with them?

So then, you ask, how does a company ‘get down’ with Gen Y? There is no ‘one simple solution’, but below are 10 helpful tips to keep in mind when dealing with this information savvy generation.

  1. Word-of-mouth is the most powerful tool

    This is a generation that places strong emphasis on their friends’ and other people’s opinions and voices. They post eachother's comments on blogs and social networking sites and constantly share stories, funny anecdotes and website links with each other. This is the basis of viral marketing, which can exponentially increase the exposure and influence of a marketing message.

  2. Go where they flock
    Don’t ask them to come to you, go where they hang out and immerse yourself in the platforms in which they spend most of their time. This includes concerts, sports events, movies, video games and video game events, malls and social networking sites. And lately, the mobile web is becoming an important space to enter – answering the call of everything I want when I want it!
  3. Randomness and humour

    Gen Y is all about random happenings, life is seen as one big mass of connected but non-planned happenings. So they see something funny, take a picture with their mobile phones, then share the experience and talk about it for days – just for a laugh. They’re all about keeping the humour going, until the next joke comes along. If you’ve got a campaign that’s random and that tickles the funny bone, chances are it will remain alive and viral through word-of-mouth.

  4. Give them the spotlight

    Let’s face it, this is the time of user-generated content, in which consumers love to express themselves. Nowadays, you can’t meet a Gen Y-er that doesn’t create something and share it with their friends or the world in a digital/virtual way. Some successful marketing campaigns that involved a creative contest include Dorito’s ‘You make it, we play it’ and Axe’s ‘World’s Dirtiest Film’, which incorporated YouTube and other video sharing sites for consumers to promote and enter their creations.

  5. Quality, creativity, and customisation

    As mentioned earlier, they won’t settle for less than the best. They expect things to be of good quality and service, but this is not enough. They also expect creativity. If it is unique, it’s guaranteed to catch their attention, but the ultimate goal is customisation. If there’s a way for them to put in their own creativity or two cents, even customisation to show who they are, it is a sure winner.

  6. When in doubt, incentivise

    Who doesn’t love freebies and discounts? Gen Y-ers are big fans of special deals that make them feel special. After all, they want things to benefit them without any hassles, so discounts and giveaways are key. Moreover, there is a general sense that freebies and trials are to be expected. After all, who wouldn’t want them as a customer and, as free content through online channels increases, there is a sense of ‘why should we pay - if you want us, then persuade us’!

  7. Make it easy and convenient for them

    They are constantly being stimulated by messages and other daily distractions, so make your marketing simple and easy to absorb or participate in – don’t get lost in the white noise of daily life.

  8. Transparency

    Be honest and straightforward about what your company’s mission and goals are and if you run into any mistakes then come clean right away. Gen Y consumers are likely to find out about any small white lies or inconsistencies in your company or campaign anyway, so better that they read about it in your own words! You will increase their respect and trust in this way, and they will remember the next time they come across any associations with your company. After all, everyone makes mistakes, but not everyone tries to hide them!

  9. Don’t try too hard – be yourself

    Yeah, we’ve all heard that one before. But when it comes to Gen Y, make it your marketing motto to 'just be yourself'. Gen Y are one of the most marketing savvy generations to date. Consequently, they're likely to know pretty fast if a company is not being authentic or completely honest. They will also get turned off by marketing that is trying too hard to get their attention or sell to them. When possible, keep it real. Having said that, we can’t all be a YouTube – but even the least glamorous of products/brands will get the message through to Gen Y by ‘not over-doing it’ – if you can be yourself, at least we can respect you!

  10. Don’t tell them, ask them

    The best way to learn about this generation, their desires and ways in which they want to be approached/communicated, is by talking to them directly. Arm yourself with all the points mentioned above, and don’t be afraid to go out and ask them what they are all about. Remember, they’re not considered a narcissistic generation for nothing.

Nick Johnson is CEO of Evo Research.


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