Why Gen Y Doesn’t Matter the Way You Think It Does

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Depending upon what research group you subscribe to the collective members of Gen Y will eclipse the earning power of the Baby Boom generation sometime around 2018.

Gen Y
photo credit: Dell’s Official Flickr Page via photopin cc

This fact has marketers scrambling to figure out how to adapt their messaging and tactics to attract this coming rush and seeming enigma.

The problem with this idea is that there are no hard edges in generational change, so when you flip the switch and start making ads aimed at attracting the “younger generation” you run the risk of coming up lame on multiple fronts.

It’s a tricky thing. When you get it right, you can score big, but when you get it wrong, it’s really, really uncomfortable to watch. Either way, it comes at a cost to brand.

Marketers tend to overgeneralize the significant differences in one generation over another as though there’s some changing of the guard that we need to react to when, in fact, change is evolutionary.

So, the buying and behavioral attitudes of Gen Y consumers matter a bunch, not as a new set of standards to react to, but as a leading indicator of change as a whole.

In other words, marketers don’t need to change their marketing to appeal to Gen Y, they need to change their marketing to appeal to the market evolution as a whole.

While research often reveals that the Gen Y consumer does indeed respond to different messages and modes of communication, it also reveals that most of the market actually prefers these modes once they are exposed to them.

Below are four tendencies preferred by Gen Y consumers that need to inform all of your marketing initiatives going forward – not in an effort to appeal to Gen Y, but as a way to remain relevant to your current market.

User generated trust

A fairly recent Nielsen study revealed, to no one’s surprise, that consumers across all age groups trust a recommendation from a friend 3 to 1 over an ad for a product. But, perhaps more surprising was the fact that in the Gen Y age demographic recommendations from total strangers fared equally well.

We have grown to expect and then trust user-generated content from the companies we buy from. Content, recommendations, testimonials, reviews, ratings and case studies carry more weight than broadcast advertising messages.

Show don’t tell

The meteoric rise of Pinterest pretty much verified the power of visual scanning over reading. Now, this is not a call to jump on Pinterest so much as an acknowledgement of the fact that Gen Y prefers YouTube over reading.

The folks in that generation don’t know of a time without YouTube so why wouldn’t they choose this much more engaging way to learn. All learning (that act of effective marketing is teaching) today should start visually, move to bullet points and only dive into long form text once the appetite and need for deep knowledge exists.

No tolerance for pain

This notion might seem odd as a topic for a marketing article, but stay with me on this.

We as a society have no tolerance for what we might classify as pain and the coming generation has been shielded from it completely. Fewer people make a living doing manual labor, we’re not that burdened by hot and cold weather extremes, we get access to any information with the push of button and heaven forbid we have to wait in line for something.

There’s a fascinating book by Marc Schoen, called Your Survival Instinct Is Killing You, that outlines this idea well, but the real point for marketers is that now boring equals pain, slow equals pain, confusing equals pain, inconvenience equals pain and consumers of all ages no longer have a tolerance for pain.

Brands not branding

I believe that consumers are more attracted to brands than ever, they’re just not that attracted to the act of branding put out by most. Social media has exaggerated this fact. Brands that attempt to brand on Facebook as opposed to doing something so worth talking about that their users brand them on Facebook are losing voice every day.

So, if you can afford to hire James Earl Jones, put him in a tux and broadcast clever ads in prime time, go for it. But, if not, take a hint from Gen Y and do a better job marketing to your existing customers.


Gen Y, Millennials

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