Y Me

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The first adjective out of most marketers' mouths about Generation Y is usually savvy. Generation Y's purchasing patterns allow marketers to think that this cohort represents the perfect consumer: a compulsive shopper with few financial responsibilities, an eye for what's new, and a propensity to buy it now (with one of the shiny new credit cards that stuff his wallet). Companies should beware, however--these young adults, born between 1977 and 1994, are slippery. They sucked down computer technology like Good Start formula from the day they were born--for no other generation in history is that true. As toddlers they watched MTV while sitting on their babysitter's lap; as children they searched the Internet for their science projects (and often taught their parents how to do the same); and in their early teens their backpacks had strap pockets for cell phones. By the time they entered junior high, many of them were text messaging under their desks in the same way earlier generations had passed notes (or learned American Sign Language, unbeknownst to the teacher, as one of our editors and her peers did in the sixth grade). Now, as 18- to 29-year-olds out of the nest making their first major purchasing decisions, companies are scrambling to get their heads around what kind of buyers these new media-soaked, tech-rich people make. Although each Gen Yer is different--what does a 26-year-old single mother living in New Jersey have in common with a college freshman rushing a fraternity at USC?--we present some tips to help marketers engage with this consumer group. So Special Marketers are discovering that this media saturation means that it's becoming increasingly difficult to catch a Gen Yer's eye. Researchers say that growing up today, people see 23 million media messages by the age of 21. If you are selling kitchenware, how do you compete with a music video? What could possibly make your marketing stand above 22,999,999 other messages? Along with the visibility problem comes the fact that Gen Yers are sick of being sold to. "We've been targeted by the same packaged messages all our lives," says Andy Polski, a partner at Silverback Marketing, a group that targets Generation Y, and a Yer himself. "We can't relate to marketers who send us packaged messages because they feel that's what our parents grew up on. We just want to be different." As the daughters and sons of the Baby Boomers, Generation Y (sometimes called Echo Boomers) was raised on the mantra you are special,
and they have retained this self-concept through early adulthood. Sometimes criticized for hypersensitivity--this generation saw dodge ball banned in schools--the "special" mentality has shaped them as consumers. Although young adults are, historically, self-absorbed, Gen Yers have an extra solid sense of their individual identity and they resent it when others suggest that they know them better than they know themselves. This self-awareness can be seen in the soaring success of such offerings as iPods and cell phones with personalized ring tones that tap into this generation's desire to be the star of their own show. In light of this characteristic, many marketing campaigns targeted to Yers have flopped by trying to speak to them in "their own language." No one likes being talked down to, and marketers resorting to the use of what they think is popular slang comes off as patronizing. An infamous ad run by hip-hop clothing manufacturer Akademics presented images of half-naked young women on New York City buses with the slogan "Read Books. Get Brain." Get brain is street slang for a sexual act, and while Akademic's marketing team may have thought that this would come across to teens as being in on their joke, many people were offended, city officials were outraged, and the posters were taken down just days after the campaign was launched. "Don't try to be cool," says Carol Martin, principal researcher at RainMaker Thinking. "Frame your message. Be straight and use simple messages that are honest with no hype." She recommends that the message and its delivery method to this group be highly customized. She advises the use of direct marketing over mass marketing in this case, because of its ability to speak to the consumer's individuality. However, because this group is equally wise about email and targeted technologies, this does not mean that Yers will be impressed by a text message that mentions their name. Creativity is key here. To Connect, Go Grassroots and Kill the Hype Many believe that for Gen Y, grassroots is unmistakably the way to go. A word-of-mouth approach, while tougher to monitor, sidesteps the dilemma of how to get a message to penetrate a piece of produced media. "If you enable them to feel like they have discovered your product as opposed to having it pushed upon them--that's much better, and generates a higher level of loyalty and return over the long term," says James Palcynski, author of Marketing to the Campus Crowd. Grassroots marketing can be tricky--a company can't make people talk to each other--but the good news is that the technology is out there for instant, widespread communication, and this generation knows how to use it. There aren't three channels of information out there anymore but thousands, including instant messaging, mobile text messaging, blogging, and social networking sites, to name just a few of the new ways people can share information. And no other cohort is more adept at leveraging these technologies than Gen Y. Instead of a woman telling five girlfriends about a new hair product at lunch, she can send a mass message that will reach practically her entire social group within seconds. A recent report from Forrester Research found that 18- to 26-year-olds spend 28 percent more time online than 27- to 40-year-olds, read blogs twice as often, and are 50 times more likely to instant message. The power of friendship also plays an important role in Yers' lives. Late teens and twentysomethings are notably more receptive to contact that includes friend circles than are the very independent Generation Xers or more family-oriented Boomers. "Growing up with collaborative classrooms and experience on the sports field, friendship groups for them are really important," Martin says. Marketing to Gen Yers means giving them something to talk about, employing tactics that are innovative, fresh, and fun to look at. Because this generation is more likely to congregate in a common location (think: concerts, campuses, bars) a company can actually go to where Yers are. Giveaways and interactive games can be leveraged to get people focused on a brand and talking about it. Subtlety, however, is essential. A good word-of-mouth technique means not beating consumers over the head with messages about the brand. Polski says, "If [your company goes] to an event, don't be the headline sponsor--create something that is going to catch the eye and have them talking about your brand and relating it with being cool and different from anything else." He recommends graffiti paintings, chalking, or even tagging the side of a grain silo as effective. "Everyone's going to pass by it and it's going to create buzz." This style holds true for maintaining Gen Y loyalty as well. Yers are notoriously brand disloyal, and keeping them as return customers can be a challenge. Generating fresh messages and continuously massaging the content to grow with these customers is essential. For example, when Ford Motors started seeing its sales numbers drop in the Gen Y market due to the brand's association with older buyers, the company ran a campaign to get back in touch with the younger crowd. The automaker developed a dirt truck, water truck, and snow truck, each tricked out with special features and functionality to navigate these different terrains, and then took the trucks to a number of sponsored extreme-sports events. The new, interesting vehicles presented to the audiences that Ford coveted created a large buzz and bolstered sales in the younger market. And make note of the vehicles' names--hype-free and with no mention of the Ford brand. This straight-shooting approach tapped into Gen Y's sensibility. The Need for Speed The prevalence of immediate communication devices used by Generation Y might also have influenced, or at least enabled, the impatient nature of the cohort. In a recent 60 Minutes segment examining the instant messaging "craze" (the Tiffany network still skews older and rural, or C and D counties in television demographics lingo), teens reported that they would become annoyed if a response to an instant message wasn't almost immediate. This impatience carries over to Yers' dealings with enterprises. They are comfortable with communication technologies, don't want their hand held through the interaction, and want to get off the phone or computer as quickly as possible. Blade Kotelly, director of automated information solutions provider Intervoice Design Collaborative, says that while older generations look for a high level of customer service, Yers are used to impersonal service through the use of email, Web sites, and ATMs. Understanding how a voice-automated message will work is seldom the problem. Kotelly says, "They don't think that high-touch personal service equals good service for them. They care a lot about efficiency and they kind of trust that the system is going to work. If it doesn't, they'll just send a follow-up email." He also says that Yers pick up systems very quickly. An older person might appreciate the message "Mrs. Johnson, thank you for waiting. What is the expiration date for your credit card? Please enter it at the tone in a month-month, year-year order." A Gen Yer will prefer, "and the expiration date?" You Had Better Keep Up What technological savvy, lots of Internet use, and mass communication boils down to is that this generation is in the know--and what it doesn't know it easily accesses by moving its mouse around and clicking a few times to find out. The sheer volume of content that Gen Y has at its fingertips can be a frightening realization for some companies. Every time Yers make a purchasing decision they can easily and thoroughly access their options online--and they do. If a competitor company has more attractive features in a marketing channel than your company, Yers have no problem jumping to your competitor's brand without a second thought, ditching the relationship you have put time and money into. The answer is to be just as savvy as Yers are. For the most part Echo Boomers are willing to communicate and are comfortable using technology to do so--the best thing to do is reach out to them. Talking to in-house employees in this age bracket can ensure that your tactics are fresh and appropriate. If this isn't possible, Martin recommends creating a virtual Gen Y advisory board by targeting current loyal Gen Y customers and providing incentives for their help in creating well-targeted strategies and in preventing serious missteps. They can also paint a solid picture of themselves that you can use to translate into what their peers might want and need. This is how Jimmy Gambier, a blogger whose Web site bio reads "ideas of a driven young guy living in the suburbs of Seattle," describes himself as a consumer: "I don't really watch the big ads on TV anymore. I spend a lot of time on YouTube and MySpace. I pay attention a lot more to viral marketing. I try to listen to my friends a lot more for stuff. I go online and while online I find stuff that way." Are you listening? Contact Editorial Assistant Jessica Sebor at jsebor@destinationCRM.com. WHAT WORKS {A Select List from Yers} "Captain Morgan gets my attention. At bars on any given night there are always T-shirt giveaways and spokespeople to give out free shots." Caroline, 22 "Apple has done a good job. Everyone has an iPod these days and if you have an iPod you need iTunes, which displays Apple's ads every time I want to play music on my computer." Jonathan, 23 " I just want a company to connect to me on a personal level, something I can relate to my own life, needs, and desires. I'd assume this applies in the same way to people of all ages." Susan, 19 --J.S.
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