Is There Gen Y in Your Future?

Younger generations, AKA the future, have long captured the attention of smart marketers for exactly that reason: they're on the verge of incomes and life-stage needs that render them the powerhouse consumer segment for most products and services. 

Today's young generation, Gen Y, is all that, and then some. In addition to the promise they hold for the future, they're also today's most influential consumer group. Why?

  • Their fluency with technology puts them in the early-adopter category compared to other generations; they foreshadow what consumers will want and how they'll want to buy it.
  • They're resilient and optimistic shoppers. Young people, who have known only a life of splendid innovation and the life-improving qualities of "new" are enthusiastic consumers. Their shorter attention spans have made them eager for the latest -- which results in lots of apparel and technology turnover. And their self-confidence and affluence (relative to previous generations) fortifies their optimism in spending.
  • They're influencers. They have unprecedented power over their parents' and peers' purchases by virtue of today's more egalitarian households and their ability to connect with others
  • There are a lot of them; at 84 million they're the largest segment of the U.S. population. Already, households with a Gen Y member account for 37 percent of U.S. spending and 31 percent of shopping trips, and they spend 15 percent more than other households.

4 Principles of Savvy Gen Y Marketing
Marketing effectively to Generation Y means a commitment to four things: seek understanding beyond analytics, encourage their participation, employ visual communication, and make use of cutting-edge technology.

1.Get to know them, truly and deeply, with an empathic rather than a simply analytical stance. They're the product of parents who have never been more child-centric, an educational system that's more focused on the self-esteem of students, and a society obsessed with youth.

They are, in short, a generation accustomed to being recognized and valued. While marketers have long been moving toward a more consumer-centric mentality, effectively reaching this generation means taking that concept to new heights.

2. Engage them in every aspect of your product from design to communication. Though Gen Y has high expectations when it comes to your attention, and exacting standards in the products and brands they choose, getting close to Gen Y isn't like courting an aloof and distant queen. They want you, too. In fact, they're eager to participate and more interested in collaboration than servitude. They want more than your products; they want your respect and they want to be rewarded for their attention.Consider things like voluntary advisory boards of brand enthusiasts who are willing to supply instant feedback on things like product modifications or usage insights that can inspire marketing communications. Facebook fan pages and Twitter updates should include special offers and inside information -- these things help Gen Y consumers feel in the know and therefore ultra close to the brand. And introduce online features that allow consumers to customize products, coordinate outfits, develop communication and otherwise use their creativity to showcase their personality. 

3. Communicate Gen Y style and make it visual, keep it real, and use a multitude of messaging opportunities.

Young people today are visually oriented and easily bored. Imagery, symbols, messaging tone and visual cues are more important than ever.  Gen Yers process information about your brand as much, or more, on an emotional, associative level than they do on content or through reasoning.

For example, a brand can communicate trustworthiness and responsibility by associating with environmental causes more effectively than through a multi-million dollar ad campaign touting responsibility -- even if there are data to support that claim. Your company's association with other symbols -- whether it is causes, people or brand names -- speaks volumes. Similarly, non-verbal messaging of all sorts, including layout and color schemes or scatter plots and data clouds, is more essential when communicating to Gen Y.

What works with Gen Y are honesty, humility and authenticity. As an educated and sophisticated generation, they respond to humor, intelligence and irony. Hype and hard sell don't work in your personal relationships, so it would be disrespectful to treat a friend or partner that way. Since winning with Gen Y means getting as close as that -- it won't work with them either. Power is out, strength is in.

Communicating Gen Y style also means using a broader array of messaging opportunities.  Gen Yers like to acquire a sense of you in their world, and they want to bump into you in a variety of places -- it's validating to a skeptical crowd. An assortment of online reviews, word of mouth, advertising, e-mail, social media, promotional events, sponsorships, product placements, samples, new articles or demonstrations -- whatever lends itself to your brand -- is more effective than traditional media alone. Additionally, the more personalized the message, the more likely the Gen Yer is to respond or take action. One way or another your presence is required.

4. Gen Yers love technology. The third hand and second brain of Gen Yers is technology. Your up-to-date use of it is proof that you're worthy. This could happen through new apps, an up-to-date Web site, incorporating technology into your products or stores, customization options, convenient distribution or faster-to-market goods. This is a generation that notices and values the difference.

When it comes to newer, faster and better techonologies some of the older generations needed some convincing, but this generation is already sold. There is no better way to demonstrate quality, relevance and caring than through innovation.

The economy, our digital world and empowered consumers have transformed the marketplace. Judging by the successes and failures of today's brands and businesses, it is increasingly clear that relevance, flexibility and forward thinking have never been more important.

Marketing Gen Y style is the present and future for marketers looking for that essential edge.