Engaging Gen Y in your marketing – what’s the secret?

You would be hard pressed to find a group of consumers marketers are struggling harder to figure out than Generation Y.

Big brands – from FMCG to technology to financial services to travel and leisure – have spent years trying to find out what motivates Gen Y, what drives their attitudes and behaviours. It’s an increasingly urgent task for marketers because Gen Y are now solidly in the workforce and many of them enjoy relatively high disposable incomes for their age (especially the growing numbers of urban Gen Yers still living at home with their parents!).

It’s vital for marketers and market researchers to gain a proper understanding of this confusing generation since it represents such a big chunk of many brands’ market. When engaging Gen Y in marketing or consumer insight, here’s what you need to know:

 

Who is Gen Y?

While Gen Y is widely talked about in the media, a universal definition of who belongs to this generation doesn’t actually seem to exist. Depending on the expert you’re talking to, it could mean anyone born from 1982 to 2004, or from 1980 to 1995. Generally, most experts agree that Gen Y encompasses those born from the early ‘80s to the early 2000s. Research studies in the US have shown that Gen Y is likely to be the most educated generation in history, which has huge implications for their future spending power and their brand loyalty. This is a seriously marketing savvy generation, which seriously knows how it does and does not like to sold to!

What are the challenges in engaging millennial consumers?

Research suggests that the Gen Y lifestyle is mostly about multitasking, accelerated communication, constant connection, and immediate gratification. It’s a lifestyle that typically contradicts traditional marketing and research methods.

Constantly multi-tasking, Gen Yers are consumers who utilise multiple screens and multiple devices at the same time, and they are always ‘on’. This is a generation that grew up with the internet and most don’t even remember what it’s like not to be connected to the web. This generation is used to checking online before buying something. And now with the ubiquity of mobile, Gen Y have come to expect a seamless online experience regardless of the device they’re using.

That’s if you can hold their attention for long enough – for this is the generation with the goldfish attention span. As if any proof were needed on this, just consider the dominant communication tools that Gen Y use: texting, instant messaging, Twitter, Snapchat and so on, all of which serve one purpose: to encourage concise messages.

Another consequence of growing up with the internet is that Gen Y is very open to collaboration. They love being part of a team: they want to participate, and they want their views to be heard.

All this is not to say that Gen Y isn’t an extremely diverse group. It is. And so it’s risky for any marketer to look at Gen Y as a homogenous bunch. While they belong to one generation, the Y brigade displays a wide range of tastes, behaviours and income levels.

But are they brand conscious? Some studies are challenging the stereotype that Gen Y are fanatically brand- and trend-conscious consumers. US marketing agency Barkley found that older Gen Ys (or millennials as they’re also often referred to) in particular suffer less from gadget and brand name envy, usually taking a more pragmatic approach to their purchases.

So what should marketers keep in mind about Gen Y?

The Gen Y market represents many hundreds dollars for brands every year in Australia. But marketing to this media-savvy generation requires an approach that marketers have traditionally not embraced – an approach that’s more about authenticity and transparency, and less about ‘interception’.

 

Create experiences

Many companies are discovering that Gen Y just doesn’t want to buy stuff. Or more accurately, Gen Yers are buying things for reasons that are different from previous generations: they buy things they can tell others about; they buy things because of what those purchases say about them.

This shift explains why Gen Y is spending more money on experiences and less on things like cars. Instead of the traditional advertising route, some brands are now, cleverly, moving their marketing dollars to events where Gen Y consumers can experience the brand. Major brands trying to market to Gen Y at, for instance, music festivals, have found out that while showing a TVC on the big screen is the quickest way to be booed, sponsoring a chill-out tent can be a winner.

 

Support causes that are important to them

Gen Y expects companies to take a transparent, authentic, organic and sustainable approach, according to Coca-Cola.

“It’s important for us, as a big brand, to lead culture and not just follow it,” Coca-Cola chief marketing and commercial officer Joseph Tripodi said at last year’s Association of National Advertisers (ANA) conference. “We believe we can be a voice that advocates for positive change and healthy progress.” Tripodi’s comments help explain why Coca-Cola has taken on a leadership role in more social issues.

Like Coca-Cola, brands need to figure out the social issues that Gen Y cares about—and take a leadership approach in addressing them.

 

Provide variety and customisation

For many brands, offering a wide range of customisable products is key to attracting Gen Y.

From packaging to the actual product or service, brands are offering things that are tailored for the Gen Y consumer. Look at how American Express is now customising services specifically for Gen Y, such as offering access to pre-sale tickets to rock concerts.

 

Don’t assume anything!

Making assumptions about an entire generation is imprecise at best. CMOs should keep their finger on the pulse of what is being said about Gen Y, but they also need to validate these findings with their own customers to make sure that marketing strategies, ad copies, or social media tactics don’t conflict with Gen Yers’ values.

 

Create a long-term relationship

This generation’s attitudes and behaviours today are still subject to many changes. Looking at their social media usage, for instance, within the past 10 years, Gen Y has moved from MySpace to Facebook to more niche websites. As they get older and as their lifestyles change, it will be crucial for marketers to continue to talk to Gen Y consumers using insight communities and other engagement tools. After all, just because a generation of consumers likes your brand now doesn’t mean they will continue to love you as their needs, wants, and general attitudes change.

Gen Y wants to be included in the decision-making process beyond focus groups or social media. As one 24-year old recent university graduate wrote in Ad Age last year, this generation wants to be brought in as “respected thought leaders to help contribute ideas and develop concepts and strategies.” Put simply, Gen Yers want to get their voices heard in the early stages of a campaign or new product development.

 

Let them engage with each other

Just as Gen Y wants to be involved in product development, this is a generation which is almost obsessive about sharing their lives with their peers – digitally.

Any brand that can help Gen Yers communicate with each other online and on any device is onto a winning strategy.

 

Peter Harris
BY Peter Harris ON 9 May 2014
Peter is one of Australia’s leading consumer and insight community experts with 25 years of experience in marketing, research and strategy planning across multiple sectors globally. As managing director of Vision Critical Asia Pacific, he is responsible for a growing team of technology-enabled researchers and community managers, ensuring the quality output of all research and key client relationships within the region.