Generation Y. You’ve heard that they don’t watch TV, and you’ve probably been told that they don’t read that much. Your research tells you that you can’t target them through MTV anymore, and you certainly can’t tell Gen Y what is cool. So how do you reach these 71 million “Millennials” that spend over 200 billion dollars annually and will soon replace the baby boomer generation as the largest percentage of the workforce? The answer is simple—you STOP marketing to them. Let me explain.
First, let’s look at who they are. As a baby boomer, I can tell you that this generation—sometimes called the “Connecteds”—are our own invention. We raised Gen Y to believe that they can do anything and be anything. We made their lives easy enough that they now believe they deserve to live first and work second. (How dare them!) So the first thing we have to do is stop being pissed off at our own creation and embrace the brilliance of this Gen Y community.
This is the most optimistic generation to ever walk the face of the planet. They absolutely believe that miracles are possible. They refuse to work a job that does not bring them a sense of joy. They care about the earth and servicing their community. In Gen Y, we have created the possibility for everything that we wanted for the world. So we must stop whining about them being entitled and embrace the power of this generation. Once we do that, we can then begin to take a closer look at who they are, what makes them tick, and what they want from our businesses.
Let’s look at who has been successful at marketing to Gen Y: Apple, Jet Blue, Trader Joes, Jones Soda, Mountain Dew, and Red Bull, to name a few. How do these companies speak to this demographic? To answer that, we first have to understand the four areas Gen Y considers before purchasing a product or service:
- Cheap cost
- Good quality
- Fast service
- An “experience”
When Apple created the 99-cent download that took eight seconds to transact, they hit the nail on the head with Gen Y. Music is an experience, the quality is stellar, the cost is low, and the purchase happens instantly. What did Apple do right? They spoke directly to Gen Y and asked the question: What do you want?
So who gets Gen Y’s attention? Living in an age where information is everywhere and where everyone can reach them, the Gen Y community is VERY selective about who they listen to. Just look at their MySpace and Facebook accounts, and you’ll recognize that they get their information from one another—NOT from us, and certainly not from the media. And the information they get from each other is not in emails, which most of them don’t even touch anymore (I know you probably thought you were being hip with your 100 emails a day!). They text one another. They IM. They watch each other on YouTube. And sometimes they do all three at the same time! Most importantly, Gen Y does NOT care about what you have to say unless you have been endorsed by their friends. They care about what their community says, and they take each other and their network’s recommendations VERY seriously.
So taking that into account, how do you reach them? Well, understand that Gen Y is an “experience” culture. They do not want to be told what to like or what to do. They want to experience the world for themselves and pass their own judgment. They love to be in the trenches of life, and they want to be there with their friends. HERE is where you have to meet them if you want to be taken seriously and respected by this generation enough for them to buy from you:
- Concerts (Gen Y LOVES live music.)
- Extreme sporting events (skateboarding, snowboarding, BMX)
- Movies (mainstream as well as art-house)
- Hiking events (They love the outdoors)
- Video games and video game competitions (Cyber Athlete Professional League, GameCaster, Global Gaming League)
- Mashups (Weather Bonk, Where’s Tim Hibbard, Y! Mash, Sims on Stage)
- Tattoo parlors (36 percent of them have at least one tattoo)
Before I wrap this up, there is one more major element we need to discuss, and that is how to earn their respect when you are talking with Gen Y: AUTHENTICITY. They don’t waste time on people or companies that are not being real with them. Authentic is cool. Authentic is dorky. Authentic is hip. Authentic is truthful. This generation has seen it all, from televised wars to 9-11 to the hanging of Hussein. They know real when they see it, and it takes them all of three seconds to pass that judgment.
So what does all this mean to you? It means that you cannot directly market to them until you buy into them, until you value their perspective on life. So while other experts are out there giving you “tricks” to market to Gen Y, I’m here saying STOP marketing to them and START listening to them. Hang out with them. Experience life with them. Respect them. If you do, their outlook on life will change you. You’ll begin to behave differently, take on some new values, and begin to live more yourself. When you do that, you’ll find your audience within this generation.