The Fluid Nature Of Gen Y's Media Habits

Reports on the media habits of Gen Y consumers can lull marketers into viewing age as the primary consideration in forecasting media habits. Clearly, age is a factor -- younger people do tend to be more diversified in their media consumption and are more likely to interact regularly with emerging media such as social and text messaging. However, media habits change as people move through different life stages, and these changes impact how people choose to interact with brands.

Research conducted by ExactTarget in collaboration with the Center for Media Design identified four Gen Y subgroups that each exhibit unique media habits.

  • Teens Teens tend to be heavy media users into all things digital. However, this media use can be deceptive. For example, 57% of teens say they communicate with their friends most often by texting and yet only 16% have ever made a text-influenced purchase. Despite their heavy use of texting for socializing, teens are more likely to make purchases influenced by traditional channels like TV commercials (62%), catalogs (55%) and email (36%).
  • College Students College students live highly compartmentalized media lives. This life stage represents the first time these consumers are operating independently from their parents. On one hand, they manage their social lives through social networks and text messaging. On the other, they are forced to interact with the "adult world" largely through email. Average media exposure is generally lower than commonly believed, primarily due to less-than-average time spent watching TV.



Social network usage spikes among college students when these sites, particularly Facebook, become the hub of social planning. Still, only 11% report having made a purchase influenced by social media. College students' email use also spikes during this time. This is driven by multiple life stage events ranging from the need to manage bank and credit card accounts, which deliver paperless statements via email, to interacting with professors and prospective employers, to getting coupons and offers (critical for survival on a limited budget). It is also driven by a recent surge in smartphone adoption among college students that correlates with increased email use.

  • Young Professionals: Upon first entering the workforce, media habits change again. There is another uptick in the reliance on email, but this tends to be focused on professional interactions -- they have already become accustomed to other "official" communications through email -- which, in turn, translates into relationships, both personal and professional, in the workplace.

These consumers still use social media (82%) and text messaging (89%); it is simply that email is added to a mix of channels that must be constantly monitored to stay on top of personal communication -- they manage a complex cross-section of communication channels where the lines between personal and professional communications begin to blur. It is no surprise then that these consumers are the more likely to have made purchases directly influenced by social media (15%).

  • Young Homemakers: Young homemakers are primarily concerned with caring for their families. As such, they tend to be much more reliant on direct mail and other traditional marketing channels compared to other Gen Y subgroups. Interruptions by marketers through social networks, text messaging and email are all frowned upon more so than other subgroups.

Even so, consumers in this group are active online buyers (83%), they go online to find coupons (71%), and their use of social networking sites is increasing faster than any other subgroup. The key is building opt-in relationships and delivering coupons and promotions that help these consumers manage their households.

Interacting with Gen Y audiences requires marketers to consider the nuances of life stages. Some have suggested that as Millennials enter the workforce, their influence will change communication. Others have suggested the opposite, that these consumers will adapt to the communication channels defined by social norms for their life stage.

Our research suggests that both happen simultaneously. Moreover, that media consumption begets more media consumption. Using one channel more often correlates with using other channels more often. We must adopt truly multi-channel marketing strategies that mimic the multi-channel lives of our consumers.

1 comment about "The Fluid Nature Of Gen Y's Media Habits".
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  1. Jennifer Balyint from UD On Campus, January 22, 2010 at 2:10 p.m.

    I agree that social media platforms like FB aren't main factors in influencing purchase for college students. We've found that purchase is influenced by product/service sampling, direct peer-to-peer recommendations, and grassroots style promotions and events near POP venues. Also, follow up reminders and coupons are sure wins!


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