External Validation Drives Gen Y Purchases


While Gen Y consumers are considerably more engaged in societal issues than those in older generations, they are 15% to 25% less likely to base their actual purchasing decisions on issues they deem important, according to research from attitudinal targeting company Resonate Networks.

Instead, those 18 to 34 are most likely to buy products that reflect and convey their personal achievement and success to others.

Compared to those 35 and older, Gen Y's are more likely to base purchases on product attributes that include innovation, esthetics, popularity and prestige, the research shows. In fact, they are five times more likely to purchase products perceived as prestigious, and more than twice as likely to buy products they consider popular or esthetically appealing.

While concern about status is clearly involved, the underlying drivers are external validation of personal progress and self-expression, as opposed to braggadocio. "These young adults are finding their place in the world, and looking for products that can help communicate what they stand for," says Nick Tabbal, SVP research for Resonate. "Many define success as growing and maturing as a person. And they tend to view brands as a means of expressing themselves, which is good news for brands."



Prompted about which values they deem important in products and services, Gen Y's are more likely than older consumers to rank a number of personal achievement and social interaction factors as "very important."

Comparing the percentages of Gen Y's and older consumers who rank these values as very important, with older consumers indexed at 100, here is how Gen Y indexes: "show others I have succeeded" (191); "show the world where I am heading as a person" (176); "help me achieve more in the future" (139); "help me feel attractive (129); "make me feel like I've attained important milestones in my life and career" (126); "show others I am doing important things" (123); "reward my hard work and success" (122); and "show others that I am responsible" (107).

The values ranked very important by the highest percentages of Gen Y's included "help me achieve more in the future" (29%, versus 21% of those 35 and up); "reward my hard work and success" (27% versus 22% of elders); and the "responsible" and "attractive" values (each at 21%, versus 19% and 16%, respectively, of elders).

In addition to image-conscious criteria, Gen Y consumers -- like older generations - emphasize value, functionality and quality in making purchasing decisions. (Younger Gen Y's are more value-conscious than older ones.)

As noted, in comparison with older generations, Gen Y's are more engaged in societal issues - engagement being defined as having taken actions such as joining advocacy groups, attending rallies, writing to politicians, and writing articles or blogs on issues. For instance, they are 48% more engaged in climate-change issues, 36% more engaged in energy issues, and 24% more engaged in animal rights issues.

However, in general, perceptions of a product's or brand's or company's performance in relation to such issues is a secondary factor in their buying decisions. "The greater emphasis is on what the product can do for me, versus what it can do for society," sums up Tabbal. Still, once a product or service meets the desired image and value criteria, Gen Y's are willing to pay more for it if it or the company that produces it reflects or contributes to the issues they care about.

Based on the research, Resonate recommends that marketers looking to attract and build loyalty with Gen Y consumers:

  • Align a brand's values with the values of subsegments within Gen Y.
  • Use messaging that spotlights product attributes that are perceived to enhance a consumer's image and prestige, but also highlight product value.
  • Focus primary messaging on personal achievement attributes and value, rather than pricepoint.
  • If possible, include secondary messaging that mentions corporate responsibility initiatives.

Resonate offers attitudinal targeting to online advertisers, using ongoing, online research (representative of the U.S. adult online population) to gather and analyze data on attitudes and behaviors across a wide range of social issues and lifestyle topics. This data is then correlated with permission-based data on which sites consumers visit most frequently.

1 comment about "External Validation Drives Gen Y Purchases ".
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  1. Erin Read from Creating Results, Inc., October 22, 2010 at 1:49 p.m.

    The idea that younger consumers would buy items because they relate to status and communicate personal/professional achivement is not new.

    David Wolfe's excellent book AGELESS MARKETING defined these as hallmarks of those in the "spring" and "summer" of their lives. It's a terrific (and timeless) resource for marketers interested in understanding why Gen Y, Gen X or Baby Boomers buy what they do, when they do.

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