How Do You Market To A Generation In Flux?

As the first wave of the Digital Generation, Gen Y is truly disrupting the traditional notions of marketing. Brands can partner with Gen Y by understanding what's important to this culturally diverse and life stage-straddling group, and how digital and mobile permeate their lives.

What’s Important

The desire for freedom, an aptitude for self-reliance, and transitioning to adulthood during a period of economic uncertainty have changed what is important to members of Gen Y. This also means that what constitutes success and status for Gen Y deviates from traditional mores. 

Gen Y is less enamored with home ownership (and material ownership in general), and more concerned with the life they experience. This attitude is redefining the idea of ownership and helping to drive the “collaborative economy,” where they are seeking access to, rather than ownership of, content, products and services. The manifestation of this is seen with the emergence of companies like Airbnb, Lyft and Spotify.



This mirrors what Gen Y embraces as status. The requirement of a large home and impressive automobiles has diminished compared to previous generations. Now, ownership is being usurped by personal experiences as the currency to achieve status. Instead of showing off their new BMW to impress their friends and connections, Gen Y is sharing videos of their backstage access at Bonnaroo and their latest trek across the Andes.

How to Reach Gen Y

From a marketing standpoint, brands need to evolve their strategies to gain the trust of Gen Y. Authenticity is vital. Brands that fake it are quickly called out with myriad social outlets available to this digitally savvy group. They are very interested in why a brand exists, as opposed to what they make. Members of Gen Y seek a human quality in brands, and are drawn to the brand’s personality — if it’s genuine. They are much more likely to interact with a brand if that brand participates in social causes that align with their own values and beliefs. 

This group will embrace a brand if it provides the tools to be expressive about what’s important to them. For Gen Y, utility is the new black. They want brands to bring something new to the table that will fulfill their evolving need for usefulness and convenience. They are quick to try new products and services, but also quick to move on if their needs aren’t met. 

So brands need to invite them in. Gen Y is very social and participatory, and they expect to be part of creating the brand’s story. Brands can best connect with this group through digital channels, although Gen Y can still be reached somewhat via television. But this is the Digital Generation, and the key to marketing to them is based upon their heavy use of mobile. They own more smartphones than any other demographic. They spend more time on the mobile web than any other group; in fact, one out of five accesses the web only via mobile. This means that the relationship between Gen Y and brands will increasingly happen through mobile.

This visually oriented group watches a lot of videos online — over 350 per month — most of which are on mobile. The powerful, lean-forward experience of online video provides a great opportunity for marketers to exploit. Gen Y, too savvy and wary to engage with traditional banner ads, will engage with more contextual forms of marketing, such as data-driven social ads. All of this means that brands will have to continue to innovate to present their message successfully to Gen Y.

So listen to Gen Y, and they will listen to you. Go to them, especially on mobile. Say thank you. The way forward for future marketing to all demographics has been established by Gen Y. Brands who develop this new strategy will reap the rewards.

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