Our Next Generation…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. Stop trying to wiggle your brand around so that it meets their needs. Just stop! 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 ticked 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. They have watched their parents be downsized, laid off and fired…so they are skeptical about big business and entrepreneurial thinking is deeply ingrained in their DNA. 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 building a brand to reach our next generation:
- Jet Blue
- Trader Joes
- Jones Soda
- Mountain Dew
- In-N-Out Burger
- Red Bull
Here are just a few of the reasons why these companies are so popular with Generation Y:
- 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)
* Social networking sites (Facebook, MySpace, Second Life, del.icio.us, DIGG)
* Tattoo parlors (36 percent of them have at least one tattoo)
Before you begin heading off in the direction of marketing to Gen Y, there is a major element we need to discuss, and that is how to build your brand on the inside so that you show respect to these men and women when you are talking with them as consumers and potential employees. These aspects MUST be a part of your brand…from the way you live inside your organization to the way you live in your community to the way you sell products and services:
Creativity – To be in demand for new, fresh ideas, divergent thinking and new solutions to old problems. To design environments to ensure those creative ideas get on the table. All ideas, no matter how bizarre, will be celebrated and no employees will be exempt from sharing their creativity with the company.
Integrity – Being fully committed to consistency of values, actions, principles, expectations and outcomes, with all stakeholders. With a focus on integrity, companies need to bea dedicated to a sense of honesty and truthfulness in regard to tjeor motivations. Companies will be scrutinized by the next generation of leaders based on how well you walk your talk in regards to our code of ethics.
Freedom in thinking – Next Generation Brands should respect the unique thinking philosophies and cultural norms of all stakeholders. A company will be challenged to be fully committed to leveraging this unique thinking in order to be the leader in your industry.
Innovation – To be dedicated to leveraging your creativity to bring new products and services to the marketplace which will improve efficiency and quality of life for all stakeholders.
Ongoing learning and development – Next Gen Brands need to be fully dedicated to providing the coaching and training necessary to maximize the true potential of every employee of your company. You will also be asked to be committed to offering ongoing learning and development programs to all stakeholders to help them make life and business easier, more profitable, and more productive. Your company will need to be dedicated to leveraging your training and development outreach programs to build stronger, more collaborative relationships with all stakeholders.
Transparency -To be dedicated to being a see-through organization. With this position, you are committed to open communication and meetings, answering tough questions directly, financial disclosure statements, information sharing, budgetary reviews and audits. You will be committed to full accountability to your leadership code of ethics and when you fall short of promises made to all stakeholders and the general public.
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 and honoring their core values. 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. Then talking “with” them, not “at” them will sell your business.