September 16, 2010
How To

Connect with Generation Y: 5 Insights from Recent Research

SUMMARY: The younger generation is the future, but if you're trying to reach consumers aged 11-31 with the same marketing messages and tactics from past decades, your company might not be around to see them take over.

See the highlights from a consumer psychologist's year-long research project on Generation Y. Includes advice on how to reach this audience with marketing messages that will resonate.
by Adam T. Sutton, Reporter

In some respects, kids will always be kids and adults will always be adults. But each generation is defined by unique characteristics. For example, today's youth and young adults -- called Generation Y -- for example, are genuinely different from the Baby Boomer generation in its early years.

Kit Yarrow, Chair, Department of Psychology, and Professor, Psychology and Business, Golden Gate University, has studied consumer psychology for more than 10 years. She recently spent a year researching Generation Y, the generation born between 1978 and 2000. Her research included:
o 11 Gen Y focus groups across the country
o 2,000-person online survey
o 100 one-on-one interviews with experts and members of Gen Y

Yarrow uncovered a wealth of insights on the motivations and interests of Gen Y, which we highlight below. Take a look to better connect with this generation through your marketing.

"We're all beginning to understand from behavioral economics that consumers don't always do what they say they're going to do, and they don't always articulate what's meaningful to them," says Yarrow. "[Learning their motivations] is not about manipulating consumers. I think it's to better meet their needs and anticipate changes."

Insight #1. Visuals and symbolism resonate

Gen Ys prefer to process visual information, Yarrow says. This means marketing campaigns, websites and other materials should be visually-based whenever possible.

This concept extends beyond using images. Gen Ys typically do not prefer verbal or textual information. Experiences designed for them should be intuitive and easily understood on-sight. They do not want to read instructions to understand a new feature.

Also, when you are creating a marketing message or a description, strive for analogies.

"Any kind of symbolic communication works well: stories, metaphors, colors, charts, graphs; anything symbolic," Yarrow says.

Insight #2. Gen Ys want to be appreciated and understood

Gen Y experienced the "self esteem" movement in schools, Yarrow says. Most students were told they were special and their opinions mattered. This gave Gen Ys more confidence in themselves and their opinions.

Also, the generation has had broad exposure to technology. Some Gen Ys never experienced a world without the Internet and ubiquitous cell phones.

These two factors combine to give this generation a desire for intimacy. Having 500 Facebook friends is great, but they do not feel intimately connected. They crave more meaningful interactions.

Brands that can communicate that they truly understand Gen Y consumers and are appreciative of their opinions and feedback have a chance to make strong connections.

"What I think works with marketing is to help Gen Ys be seen and to be understood," Yarrow says. "With this generation, the highest status they can achieve is to be influential and to get attention."

Making Gen Y customers feel appreciated and understood can be done by:
o Enabling product customization
o Soliciting and responding to reviews and comments
o Avoiding clichés and communicating as if you truly know them
o Forming advisory boards and ambassador programs
o Conducting online surveys

Insight #3. Innovation attracts attention

The growth of the Internet and the prominence of gadgets have taught many Gen Ys to place a high value on innovation.

"A person from an older generation might look at something as tried-and-true, whereas a person from Gen Y just looks at it as old," Yarrow says.

- Craft innovative marketing messages

Innovation is not limited to products and technology, Yarrow says. The key is to continually show Gen Y consumers that you're thinking about them and you're trying to better meet their needs.

For example, the 2010 World Cup was a hugely important event to European Gen Ys. Argentina's soccer coach said if his team won the Cup, he would run naked through the center of Buenos Aires. A major soft drink company quickly responded saying that if Argentina won the Cup, it would run its products naked on the shelves, without labels, for one week.

The company never had to bare all, but "The goodwill they got from being fresh, inspiring and relevant with that promotional campaign is way more than they would have gotten if they just stripped their bottles," Yarrow says.

- Stay cutting edge

Of course, innovation can mean technology. For example, when Apple launched the iPad, some companies quickly formatted content and created apps for the new platform. Again, the quick response showed that these companies paid attention to their Gen Y audiences and that they were innovating to better meet their needs.

Insight #4. Gen Y wants faster processes

Also tied to Gen Y's use of technology is its desire for timely communication. Yarrow's research showed that members of this generation grow bored more quickly than generations prior.

"Their constant use of technology has created these really fast connections around processing visual information and a higher threshold for stimulation," says Yarrow. "Cognitively, you have to approach them differently. They'll get bored more easily."

This means website load times and response times from customer service should be as quick as possible. Also, marketing campaigns can benefit from being tied to very recent events that matter to Gen Ys, such as in the World Cup example mentioned above.

Insight #5. Gen Y craves drama and emotional connections

Gen Ys respond better to messages and content that is emotionally intense. Yarrow points to widely popular reality television shows and the Twilight book series as examples.

Marketers should add more drama to their campaigns when targeting Gen Y. Products should be featured in the context of a story, and that story should include emotional connections that Gen Ys can relate to.

Marketing campaigns do not always have to dwell on the benefits of their products. Yarrow points to a recent series of successful commercials for men's bodywash.

"The product was the subplot," Yarrow says. "The real plot was the connection people have with the spokesperson and his quirky way of doing things. There isn't that much talk about the product itself."

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Twilight Series

Kit Yarrow: Gen Buy

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