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Many companies are stressed out about marketing to Generation-Y, those born between 1982 and 1993. I'm sure you've heard about how sizable the Gen-Y demographic is: 80 million consumers and $200 billion in spending power. The consumers of Gen-Y clearly have and will continue to have an impact on every market, from online retail to the automotive industry.

The pressing question you are probably asking yourself is, How in the world do we market to them? Marketing to Gen-Y is actually not as difficult as you might think. Gen-Y consumers, like any demographic, are creatures of habit. They will show loyalty to brands they've grown up with or have proudly discovered on their own. They like to share with their friends, and they like to feel that your ads are unique and targeted to them.

Gen-Y has shown a tendency to support heritage brands and engage with companies via social media. Gen-Y has also shown a tendency to shut out brands that bombard them with advertising or "market down" to them.

That is pretty similar to the behavior of other demographics as well. Anyone, regardless of age, would be turned off if constantly spammed with advertisements. When advertising to Gen-Y, or, again, just about any demographic nowadays, you can use any medium: television, radio, or a social media site, such as Facebook.

1. Word-of-Mouth

Word-of-mouth marketing still reigns supreme, even among Gen-Y. A recent study by Sitel (PDF) found that only 28.7% of Gen-Y makes purchasing decisions based on what friends "like" on their social networks. Some 44.3% percent of Gen-Y make decisions based on word-of-mouth. Gen-Y consumers inform their friends, peers, colleagues, and family members about brands they care about.

Understanding that you can market to Gen-Y the same way you've been marketing to Baby Boomers and Gen-X should put you at ease. Switch the demographic, tweak the message a bit, but keep the delivery the same. Doing so will set you up for success.

2. Engagement

Gen-Y is very much the "digital demographic," and for good reason. Gen-Y consumers spend a vast majority of their time logged-in and online. Identifying where they spend most of their time, and how to engage them on those sites, is essential.

Social media is obviously the biggest player, but your website is also important. Use those platforms to educate potential Gen-Y consumers about your business. Create a virtual rapport with them that you can morph into physical rapport. Connect with Gen-Y consumers to gain insight about how they feel about your business. Open up a line of communication with them and give back to the discussions they're engaging in.

3. Loyalty

Striking a balance between giving away too much for free and not giving away enough (or anything at all) is important. You want to create a real relationship with your Gen-Y customers. You want them to become real customers, not just fair-weather fans looking for free stuff. The way to accomplish that is to give away a few things that will reward the members of Gen-Y who spend their hard-earned dollars in your store or on your website.

4. Oversaturation

The Internet is noisy, and you don't want to contribute to the noise. A recent study found that 42% of Gen-Y respondents have "unliked" a page because the organization is "annoying or excessive" in its posts.

A constant bombardment of social media updates about your business is going to turn off your customers. Imagine hearing a commercial... constantly. After a while, you'll start to resent that commercial; the same would happen with Gen-Y and your business on social media. What you post should be important or interesting to your audience.

Start discussions on social media; don't treat your social profiles as a canvas for free advertising.

5. Respect

Gen-Y wants its opinions to be respected, whether in the workplace or online. Gen-Y consumers want you, and others, to listen. Respect your Gen-Y customers and thank them for their feedback. Listen to how they feel about your business, your products, and how you advertise to them. Your customers are your best critics, and paying attention to them and their opinions is vital.

* * *

Those who constitute Gen-Y are the next great decision-makers in the consumer world. They will make a massive impact on your business for years to come. Gen-Y consumers don't want to be buried in advertisements and offers; they want to talk to a person when an issue arises, and they want to be rewarded for their years of loyalty. You give them that, and Gen-Y consumers will give you much more in return.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tim Hare is a vice-president of Millennial Branding, a Gen-Y research and management consulting firm based in Boston.