Our world is changing rapidly. Technology is developing faster than ever. Information is shared and made available everywhere.

Generation-Y is the first generation that grew up with the Internet, and these Millennials are used to having everything at their fingertips. They are pragmatic, connected, bold, and eclectic. Marketing, therefore, will never be the same again. Merely pushing advertising doesn't work anymore. One-way communication simply doesn't do the trick.

Based on interviews with 21 global marketing executives from various industries (including from Converse, Heineken, Abercrombie & Fitch, BBC, Microsoft, and Reckitt & Benckiser), we defined a five-step plan for marketers to improve their marketing toward demanding Gen-Y customers.

Step 1: Make it relevant

Everything Starts With the Product

If your product isn't doing what it promises, you may as well close the books. Youngsters can find information anywhere, and they are asking feedback from peers all the time. For them, it is all about price/quality: Are you offering something valuable? Are you merely selling products… or facilitating and endorsing Gen-Y's life?

Don't Forget About the Company

Being true to who you are is key. It's about wearing the company value glasses in everything you do. Storytelling, authenticity, and uniqueness add more than you would expect: They reflect Gen-Y's core values and sustain your corporate identity.

Creating the Experience

Stories stay stories, and the product should give your consumers what they're expecting. Creating an actual experience around it, online and offline, is something intangible that elevates your product and brand experience.

To stay relevant for Millennials, marketers should endorse INCLUSIVE brands with EXCLUSIVE experiences and surprising products that are both worth sharing with friends.

Step 2: Be where they are

Point of Sale

Look at your (Web) shop as if it's your own home: If you invite people to your home, you want everything to be in order. You want people to have a nice impression of you and you want to make them feel comfortable. Hopefully, they will spread the word, and they will be eager to come back.

Don't forget about social shopping, either: It's an important trend that will grow.

Also, offline and online go hand in hand: Gen-Y'ers have a tendency to ask feedback from a friend when shopping offline or online.

Media and Advertising

What about good old fashioned above-the-line campaigns? Of course they're not dead. It's just necessary to know that you won't make it with a single TV spot. Actually, campaigns are great to create global awareness. But it's not enough to just leave it at that. Integration with social media is a must. The campaign should trigger some kind of interaction with your consumer.


A website is more than just an information stall about your product. It is what you are: You can share your past, your present, and your future and get feedback from your consumers.

You can engage and connect on a deeper level than, for instance, on your Facebook page (which is obviously linked to your website and vice versa). Contests, games, or advertising often refer to the website. Make sure you keep your new visitors by making them more curious: hide a riddle, reveal a secret, or show exclusive footage! Don't make it overcomplicated, though: Your website should be a portal where everything your consumer needs to know is presented in an intuitive and engaging way.

Social Media

Of course, social media is a must. Facebook, for example, should be integrated in all communication actions. Don't think of it as a one-way communication platform, though: The most valuable feature of Facebook is that it enables interaction and inspiration (by brands, celebrities, and friends)—and not only with the brand, but also with peers.

It is a great platform for trying new things and for innovating. Playing with trending topics, asking them about the latest news, and using humor are successful ways to connect with your Gen-Y audience.

Visual (image, video footage) posts on your Facebook page will work much better than text-based status updates.

Mobile Integration

Use mobile efforts to connect with your consumers and connect them with each other. Don't create just another app; make it relevant:

  • Take location-based marketing to the next level: It's not about knowing where your customer is, it's about customizing your communication in the right context. If you know you customer is in the gym working out, you might as well communicate about your energy drink.
  • When are your customers the most active? Maybe during lunch? Maybe just before or after school? Link certain actions to those times!
  • It's not about culture, but about services: Where are the good restaurants? Where are the other people around here who have the same product as me? How can I connect with them as fast as possible?
  • Don't make a rip-off of your website, but do something unique. An app is a perfect platform for branded utility.


Being relevant is defined on three levels: product level, company level, and experience level. Events are the way to go when you want to create an ultimate customer experience: You connect with your consumers, and your consumers can connect with each other. The result is word-of-mouth—sharing stories online and long-lasting memories.

Managing touchpoints nowadays means having a well-balanced mix of online and offline channels.

Step 3: Activate conversations


Surprising your consumers is the best way to shake them awake and make sure they stay focused. A surprise can be anything: Send them a birthday card, post a video that no one has ever seen, show up unexpectedly at an event... As long as it is relevant and you don't stalk them, they will love it.


Do not underestimate the power of stories. Tell a story about yourself, let your consumers share stories about their personal life, or, even better, combine both. People want something to talk about. What kind of stories? Cool, real, unique, personal, and emotional stories!


Games are engaging; no question about that. The problem is, everyone is doing it already. So how can you stay relevant and stand out in the crowd?

  • First of all, link it to your product and try to make it cool, real, unique, and relevant.
  • Second, don't make it too difficult, so your consumers can still feel good about themselves. Most of the time, they are playing for attention and achievement.
  • And, third, don't forget social: Your target group probably has a wide social network. Try to engage your gamers to activate that network as well!

Step 4: Enhance loyalty, be FAIR

Great: you managed to create a good campaign that receives a lot of positive reactions. But it doesn't end there. A frequent mistake is to take a break whenever something goes well. Wrong: you have to keep your young consumers involved. If you don't... you just had your 15 minutes of fame.

Do you instead want to be legend? Follow the FAIR model: FAst, Innovative, and Rewarding.

Be Fast

The faster you react toward your consumers, the more likely you are to have a bond with them. It's all about conversations: The more you communicate with each other, the better you will understand each other. Fast action shows them that you actually listen and care.

And it's not only about acting fast on Facebook or Twitter. It's also about monitoring their behavior and continuing to learn more about them. So go out and talk to them! Their world is so rapidly changing that an ongoing approach is the most successful way for keeping up with them and their views.

Innovate (or Let Them Innovate)

Standing still means going backwards. By innovating, you are showing interest, creativity, and initiative. Always question your product with the end-user in mind. And, very important, involve your users in the innovation process. They will feel heard and appreciated, and they will stay loyal to the brand that they helped build.

Reward Them for Their Loyalty

The pragmatic Gen-Yer won't do something for nothing. Showing them your appreciation for having chosen you is key.

Compare it with a personal relationship: You like appreciation for being committed, no? Some nice words, a little surprise, a gift... It makes you feel appreciated and motivates you to go on!

Going beyond the obvious could make your consumers even happier: A random act of kindness is an instant satisfier.

Step 5: Have guts

Go out there and create a daring but relevant appeal.

"Keeping the Heineken brand cool and staying hot... in the end it's a couple of people who had the imagination and the guts and thought 'okay, let's do it.' Because this is typically how cool stuff happens, not by endless business meetings and calculations on return of investments. That will come later, you know. If you're cool, people will buy it. I think that in the end it's about having guts. It's daring to do stuff that's never been done before. This Milan club of the future is a brilliant example. We didn't know at all what this was going to bring; my boss and his boss thought: Okay, wow, this sounds like a great adventure, it's probably going to cost quite a lot of money... we cannot calculate the return of investment up front but somehow it fits the brand, it's a territory in which we must start experimenting." —Mark Vaniterson, Global Head of Design Heineken

Read the "No Guts, No Glory" whitepaper to learn more about Generation-Y and the challenges marketers are confronted with when dealing with the Millennials generation.

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image of Joeri Van den Bergh

Joeri Van den Bergh is a Gen Y expert and co-founder of InSites Consulting, a global new-generation research agency with offices in the US, the UK, the Netherlands, and Belgium. He is the author of How Cool Brands Stay Hot: Branding to Generation Y.

Twitter: @Joeri_InSites
LinkedIn: Joeri Van den Bergh