Gen Y (born 1977-1994) is now estimated to be the largest consumer group in US history. At 70 to 80 million, the generation accounts for 25% of the US population. Their annual spending power already exceeds $200B and that is expected to eclipse Boomers by 2017. But how are they different from other generations? Why do you as a marketer need to treat them differently? A lot of it comes down to expectations, high expectations.
If you grew up B.I. (Before Internet), you’re likely to find today’s most popular services impressive for very different reasons than the early adopters of those services. Chances are they are not even impressed. Someone studying abroad in the 90’s could only call home a few times a month because it was too expensive. Gen Y takes Skype, Google Talk and instant messaging for granted – “what do you mean you couldn’t call home?” Finding an old recording of your favorite show would be a big deal 15 years ago. Gen Y expects 1 million results in 0.11 seconds and you’ll get a “WTF?” if YouTube or Hulu can’t return what they’re looking for. But that’s not the kicker – they want it for free and they want it fast.
There’s a scene in “The Social Network” where ‘Mark Zuckerberg’ is on the phone with ‘Eduardo Saverin’: “Okay, let me tell you the difference between Facebook and everyone else; we don’t crash EVER! If those servers are down for even a day, our entire reputation is irreversibly destroyed! Users are fickle, Friendster has proved that. Even a few people leaving would reverberate through the entire userbase. The users are interconnected: that is the whole point. College kids are online because their friends are online, and if one domino goes, the other dominos go, don’t you get that?”
The dialog is probably exaggerated, but the writers have recognized Mark Zuckberg’s understanding of two important facts:
1)expectations are enormous
There’s truly no mercy, so when you have their interest make sure you work hard to keep things that way.
2) Gen Y is uber-connected
Gen Y is exponentially more connected than any previous generation. Processes that used to take years now take weeks. The new web has given social interactions a solid injection of steroids.
So how do you keep up with this? How do you make it work in your favor? We certainly don’t have all the answers, but here are some things to think about:
1) Change your marketing distribution
Go digital. Are you still spending a lot of money offline? Come on! The trends speak for themselves. Savvy brands are switching their marketing funds to where people interact – online.
2) Enable users to share and interact
Your online marketing needs to get smarter. Make sure your users can interact with you and around your brand. Ask yourself this: If someone really loved my brand – how do I help them tell people about it? It starts with social share buttons, marketing campaigns that use Facebook, Twitter campaigns and perhaps a few widgets on key landing pages.
3) Content is important
You may have heard this for years already, but Gen Y wants more than just transactions and confirmation emails. How about some helpful articles, videos or even webinars? You need to be the expert and help them with more than buying something.
B.I. companies could get away with poor service and adequate products. They could stay alive for years without changing or innovating. Gen Y and the new web is leading the revolution. Successful businesses now need to listen first and then act. Your marketing needs to engage your users. It’s not all about how fantastic you are. It’s all about how you can do something fantastic for the user. Take NetFlix – first they changed the game (movie rentals) and brought down Blockbuster in the process. Then, unlike an “old” company they continued to deliver what users wanted – online streaming of content. They spent millions of dollars optimizing their rating systems – because expectations are high, very high.