Marketing to Gen Y

NikeFuel | BCBusiness
Like the Nike+ Running app, NikeFuel lets the brand sit back while gen Y does the promotional legwork on its behalf.

Capturing the attention and leveraging the influence of B.C.’s millennial generation 

The millennial generation, or gen Y, is often depicted as narcissistic, entitled and tech-obsessed, but there’s more to this group than unflattering adjectives. Through the lens of marketers and advertisers it’s a significant demographic with undeniable influence. Globally, millennials are the largest generation alive today, making up 1.8 billion of the world’s population.

In a study it dubs “8095 2.0” (following its 2010 study of consumers born between 1980 and 1995), PR firm Edelman calls millennials “alpha influencers,” citing their tendency to share feedback, influence the purchase decisions of peers and family, and engage with brands through social media.

“They have a lot of influence,” agrees Vancouver-based Blast Radius Inc. strategy director Sean Weller, adding that gen Y plays a considerable role in major household purchases from cars to electronics down to everyday items like groceries.

According to a 2011 Statistics Canada study of paid and unpaid work over three generations—baby boomers, gen X and gen Y—members of gen Y are far more likely to live at home than preceding generations. Of the baby-boom generation, 28 per cent lived at home between the ages of 20 and 29, whereas 31 per cent of gen Xers did, compared with 51 per cent of gen Y. But the average time spent in paid jobs is nearly equivalent in each group.

“They have a lot of discretionary money at that point in their life,” says Weller. “Not having mortgages and that fun stuff, they can have a lot of money to spend on clothing and travel.”

To capture the fleeting attention of this powerful yet capricious group of consumers, 6S Marketing Inc. president Chris Breikss says understanding their appetite for marketing—“what they will accept and what they will ignore”—is a good starting point. “They ignore the old school,” Breikss says. “It’s not that they’re anti-marketing, but they want marketing and advertising to be more tailored to meet their needs or the devices that they’re using.” Gen Y has a third limb, the smartphone, and brand messaging needs to fit that medium: in “bite-sized chunks of easily digestible information,” he says.

An online presence, though, isn’t enough to speak to gen Y; once you’re there, you must engage them. “I think they want to be heard,” says Breikss. Businesses need impactful presences, which means talking to customers in real time and delivering custom content. “With Nike, we have photo shoots just for social media now,” Weller says.

Another surefire way to capture gen Y’s attention is tapping into their me-centric attitude. Millennials want brands that align with their identity and stand for something, like Vancity’s social-good mission or Lululemon’s swagger and West Coast-cool lifestyle. “You’re not just buying pants,” says Weller, of the yoga-apparel retailer. “You’re buying into this kind of lifestyle and buying into this mission and vision of why they do what they do.”

Winning over gen Y means gaining brand advocates. To capitalize on their instinct to share, focus on utility. Using the example of the Nike+ Running app, Weller says that services or tools can be marketing vehicles. People use the app to track runs and share them on Facebook, and “they’re actually marketing Nike, but they’re doing it in a different way than Nike just blasting out TV commercials.”

In the end, understanding equates to opportunity. Weller adds, “If you get to understand their passions, their lifestyles—it gives you a lot of rich places to connect with them.”