Forget your A,B,Cs and know your Ys
Generation Y (Millennials). You have probably heard that our attention span is short, that we are demanding and that we spend all of our spare time on the Internet.
Your research probably tells you that you cannot target us through traditional means so your company embraces social networking and has its own Twitter account, Instagram account, Facebook page or blog. But are you really making an impact on Gen Y?
All generations are the same in the sense that they are groups of people who, based on their age, share a common global location in history and the experiences and mind-set that accompany it. This becomes vital to understanding any generation because it is not simply about knowing likes and dislikes of a target market, it is comprehending a more holistic view of a group of people; understanding a unique range of occurrences that defines a generation’s place in history and how it shapes their outlook.
Generation Y is usually defined as persons born during the twenty years spanning from 1980 to around 2000, although some argue that the birth years are between 1977 and 1997. Here I would like to make it apparent that defining a generation does not mean that every person born during a certain time-period has identical beliefs, experiences and outlooks. Naturally each individual, as part of a specific generation, has had somewhat dissimilar experiences depending on the country the individual lives in, their family’s socioeconomic background and a host of other factors. However, some researchers of Generation Y have observed that perhaps due to the era of global communication, Generation Y has more prominent and shared characteristics than any other generation before it.
Generation Y is also larger than any other preceding generation. Generation Y is considered the largest consumer and employee group in history, a total of about 2.3 billion Gen Y’s globally.
There are of course many aspects, characteristics and variables that account for and contribute to Generation Y but here I have decided to focus on six Generation Y norms. Researcher Don Tapscott describes generational norms as a cluster of attitudes and behaviours that define Generation Y and our mindset.
Firstly, we as Generation Y want freedom in everything we do, from freedom of choice to freedom of expression. It has been suggested that this idea has been passed down from our Boomer parents who of course were part of the hippie/free love era during their teens. Most of us were also raised with the mantra “you can be anything you want to be” which could account for many of us having the impetus and justification to study whatever we wanted. The freedom of expression is seen especially online where we convey our ideas and creativity through our Facebook pages, blogs, YouTube and Twitter accounts. We are not simply making use of the Internet; we are actively writing and creating it, which brings me to the next norm.
Due to being exposed to and saturated by a range of digital media from a very young age, our world is one of proliferation — of brands, media, product type and channels. We have grown up getting what media we want, when we want it, and being able to change it. Due to this proliferation we are actively personalising the cultural and commercial objects we consume. Generation Y loves to customize and personalize our environment and consumer goods. The advertisements today are so specifically targeted for each individual, based on an assortment of personal information and are customized, tailor-made for each individual.
Although, as a member of Generation Y, this form of highly specific and personal advertising is effective, companies must not forget that we were raised in a world of marketing and advertising and can therefore detect a sales pitch with heavy topspin very easily. We are not likely to accept things at face value since we are the new scrutinizers. Instead of just trusting a TV announcer to tell us the truth we are assessing and scrutinizing the jumble of facts that are often contradictory and ambiguous. Instead of just numbly receiving information, we are gathering it from around the globe with lightning speed. For us transparency, namely stakeholder access to pertinent information about companies and their offerings, just seems natural since we seek corporate integrity and openness when deciding what to buy and which companies to support.
The Internet, and other information and communication technologies, strip away the barriers between companies and their various constituencies, including consumers, activists and shareholders; the “almighty G” is Google and soapboxes are Twitter. We are able to inquire and research companies and their actions and if we do not approve of what we discover, we shun the company. Our generation might not as easily join in protest marches as prior generations but we have our form of protest, boycotting. A clear example of this concern with transparency and corporate integrating is that of the BP oil spill that occurred in 2010, also known as the Deepwater Horizon spill. It was not difficult for Generation Y to discover that this particular spill was not BP’s only blunder. Reports and articles were quickly circulating around social networking sites, groups were established to pledge the boycotting of BP and even South Park, a show very popular with Generation Y, highlighted BP’s repeated negligence and apparent disregard for the environment and community in favour of profits. A vast majority of Generation Y will never support BP and or Shell. At the heart of it, we as a generation do not waste time on people or companies that are inauthentic or beat around the bush.
We are able to unite for or against something because we are the collaborators and relationship generation. We collaborate on Facebook and Twitter, play multiuser video games, text each other incessantly, and share ideas and information. We influence each other by discussing brands, companies, products and services. For business the most important point to bear in mind is that we do not care about what you have to say unless our friends have endorsed you. We care about what our community says, and we take each other and our network’s recommendations very seriously.
Lastly, we have a real need for speed. Real-time chats with a database of global contacts have made rapid communication the new norm for our generation and we expect the same quick communication from others. It has been suggested that it is not only due to rapid communication networks that we come across as impatient. Our generation has grown up under an unprecedented cloud of arbitrary, threatening events such as 9–11, televised war, tsunamis, and earthquakes, which have created the perception that the world is very unpredictable. Some researchers believe that it is logical even inevitable, in fact, given the world some of Generation Y saw as teens — for individuals in their twenties to conclude that “living now” is a sensible thing to do. This is perhaps why e-commerce is so successful since the average transaction speed is a few seconds.
In short, to make an impact on us, provide us with freedom of choice and the freedom to express what we think of your products and services; highlight the personal; know that you cannot easily pull the wool over our eyes and if you do, we will boycott you. If you want to impress us, first impress our friends and do not leave us hanging.