Marketing To “Millennials” (Gen Y)

by George Kennedy on June 28, 2013

Marketing To “Millennials” (Gen Y)

Elected officials purporting to represent the interests of the “job creators” frequently assert that only tax cuts (for the rich) and less “job killing” regulation are the answer to reducing “uncertainty” in the economy: no uncertainty, more jobs. They also suggest domestic market demand has shrunk and that the real customers for American output are abroad. Solution: fire Americans, outsource jobs and demand, and insist on more tax cuts while harvesting obscene profits which, by the way, are not repatriated. Something about taxes again. Granted, I am simplifying but so do the purveyors of this dogma. This is context to frame the real question: Is another huge market opportunity being diminished here closer to home? I may be wrong but the question does intrigue me.

Is marketing to millennials, or any customer demographic more complex or challenging than it has ever been? I will venture that it is not. In fact, I think it is considerably easier. Now that you are slapping me around, I will explain. Yes, you need to know your market, your intended customer and the products and services in greatest demand. Nothing new so far, just basic psychographics i.e., how your market thinks, feels, reacts, and makes buying decisions. The problem for many producers is they may be captives to marketing strategies highly successful and cost-effective in the past, but less so in today’s market environment. The one behavior some in the business community exhibit that is resistant to change is a willingness to adapt. Am I in favor of preserving American jobs? Yes!

The ubiquitous ads for clothing and consumer electronics and technology on the Internet, for example, is a strong indication some of the major clothing chains and their principal suppliers as well as the technology sector have adapted quickly to the tastes of Generation Y. My interest centers on those companies who chose not to adapt; were lured by cheaper labor costs abroad and tax incentives to offshore production. This trend will continue but there is also a huge opportunity here at home. The cohort of Generation Y (born between 1979 and the mid-1990s) is vast, well-educated, demanding, and a potent force in our economy. They, therefore, create opportunity for the savvy entrepreneur. Numbering 70 million, Generation Y represents a projected $3 trillion segment of the economy by 2017. I suggest they are easy to market to because they are the “most tech-savvy and diverse group in American History.” For you marketers, “this generation lives in an age of information, but they don’t get their ideas or news from books, TV or the media. They get them from social networks.” This generation of consumers, employers, and leaders is networked and your sole task is to figure out how to attract their attention through their networks.

To begin, they are the current generation of high school and college students; public school teachers, parents, professional athletes, aspiring young professionals and entrepreneurs, local civic leaders, and even your children. They are not strangers. They sure as hell are not invisible! Moreover, they are politically savvy, worry about the quality of life in their communities and on the planet. Many of them remember “9/11” and served honorably in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they weary of Washington polemics and a generation of leadership that insists on mortgaging their futures with uncertainty, a more polarized society, economic and social policies, debts, and wars not of their choosing. My generation was bequeathed the aftermath of Vietnam. So, we alienate them not without cost to society. I am suggesting we pay more attention to our legacy.

Generation Y is the global consumer, thanks to metastasizing social media. There are now six billion subscribers on the Internet. This generation sees no geographical limits to inhibit their consumption preferences, travel options, or lifestyle choices. My research identifies the following top industries aimed at making a profit from this generation: Market research; Employment and recruiting; Food and alcoholic beverages; Holistic and alternative medicines; Entertainment, arts, and leisure; Education – private and public; Viral marketing; and, Information industries. Serving this market should be the 21st century marketers dream job.

A little advice: meet the millennials where they live and socialize and exchange information. Learn to speak their language and, most of all, respect them. You have now increased the likelihood they will spend their dollars with you – and encourage their friends to do so as well.

So, bottom line: if your market share continues to decline, look at your product line and determine if it is competitive. Update your customer base. If you are not sure how to market to this generation, or know where they are, or what their preferences are, do your research – online. Reach out to the people whose new business it is to supply answers to your questions about this generation. It is worth the small investment. If you doubt the viability of their market potential, consider this: “Every year, four million new millennials are coming of age and shopping for their first cars, their first homes, and their first mutual funds.” They will also be traveling and seeking entertainment and recreation interspersed with cultural pursuits.

If you chose to market to this generation, information is key. It is also easier to acquire than at any time in the past.

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George Kennedy

George Kennedy was a business advisor to small technology companies in the Washington DC Metropolitan Area. Currently, he serves as the Chairman of the Economic Development Committee of the Marana, AZ Chamber of Commerce and is a board member of the United Way of Tucson organization. He also serves as an advisory board member to the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Mr. Kennedy is a retired senior Foreign Service officer with extensive international experience. He holds a B.A. from the University of Oregon and two graduate degrees from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C.

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