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Selling to Gen Y

February 29, 2012

Happy leap day!  I adore an extra twenty-four hour day every four years and I’m sure all of you will put this extra time to good use.

I want to share a frustration a client is experiencing with her target audience.  This particular client is struggling to reach the young demographic.  Well, she was talking to the right person, as approximately 80% of my clients in my ad specialty business are between the ages of 25 and 40.  I will confirm for you that selling to the young demographic, or as they are known Gen Y, is a completely different ballgame than selling to the Gen X or Baby Boom generations and for those of us who have been in business for a long time it is a frustrating pursuit.  

In order to be wildly successful we must love thy customer.  It is just one of those business golden rules.  So, let me introduce you to your customer in hopes that you will begin to understand them and hopefully this enlightenment will lead to love!

These dates are not set in stone and what I’m going to discuss somewhat generalized, but it will help you to gain a better understanding of your target audiences.

Baby Boomer:  (Born 1944-1964) My husband and I are boomers. We bookend this era with him being born in 1944 and I 1964.  Yes we are a May-December relationship, but that is another story.   This was the Post WWII gen and they grew up in a very cohesive national culture.  There were only three television channels and they all were tuned in to the same messages.  This group was a tad self-righteous and thankfully they expected the world, post war, to continue to improve.  The boomers were responsible for expansion of freedoms.  They fought for civil rights and the rights of women and are a bit idolized for their contributions to change.  They contended with the Vietnam war, assassinations and enjoyed the success of our nation being the first to walk on the moon.  

Gen X (Born 1966 -1980) I’m really a Gen X gal.  Gen X is sometimes referred to as the middle child.  Sandwiched between the social change boomers and the techy Y generation, this group has no real identity.  I remember quite clearly the recession in the 70s with parents out of work, the oil crisis with cars lined up for gas and the energy crisis.  We had the Chernobyl disaster and watched the space shuttle Challenger blow up right before our eyes.  Just as we graduated college in the mid 80s and got our first jobs we experienced black Monday on 10/19/87.  I was working for Coopers & Lybrand and my apartment mate was laid off.  I fortunately was always employed.  This generation was marked with an uncertain future.  Ah, the pain of being a middle child.

Gen Y (Born Roughly 1977-1995) This generation is profoundly adept with communications, media and digital technology. They are connected!  Tech-savvy is the very definition of this group. They run their lives technically and prefer to communicate via text or email rather than face to face. This is a big challenge for us old school kids who still believe in relationship selling.

They watched their parents, the Gen X crew, work hard to support their family and obtain a higher standard of living than their post WWII folks, all the while sacrificing their family time and in some cases any resemblance of a quality of life.  Their parents gave their lives to the corporate world and found out that the corporate world in return was not so loyal in the mergers and acquisition period of the 80s. The Gen Y group saw this and decided they were going to live their life on their own terms, so they have high expectations of their employers and are more apt to leave a company for other horizons in pursuit of their definition of success.  Corporate loyalty is not part of their playbook and they have a better understanding of work/life balance than previous generations.  How dare they want to live life first and work second?  This can be perceived as the “narcissist or entitled” group, but they just believe in living their life on their terms.  

They are confident, achievement oriented and their ambition is apparent. I believe we will see more entrepreneurs from this generation than any previous generation.   

Gen Y is financially smart. These kids have watched financial melt downs since the first dot com bubble burst in the early 90s and they are very aware that they need to take control of their own financial future as much as possible.

So, watch out, these kids move.  They are keen on developing skills and moving forward as quickly as possible. Change is not only embraced, but also expected. The challenge for corporations today is how do we retain Gen Y talent?  

So the question my client posed was how do we reach these relationships?  

In light of the fact that this generation is going be part of our target market for a very long time here are a few pointers:

1.  They run their lives technically and prefer to communicate via text or email rather than face to face (and truthfully they prefer text).   This is a big challenge for us old school kids who still believe in relationship selling.  So you are going to have to go beyond the belly-to-belly traditional relationship model and integrate every tech communication method possible if your intent is to reach them. 

2.  This group is very sophisticated.  They have had lots of exposure to “wow” which make this generation pretty tough to impress!   They have seen it all, so traditional marketing channels are not going to hit with them.  You need to be as creative as possible to draw them in.  Think gorilla marketing – it works! 

3. Attention spans are short now thanks to the availability of information on the web and this generation in particular would like all information to be presented as quickly as a text. Their attention span is miniscule so you need to be creative, clear and concise in your outreach. Be brief, engaging and be memorable. 

4. They will not look for you. You have to find them and the best place is on social network sites: Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube are their channels. These are the avenues to ingratiate you into their world.

5.  Gen Y are huge multi-taskers. They can and will text, check email etc while you are presenting or speaking with them and it doesn’t mean they are not listening or don’t value what you have to offer. They may even be taking notes on their mobile devise so don’t be offended and peg them as rude.  

Understanding your customers will make all of the difference in the world in your rate of success. 

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