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Millennials Surfing: Generation Y Online

They are the most technologically savvy generation ever to walk the earth. They have never known a world without remote controls, CDs, cable TV, and the computer. They are called a myriad of names by those most interested in profiting from accurately identifying and then defining them. They are known most commonly as Generation Y and they are defining the future. They are doing it today.

Generation Y is commonly defined as those born after 1982, with some skewing the entry point a little earlier, around 1980. In Neil Howe and William Strauss' book, Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation, they are "the 'Babies on Board' of the early Reagan years, the 'Have You Hugged Your Child Today?' sixth graders of the early Clinton years, the teens of Columbine."

They are the most media savvy, educated, and wired population to have ever walked the earth. They are also the largest trend-setting population since the Baby Boomers.

Marketers have always been after the younger generation, whether or not they consisted of superior numbers and in spite of their general lack of absolute spending power versus their elders. That is not to say that they do not control or influence significant spending: The demographic segment marketers are most interested in -- individuals between the ages of 13 to 24 - are estimated to be responsible for $149B in spending.

The youth market has always been a fickle one, and has always been difficult to reach. Online media, however, offers the same kinds of unique targeting opportunities for reaching this demographic as it does for other segments of the population. What is different this time is THIS specific generation and how THEY use the Internet.

Research recently released by Yahoo! and Carat Interactive, conducted by Harris Interactive and Teenage Research Unlimited takes a fresh look at Generation Y and its uses of media. The use of media by the kids in this group is more fluid and less compartmentalized than it is for us older folk, and marketers would do well to take note.

"What makes Gen Y people different is the way they are consuming media," says Beth-Ann Eason, vice president, Category Management at Yahoo!. "Research that Yahoo! and Carat commissioned earlier this year showed that not only are teens spending more time with the Internet than TV, but that they also use the Internet as the hub of their media activity. The Internet is the medium from which all other media decisions get made, and that's a powerful tool for marketers."

The Internet has become the centerpiece of not only GenY's media engagement, but of most of their engagements. It has become almost an alpha-and-omega for how they communicate with each other and their world.

There are discrepancies between this commissioned piece of research and that which is available from syndicated sources (Nielsen, for instance, shows that they spend as much time on the Internet in a month as they spend with television in a week), but what isn't in doubt is how important the medium is to their lives in ways that other media are not.

Most of us can guess what kinds of products and services are marketed directly to GenY by virtue of them being "in market" for said products and services, e.g. clothing, entertainment, consumer electronics. But it is important to understand how GenY uses the Internet not only for the purposes of marketing products and services endemic to them now, but for purposes of establishing brands that seek to harvest in the future relationships made in the present. And marketers are starting to take notice.

"Smart marketers are thinking about being the brand that GenY thinks of five years from now, when they are adults," points out Eason. "There are products for which the marketer needs to generate interest while GenY people are still young, including affinity products like packaged goods as well as lifetime products like credit cards, luxury cars, and banks. Marketers can use media programs, where GenY is spending their time, to build trust, connect with GenY, and open the door for future consideration"

Growing pressures for ever-increasing profit yield have resulted in many marketers acting on myopic visions trained only as far ahead as the next analysts' meetings and earnings reports. Smart marketers know that consumers of their products tomorrow are made today.

A company hoping to maintain and grow its position in the future has to start addressing consumers today. Marketing to Generation Y is not simply selling them what they are buying today; it is about establishing your brand so that they will buy tomorrow. And it needs to be done in whatever medium rests on the edge of what is new. My favorite anecdote I like to share with clients when discussing the subject of advertising today for market share tomorrow is that of Kodak and the marketing of the personal use camera in 1900. Kodak positioned the Brownie camera as a product for kids, and it sold for a dollar. The ads ran in popular rather than trade magazines, an unheard-of tactic for something so "technical." Eventually, nearly every adult in America had a personal use camera, and an entire industry was born.

Those marketers that have taken note of this very important generation and are making efforts to reach them are doing so in interesting ways. Among the key approaches has been to not interrupt their lives with messaging and intrude on their experiences, but to become a part of their experiences; to slip messaging in and become a part of their communicative activities and integrated life.

"Viral Marketing is an invaluable tool to use when connecting with GenY," says Eason. "When a product launches, GenY is best equipped to generate significant buzz and accelerate any program with 'word of mouse.' The kids in this group are online consistently, have huge networks of friends and talk frequently."

This is a way for a marketer's message to become the material of communication.

"We've worked with clients to give GenY products they will use that also have great viral potential. Downloadable skins for Yahoo! Messenger (IMVironment) as well as branded MP3 players are good examples of great tools to market to GenY. Also, giving GenY advance or sneak peaks at products accomplishes the traditional street team effect to get the talk going before the retailers even stock the product."

Becoming a part of an individual's life is the centerpiece of marketing in the face of "future shock," when the intended recipient of a marketer's messaging is so inundated with an acceleration of images, words, ideas, and technologies that it could possibly overwhelm him or her. By simply "being there" (could this be "Dasein Marketing?") and available for insertion into one's life, brand messaging has a better opportunity for sublime notice by the individual. A brand's message also stands a better chance of being viewed as "authentic" when it can become part of a person's "flow experience." The messaging is not making an imposition but rather being invited in to become part of a life experience.

One of the most important things to come out of the Yahoo!/Carat Interactive research is that for Generation Y there will be little in the way of specific "division of labor" between media. Generation Y kids and their use of media is the lens through which the future of media usage in general can be viewed.

Concludes Eason of Yahoo!: "In the future, GenY will look at the Internet as a place to not only discover (today) but to confirm and validate. Currently, magazines signal trends to them and this drives search activity on the Internet and word of mouth. In the future, trends will generate from the Internet through rich media and targeting marketing programs. These Internet trends will integrate testimonials as well as transactions, speeding up the process of getting a great product into the hands of the GenY Consumer."

They will hop from media to media, each media providing them with something different than the other and each of them being a means by which GenY not only learns about what they are interested in, but by virtue of GenY's use of various media with the Internet at the center, marketers will learn more what people are interested in.

Posted on aef.com: October 20, 2003


Jim Meskauskas, Underscore Marketing. October 15, 2003

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