How to Market to Gen Y

Monica O’Brien

Apr 21, 2010 -

Moms, teens, and college students are the most sought after (and most difficult to understand) marketing segments. Now all three of these groups fit under one larger umbrella: Generation Y—roughly, those born in the 1980s and 1990s. This makes Generation Y the most important generation for marketers to study today. Look at the facts:

  • Gen Y is the largest generation in U. S. history. You thought Boomers were a big generation? Check out their kids. Generation Y is estimated at 77 million people—several million more than the Boomer generation.
  • Gen Y has the highest consumer confidence. Gen Y lost the most in the recent recession, with lower wages and the largest number of job losses. Despite the recession, Gen Y maintained spending habits rather than saving. This generation is likely to keep spending at the same rates in the years to come, regardless of the economy.
  • The new mommy bloggers are from Gen Y. Every PR and interactive agency wants to reach those mommy bloggers. According to The Parents Network, 68 percent of all births are to Generation Y moms (not Generation X). This up and coming group of moms has been shaped by a different upbringing and different world events than the one before it, and companies should approach them differently.
  • Gen Y sets the trends. Baby Boomers emulate their Gen Y children, creating a “trickle-up” effect. Also, Media Post reports “67 percent of Gen X women identified Gen Y [women] as trend leaders” (hat tip to Rebecca Thorman). Generation Y influences the likes and dislikes of not just each other, but older generations too.

At this point, you might think Gen Y is taking over the world. We aren’t there yet, but it is a no-brainer: companies must pay more attention to Gen Y because this is the key target demographic. Here are six ways to reach this generation online:

  1. Target the influencers. In digital, the most influential people are bloggers, and you can find all Gen Y bloggers on two networks: Brazen Careerist and 20Something Bloggers. Target specific groups by interest on each site, write a piece for the main newsletter, and start networking with over 10,000 Gen Y bloggers. Get this group excited about what you are doing, and they will tell their vast networks of friends online.
  2. Infiltrate the inner circle. A small start-up called CaptainU targets high school athletes with their college recruiting software. The company spent a year trying to market their company on Facebook with no success. Then, they offered internships to a small group of high school students, who started sharing the company’s fan page updates with friends. The CaptainU Facebook fan page went from 100 fans to nearly 2,000 fans within a month, all because they found a way to infiltrate the inner circle of teens they were targeting.
  3. Build a street team. Generation Y gets most of their information from trusted resources—their friends. Most companies are wary of letting non-employees represent them, but Generation Y is collaborative, technologically savvy, and well-networked. Gen Y wants to build a brand with you, so let them. Provide them with exclusive information, pictures, and video, give them sneak peeks at new products, and hook them up with goods they can talk about and share with their friends.
  4. Tie-in with causes. Gen Y is known to be passionate about causes—world issues, politics, and the environment. According to Diversity Inc, Gen Y is “undeniably a big reason that America elected its first black president in U.S. history.” Companies like Tom’s Shoes are popular with Gen Y because they can easily give back as they consume. Gen Y also “enjoys giving as part of social events such as parties and athletic races” according to a study by Convio.
  5. Advertise on mobile. Gen Y never leaves home without their cell phones. According to Ad Age, “one-quarter of Facebook’s 400 million users access the site through mobile devices; this set is twice as active than non-mobile users.” As geo-gaming applications like Foursquare and Gowalla take off, expect to see more opportunities to advertise to Gen Y on the go.
  6. Keep up with the trends. Because Gen Y relies so heavily on technology for communication, the tools and tactics are always changing. If there is one blog you read about youth marketing, make it YPulse. They cover marketing trends for tweens, teens, college students, and young professionals in the workplace.


Monica O’Brien is the director of digital at Fizz and author of Social Pollination: Escape the Hype of Social Media and Join the Companies Winning At It. You can read her blog, Social Pollination, and follow her on Twitter at @monicaobrien.  

Tags: gen y, market, monica o’brien, the world

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