Marketing Showdown: How to Reach Gen Y

Modern Marketing


I recently attended a company event at Marketo, where I had the privilege of talking to a senior-level salesperson. What started as a lighthearted chat soon became a battle of the generations. If this were a movie, it would have been a Western, and the conversation was like a cowboy standoff—he pulled out his Smith and Wesson, and I pulled out my iPhone 5.

The topic of our showdown was employment at start-ups. Are these jobs enviable, or are they better to avoid? The senior-level salesperson, who we will now call Blake, said that he would never want to work for a start-up. He said that behind the cloud of benefits was a life of torture and inevitable pain. In his opinion, the number and distribution of working hours, the personality types these environments attract, and the low compensation were not offset by the perks.

I said that from my point of view, long hours and less competitive salaries don’t matter as much as other factors. I’m willing to live, eat, and breathe my work—start-up perks are there to take care of everything else. I said that as a member of Generation Y, it must be a generational difference.

That clear difference led me to think about how marketers could better engage with Generation Y. Many marketing teams dismiss my generation, but it’s crucial that you learn how to engage with us. We’re a big, powerful group—an army of digital Hulks (except a lot smaller, and with lightning-fast texting skills instead of bulging muscles). We may not have the spending power of the Baby Boomers, but we definitely make the best memes.

At Marketo, we care about marketing to Generation Y for another reason, also: Generation Y represents the future of customer engagement. Consider us an entire generation of early adopters, and assume that what appeals to us will eventually appeal to a much wider demographic. The buying behaviors first exhibited by young people later become the status quo. We’re alert to new trends, and we’re open to new things—whether it’s the reinvented workplace of a start-up job, or an unconventional way of engaging with brands. You already care about how customers interact with your brand on social media, and you should pay special attention to Generation Y. If you market to Generation Y, you’ll end up marketing to Baby Boomers, whether they’d like to admit it or not.

Here are my tips for marketing to Generation Y—a wish list, if you will:

  • Start Internally: The first and probably most overlooked way to market to the newer generations is to use internships, rotational programs and mentorship programs. My initial reaction to Blake’s comment was to post negative comments on social media. When it comes to positive reactions, I post those as well. If you start programs that cater toward these age groups, you’ll take advantage of their social fluency. This is probably the cheapest and easiest way to get a large social reach. If you want them to blog, you might provide them with a guide.
  • Be Responsive: When a customer calls, do you answer the phone, or do you let it ring? Treat interactions on social media in the same way. When I tweet you or use your hashtag, respond in a timely fashion. If I have a concern, address it. If I tweet a complaint, and you respond with a solution, I will continue doing business with you. Let’s say you own a restaurant, and I write a negative review on Yelp. It’s your decision to join or ignore the online conversation, but you can’t stop the conversation from taking place.
  • Reach Me on Mobile: One of my biggest pet peeves is when people post a video that I really want to watch, but neglect to enable mobile view. When members of Generation Y consume your marketing material, you should assume that many of us are using our phones. Marketers love to talk about reducing friction for customers, and how responding to your call to action should be as easy as possible. For Generation Y, this means that mobile optimization is crucial.

Even though my ego loves to think so, I don’t represent my entire generation. My opinions are only my own, and this list is far from complete. Because of this, I’d like this blog post to become a discussion. So, if you are not a member of Generation Y, please post a comment below answering one (or all) of the following questions:

  1. What difficulties do you have marketing to Generation Y?
  2. What’s an example of a Generation Y ad campaign that you think is successful?
  3. What’s the best piece of marketing that you have for my generation?

If you are a member of Generation Y (aka “the best generation”) or Generation Z (do you even read things this long?), please answer one (or all) of these:

  1. What are the top three apps or websites you use/visit?
  2. What is your favorite marketing ad or campaign?
  3. What is your biggest marketing pet peeve?

I hope this blog inspires a conversation across all generations—we all have a lot to learn from each other. In the mean time, I have a meme of Blake to post.