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Marketers Beware The Age Wave

Aaron Strout and I have been collaborating again, last time it was semantic technologies, this time we handle the issue of Generation Y and marketing. We decided to cross-post this article on both our blogs, here's Aaron's blog.

Thanks Aaron, great fun writing this piece.

92, 62 and 78.

These three numbers promise to have a major impact on marketing over the next five to 10 years.

Why? The numbers highlight an on-going radical change in demographics in the United States.

Seventy-eight is the number of Baby Boomers that were born between the years of 1946 and 1964. Sixty-two million is the number of Gen X-ers that were born between the years 1965 and 1979. And ninety-two million is the number of Gen Y-ers born—or ‘Millennials’ as they are often dubbed—between 1980 and 2001.*

Ken Dychtwald, psychologist, gerontologist, public speaker, and author, calls this an "Age Wave", a significant shift in demographics that replaces the “60 and 70 somethings” with “20 and 30 somethings.”

Affecting not only the workforce but also consumers, marketers need to take into account the changing needs and desires of this emerging demographic.

Implications For You, The Marketer

It's obvious that Gen Y-ers spend a lot more time on the computer (and their 3G-enabled phones) than the older generations do, but what's more important to consider is the philosophical shift in mindset that is taking place.

For one, Gen Y-ers are more skeptical of advertising and rely more heavily on their peers for information and recommendations than the older crowd, who turn to more mainstream sources, like newspapers, for information.

They also expect you as a company to be more fully accessible online and to engage with them where they are most comfortable i.e. Facebook, Twitter, sites like GetSatisfaction and on Youtube.

Oh yeah, you better be on Facebook, because that's where they hang out with peers. And your Facebook page better not be full of corporate speak otherwise they'll not only not come back but they'll tell their friends that you simply "don't get it."

One needs only to look at the hemorrhaging of newspapers around the United States to see what happens when an industry doesn't change with the times. The Post Intelligencer is gone, Chicago Tribune in receivership, the Boston Globe may have the plug pulled by their New York Times Co. bosses and the hundred year old Christian Science Monitor has moved to online only with only a weekly digest coming out in paper.

It's only a matter of time before other industries follow suit.

So what marketers do to keep up? Here are a few simple steps that John and I have come up with to help you get started:

Listen: There's a better-than-average chance that your Gen Y customers are already talking about you online. Finding out what they're saying is a great place to start. Good, bad or indifferent, this information will help shape an approach to your audience. At the simplest, this can be accomplished by setting up Google alerts. There are also online monitoring services available from companies such as Radian6, Techrigy, BuzzStream, Nielsen, Visible Technologies, Meltwater News and Cymphony.

Converse: If your customers are talking about you on micro-blogging sites, like Twitter, set up a corporate account (but get some training/help first). Companies like New Marketing Labs and Digital Voodoo focus on advising companies in this capacity.

Engage: Show your customers you care by creating funny, creative and engaging content. A good B2B company that's leading by example in this regard is Boston-based Hubspot. In the B2C realm, take a look at BlendTec and the approach they take to selling blenders.

Community Building With Gen Y

Gen Y’ers have embraced the concept of online communities and made it one of the hallmarks of their generation. Yes, places like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and LinkedIn fall into this category, but don't limit yourself to the pool of public social networking sites.

As Aaron and I mentioned above, engaging your key audience is critical, especially as the majority of users become younger and savvier. .

Develop social networks that connect people locally, but also let the wider community through their friends see the benefits of your community. Connect on Facebook and other popular culture social media technologies, and create your own social network.

Demonstrate You Understand What's Important To Gen Y

Community marketing: Sponsor and work with nonprofits in your marketing efforts. Green marketing can also be effective in demonstrating your company is taking steps to do something about the environment.

Community Evangelism:
Give people positions of authority in the community you will cultivate the next generation of leaders and give people more reasons to join and stay in your community if you empower them to help you build the community.

Virtual Worlds: Gen Y is overloaded with advertising, cynical to an extent and tougher to make an impression on. Provide an experience that is rich and interactive the greater the chance of making an impression. Consider setting up a virtual world for your community like some of those that exist on SecondLife.


The boomer demographic dominated the American scene for decades. As this group moves into their golden years, other age groups will fill this gap in employment and culture. Gen X’ers don’t have nearly the numbers that the boomers have, but as Gen Y matures, filling the employment gap and becoming the dominant target demographic, American culture will undergo a great change.

Gen Y is already influencing how American's live and work as they become an increasing portion of the American workforce.  Boomers & Gen X’ers beat the path, but Gen Y’ers have grown up in a world of digital media. They may not have all the experience or knowledge, but they do know how to really work within this new culture. Everyone else will adopt to their cultural standard.
If you want to succeed in marketing to Gen Y, the strategies are content marketing and social media engagement. Develop compelling content that people actually want to read. Use that content to engage your Gen Y audience. Oh, by the way, this is also how you can market to Gen X and Boomers as those generations increase the role of the web in their lives.

Marketing is all about understanding your audience to satisfy their wants and needs. If your audience is Gen Y, you have to understand them in order to market to them. Even if Gen Y is not your audience, their culture will become mainstream American culture. Spending time on getting to know Gen Y’ers is a business opportunity, as that knowledge will prepare you for the new realities of living and marketing in the 21st century.

*Based on US Census Data, November 2008.