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  Collision Feature

Guerrilla Marketing: Conquering Gen Tech and Millennials

Posted 10/12/2009
By Angie Kilbourne

These two groups will be your customers for the long-term future.
Learn how to speak to them in a way that actually gets through.

There was a time that you enjoyed being the king (or queen) of marketing. You advertised. You promoted your business, and established yourself as an expert. You read all the books from the gurus, and all those tactics you employed paid off.

And then a new crop of customers comes along. They're young. They don't speak your language. They question the credibility you've carefully built, and they reject all the traditional media you've used for years. Who do they think they are, and why should you change everything that's worked for you in the past ... just to appease them?

Well, if you intend to stay in business, they are going to be your customers for a very long time into the future. So it's time to build a new marketing plan that reaches beyond their filters to influence their buying decisions. Let's get started.

The World They've Always Known

By the 1960s, most Baby Boomers had reached early adulthood and began to leave their mark on society. Boomers had decided to change the world they lived in, and as a result, they delayed starting families. This dramatic decline in the birth rate signaled the beginning of Generation X. Born between 1965 and 1979, this group represents 49.1 million people in the United States and actually prefers to be referred to as "Gen Tech."

The strongest identifying characteristic of Gen Tech is their preference to working solo instead of being part of the team. Remember, these were the first latchkey kids. They grew up in a world where the house was empty when they got home, and they did their chores and homework at their own pace with little to no supervision. Gen X grew up with multiple televisions in a house connected to cable service. Today, they are the biggest consumers of media, and they use technology to support their lifestyles: Tivos, DVRs, smart/ mobile phones, mobile Internet, ATMs, e-commerce and online banking.

By contrast, Generation Y (also known as Echo Boomers or Millennials), born 1980 through 1994, is 73.5 million strong - almost as large as the Baby Boomers. Although they emphasize their individuality, Millenials are known for traveling in packs or herds - a result of their parents' emphasis on group activities, team sports and packed social schedules.

They are the first generation to be born in homes with computers. As a result, Millenials find these gadgets as challenging or impressive as a toaster, says Meagan Johnson, generational humorist and motivational speaker.

Technology is "embedded into everything Gen Yers do, making them the first native online population," said Charles Golvin in a 2008 interview with BusinessWeek magazine. Surrounded by media messages 24/7, they have incredible filters to eliminate unwanted messages and tend to rely on parents and friends for recommendations and feedback when making purchasing decisions.

The Great Pessimists

Gen X represents a great deal of diversity. Gen X is very well educated, independent and self-reliant. According to the U.S. Census, only 62 percent of Gen X falls into the white, non-Hispanic category, and 29 percent are immigrants 29 to 40 years old, the largest percentage for any generation according to NAS Recruitment.

To reach this group, ensure your message is placed in targeted, demographic-specific publications and media outlets. Appeal to their taste for individualized service, and when speaking to a specific demographic of Gen Xers, be sure you understand their unique racial, ethnic and cultural values.

Growing up in households affected with layoffs and divorce, Gen Tech is also more accustomed to sudden or dramatic changes in life and is more pessimistic about the future. As a result, they tend to be skeptical of traditional advertising, are more price-conscious than boomers or Millenials and are not particularly brand loyal. However, they do place a very high value on education and knowledge. Expect Gen X customers to thoroughly research your business before walking through the door.

Your message should be straightforward and offer evidence to support its claims. "Instead of sending a promotion, send advice. Something meaningful and smart and educational," says Jeannette Kocsis, vice president, digital strategy and media, Harte-Hanks, in an interview with BtoB magazine.

They are the most loyal generation of customers and workers, says Cam Marston, founder and president of Generational Insight. When they find someone or something that works well for them, they stick with it. They can be cynical, questioning and difficult, but show them how their lives will benefit from your services - now and in the years to come - and they will be your most loyal customers.

Our Short Term Equals Their Long Term

Millennials are the young people you see pacing impatiently in front of a microwave while texting furiously. As a group, they are quick adopters of new technology. But easy adaptation can also lead to early boredom and quick dismissal in search of the "next best thing." What you need to understand is that Millennials don't expect the long term to actually be "long term." According to Marston, 51 percent of Gen Y believe the average time to "pay your dues" is about one to two years.

This is a generation that is immersed in technology, so if you want your message to reach them, you have to bring it to them both online and offline. They crave two-way conversations - "quality time" with someone they look up to. When a Millennial leaves your shop, follow up with an e-mail within hours, not days. And communicate often with them, advises BtoB magazine. Not daily, but often enough they will recognize your message as being from a trusted source.

Gen Y highly values authenticity, integrity and responsibility. Interestingly, they believe their incomes to be below average, regardless of what they make. "Like everyone, Millennials are scared. No one knows what all those billions being spent now mean for the future," says Carol Phillips, a marketing instructor at the Mendoza College of Business, Notre Dame University. "Millennials still have discretionary income no matter how poor they claim to be. And they are spending on what they consider 'necessities' - education, eating out, transportation, technology. They are inherently cautious shoppers and research everything before they buy." Phillips offers some more marketing tips when dealing with Millennials:

Don't position a product or service as a luxury; show its importance as a necessity and how it fits into their lives and lifestyles.

Facebook, Twitter and other social networks are "of the people, by the people, for the people." Don't overextend your advertising message if you dabble in the social networking arena.

Take a lesson from Starbucks: The extra "service" is part of the package. Think in terms of car washes, detailing, coffee and donuts, Internet in your waiting room, etc. Research shows Gen Y doesn't think about who pays for these "freebies," only that these perks are available to them.

Getting Through to Them

Word-of-mouth is effective marketing for any generation. But when dealing with Gen Y, there are some caveats. Gen Y is very close to their parents. As a matter of fact, it's the first generation that doesn't hate their parents, says Johnson. As a result, Millennials influence approximately $300 to $400 million in family/household spending, and receiving their parents' approval is very important when making their own purchasing decisions.

In contrast, blogs, online reviews, testimonials and any other advice that comes from outside their circle of acquaintances are suspect and ignored for the most part. A study by the Participatory Marketing Network and the Lubin School of Business' Interactive and Direct Marketing Lab at Pace University found 74 percent of Millennials clicked infrequently on Internet ads, and 36 percent reported never clicking on ads. "They're cynical. They believe all advertisers lie," says Phillips.

Think 'Outside the Box'

Growing up with and around technology, the biggest turnoff for Gen X and Y are high-tech, slick, polished marketing messages. As a result, both of these groups have created some powerful filters to ignore advertisements. But they can be influenced by great visuals and do appreciate the hard work that goes into creating a multimedia presentation that combines both style and solid information.

Who Does Gen Y Trust?
Music Celebrities
Source: Meagan Johnson

The polished marketing message "has been replaced with a 'rough authenticity,'" says Johnson. "When you show your flaws or your quirkiness, it gets through the filters. A highly polished package sends up antennas with Gen X and Y."

To both groups, time is a currency they understand and appreciate. Provide them with convenience or a timesavings and you will get their attention. They also appreciate businesses that are environmentally and socially conscious; however, be specific when you make your claims.

Another tactic is to make your service an "experience" they won't soon forget. Automakers are now connecting the dots with this idea, providing these buyers with the chance to learn specific driving skills from pros or to compare different vehicles on a closed circuit course. You can do the same by hosting service clinics that allow participants to get up close and personal with straightening a frame or servicing the brakes. These experiences allow them the chance to discover just how difficult it is to reach that hidden bolt or how much you have invested in that new piece of equipment.

You can reclaim your spot at the top of the marketing heap just by learning about the core values of Generations X and Y. "It's easy to get caught up in studying their buying behavior, media use and latest must-have technology. But if you study their values, you will have a better idea of how to connect with them," says Phillips.

What's Next?

Hold on tight because your marketing efforts don't end here. Generation Z, or the iGeneration, is coming of age soon. Born after 1994, they comprise nearly 18 percent of the global population today.

This group of youngsters has access to virtually any communication tool: the Internet and computers, smart/mobile phones, iPods and MP3 players. Not only has the iGeneration embraced technology, they are dependent on it. As a result, they differ vastly from previous generations:

  • They hold knowledge about technology in very high regard, but not education.

  • Born into a world of Internet forums and social networks, they expect instant gratification.

  • They are even more altruistic and have an even deeper sense of social justice than Gen Y.

  • A sense of community is most important to them, and they prefer any message that emphasizes live community. There is still much to learn about Generation Z. Thankfully, you have some time to research before they start walking through your shop's front door.


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