Born in the hyper information era, permanently connected and experts in new technologies, young consumers now represent one-third of the world's population. Whilst it is no doubt easier to communicate with Gen-Y consumers thanks to the diversity of communication channels, getting their attention is much less promising.
However, there are a few quintessential principles that certain companies have already put in place that maximise the chance of a young consumer engaging with a brand.
Acting quickly and effectively
One prominent feature of Gen-Y consumers is their time-poor lives. Spending so much time socialising, using technology and interacting with friends online means that young consumers have even less time today to engage with brands. One brand that has recognised this is Samsung.
In India the company has decided to centre its new television advertising campaign on the Wi-Fi functionality of its Samsung Star 3DUOS smartphones. Technology and speed are the key words in this campaign that targets Gen-Y males in particular. The slogan is "Patience isn't for me", allied to the concept "fatafat". This is a Hindi word used to mean “fast; at once; or quickly”, making particular reference to the relationship young consumers have with time today.
In this field, Tipp-Ex struck a blow in 2010 and then again in 2012 with its campaign "A hunter shoots a bear" on YouTube. An interactive video enabled viewers to influence the course of the story as it developed. The video was presented in a highly humorous way and included so many different scenarios that users had a wide variety of different experiences. In fact, the Tipp-Ex brand itself is relatively minimalist in the experience, with just the company’s product enabling the user to modify elements of the story.
Whilst interactivity on this scale was something of a first for a brand using YouTube, it wasn’t the sole benefit. The unique nature of the campaign meant that consumers were engaged with both the product conception and the brand promotion. This is especially important given that young consumers are keen to engage and converse with brands today. In fact, today Gen-Y often refuses to be involved in commercial relationships that they consider to be too unilateral.
Creating commitment and proximity
Identifying the influencers or the ambassadors of a brand from a target of young hyper-connected consumers is a fundamental issue for marketing, whatever the size of the company. Even for a local restaurant, generating word-of-mouth with a satisfied client is crucial. Brands like Innocent Smoothies have built their reputation on this principle by being capable of gathering consumers and uniting them around humorous communication. All of Innocent’s products contain hidden jokes or comical messaging, sometimes in unusual places like the base of the bottle. The tone is both colloquial and light-hearted, prompting consumers to engage with the packaging as much as they do with the product.
Among the trade names that efficiently handle commitment and proximity, Urban Outfitters probably ranks near the top of the list. The brand has created retail outlets that look more like an urban youth meeting and living room than a point of sale. No two stores look the same, and no two window displays are the same as they are mostly designed by local employees. In fact, Urban Outfitters is one of only a handful of brands that regularly sees its topical window displays appearing across social media sites. Former CEO Glen Senck once described his stores as offering a “sensorial experience and telling a story”, providing a place where shoppers come to connect. In this way, the brand ensures that the act of purchase remains secondary to the retail experience.
Simplifying and promoting transparency
For Gen-Y, brands’ marketing messages today are often too complicated or ineffective for their modern lives. In fact, many young consumers now turn to peers, family and online forums and social networks for advice and recommendations, rather than approach a brand directly.
In the UK, companies such as mobile virtual network Giffgaff have realised this and have created entirely new business models. Unlike its larger rivals, Giffgaff is effectively run by its members who are rewarded for overseeing parts of the business such as customer support queries across the community. Consumers are encouraged to seek advice, guidance and support from the community before contacting the network itself. Members are also recognised for recruiting new customers and helping to promote the firm. So successful is the concept of embracing the social customer that as of 2012 the company was run with a staff of just 25.
In China, the HaiTao portal, which means “scavenger hunt”, is also becoming highly successful. The young Chinese are disappointed with local products, and are losing confidence with the domestic industries. The HaiTao portal enables them to buy directly from foreign internet sites, identified as offering reliable, good quality products. Even if the delivery deadline is quite long, HaiTao's success shows Gen-Y’s need for transparency and quality concerning brands and Chinese trade names.
In Hong Kong brands such as Uniqlo, H&M, Gap and Forever 21 are all targeting young consumers, but while most rely on global advertising campaigns, Uniqlo has recently launched a local initiative called ‘Embracing beautiful Hong Kong’ to stand out. The campaign features natives such as Cantopop singer and actress Miriam Yeung, actor Shawn Yue, world champion racing cyclist Wong Kam Po and Olympic-medal winning cyclist Lee Wai Sze.
For marketing, attracting and seducing young, demanding and connected consumers is not a simple thing. Brands can't be too “cool” or pretend to understand them, as this savvy group will always recognise a false brand voice, sowing distrust and ultimately turning them away from the products. If brands can successfully connect with Gen-Y and make them feel special, young consumers are more likely to want to build a relationship. Disrupt them, and they will lock you out of their world.
Sana Dubarry is the director, strategic consulting and advanced analytics in EMEA for Epsilon.