Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

5 Things You Need To Know About Marketing To Gen Y

Why the traditional marketing strategies are failing

Gen Y

Gen Y

If you’ve any experience of marketing, you’ll know how tricky it can sometimes be to persuasively engage consumers.

Before the birth of the web, marketers based their strategies on tried-and-tested methods that worked well with Baby Boomers – those born after the end of World War II, between the years of 1946 and 1964. Armed with solid demographic information, a good marketer could design a campaign based around the traits that most characterized this generation: individuality, an emphasis on youth and self-absorption [1], belief in mediocrity, respect for knowledge and a lack of respect for authority [2].

A failing strategy

But what worked well with this group appears to be leaving the up-and-coming Gen Y out in the cold. Not only is this group unlikely to see the ads placed according to the best place for Baby Boomers [3], but research has shown that the consumer behaviours of these two groups differ greatly, not least due to their strikingly different psychographics.

Unlike the Boomers, their Gen Y offspring (born between 1978 and 1994) are much less accepting of traditional marketing methods, proving more skeptical and hard to reach than previous generations. The rapid advancement of technology has shaped this new wave of consumers to become habituated to quick-fire multitasking - not only dividing their attention in the pursuit of concurrent tasks, but also bombarding their senses with brands, people, and platforms all battling it out rabidly for their already fractured attention.

Seducing Gen Y

So in a world in which attention is a rare commodity, what can marketers do to attract and engage the elusive Gen Y user?

Well, if you want to succeed in ensnaring this group, you’re going to have to take risks and get creative with your approach. Given that teenagers have a strong influence over household purchases (with 13 - 21 year olds influencing 52% of car choices and 81% of family apparel purchases [4]), your ability to actively engage these consumers could mean the difference between the success or failure of your business.

5 things you need to know

With that in mind, here are 5 things you need to know about the Gen Y consumer to win their custom:

1. Connection

Gen Y kids are more optimistic and more socially conscious, craving constant communication and connection with their peers – hence the proliferation and enduring success of social media.

2. Values

Unlike their predecessors, Gen Ys exhibit a higher tolerance for diversity [5], probably due to the variety of global viewpoints they’re exposed to in day-to-day life, whether online or in their increasingly multicultural peer groups. They tend also to be much more confident and socially aware, valuing equality and social responsibility over the quick wins and thoughtless consumerism that typified the 1980’s of the Boomers.

3. Personality

This generation values individuality, as long as they’re still considered part of the group. Unlike some of their Baby Boomer parents, they’re particularly unwilling to trade in their values for their image, and being seen as ‘fake’ is generally much worse than being considered uncool.

4. Lifestyle

Contrary to popular belief, research suggests that Gen Ys tend to lead a relatively quiet life hanging out with friends, listening to music, and yes, even watching the so-called dying medium of TV [6]. They also value convenience, as exemplified by the popularity of sites such as Amazon and eBay that make shopping as easy as the click of a button.

5. (Dis)Trust

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this group are generally very distrustful of mainstream media, and cautious of their personal safety [7] - which may explain why earned media such as word-of-mouth, peer reviews and testimonials, play such a large role in their purchasing process.

In conclusion

If you’re serious about engaging Gen Y consumers, you have to give them an experience they’ll want to share. By focusing your efforts on experiential marketing, and incorporating a sense of social responsibility and an incentive to share your content with their peers, you’ll be able to connect with these consumers more deeply and help win their trust.


[1] The National Tour Association (January 2002). Current Assessment Report for the Baby Boomer Market. accessed 12th May 2013

[2] A. Hughes (2008). Y and How: Strategies for Reaching the Elusive Generation Y Consumer. Honors College Theses. Paper 74. accessed 12th May 2013

[3] Ibid.

[4] J. O’Donnell (October 11, 2006). Gen Y Sits on Top of the Food Chain; They’re Savvy Shoppers With Money and Influence. USA Today. accessed 12th May 2013

[5] Ibid.

[6] L. P. Morton (2002). Targeting generation Y. Public Relations Quarterly, 47(2), pp. 46 - 48.

[7] P. Paul (September 1, 2001). Getting Inside Gen Y. American Demographics. accessed 12th May 2013