photo by herzogbrEveryone is trying to market to Gen-Y. Why? Because contrary to this whole we're in a recession thing, Gen-Y is still spending money, buying new cars, securing jobs, starting companies, getting promotions, drinking at bars and buying new clothes/shiny things.
We all know that the problem most companies are having is being authentic to Gen-Y. Having a voice that is actually a part of this generation, that lives and breathes mainstream, urban and underground culture. Someone like Joel from Pancheros. They are going all in and it is working. He is engaging, he is informative and he brings a character and face to Pancheros that resonates with Gen-Y, and yet, even reaches X'ers and Boomers.
Yet, even in reading a Gen-Y marketing book by a team I really respect, they tend to generalize Gen-Y too much. In fact we all do. And that is tough when you are looking for a "spokesperson" to speak to Gen-Y.
The reality is that we grew up on MTV. Doesn't matter if you are a prep or a jock or a nerd, you knew about MTV and what was going on. What MTV did was a complete mash-up of youth culture. TRL, the only music staple that was left at MTV (and even though I'm old and haven't watched in years, I'm sad to see it go), mashed up the best in pop, rock and hip-hop and even got country to go pop (Taylor Swift anyone?).
The reality is that at my high school (in suburban South Florida), I played football, baseball, volleyball and surfed on the weekends, dated a girl Student Government, rapped in a group called the Burglazz (don't deny that the boy got skills), worked 20 hours, partied with everyone from every race and age and got good grades. The thing is, so did most everyone at my school.
The reality is that we grew up where race is not an issue. There was no segregation for Gen-Y growing up. I am not saying that racial tension is a non-issue, just that it is now more of a choice and in underground culture. If anything there is a cultural difference as more and more people from more and more backgrounds start to get interested in the same topics. Our country is the biggest mash-up of cultures in the world, where anyone from any background, culture, color or schooling can get ahead and make a difference for their own lives and that of the people around them.
The reality is that the same kids that listen to hip-hop in the burbs are watching political videos on YouTube and the same girl that just moved here from India is buying Rock & Republic Jeans from Nordstrom.
So who is a Gen-Y Spokesperson?
I read a post from the Social Citizens blog about this same topic titled, "Is Kanye our Kurt?" The writer got the title from a Twitter question asking, "Who is Gen-Y's Kurt Cobain?" The author doesn't suggest that Kanye is our Kurt, but does suggest that our voice may be crowd sourced.
With information available so freely and the ability to put thoughts out everywhere, at any time - is the Gen-Y voice cluttered and drown out? Do sites like Brazen Careerist go back and generalize our voice - or speak for only a portion of our Generation, that of the overachiever, career oriented, go-getter? Are we too young to define a voice?
If we keep generalizing, how then, do companies find the authenticity that will break through to this generation and make them buy, click, react, talk and feel?
By being yourself.
By inviting Gen-Y in to see what your company is really like, not the perception that your overpaid PR agency told you to look like.
That is hard to say coming from the guy running the agency, but its the truth. When things suck, you need to talk about it. When things are great, you need to talk about it. When someone has a question, give an honest answer, the one that is dying to come off your tongue, because if it doesn't come from your tongue, it will come from someone else's. And Gen-Y will find out and make decisions about your brand, or even worse, make no decisions about your brand like you do not exist.
Get back on track Greg
So then, if brands are looking to target Gen-Y, who should talk for them? Hiring a musician or an actor, celebrity or community figure may help you sell a product today, but a long term strategy for winning Gen-Y is to be true to your brand, true to your beliefs and not being shy about who you are.
You can be a surfer, musician, nerd or whatever else you want to be as long as it is you. That is the spokesperson that is going to win over Gen-Y.
Who do you think is doing a good job of being a Gen-Y spokesperson?