What Generation Y Really Wants

At a time when it’s never been easier to reach consumers with information, it has conversely become “harder than ever to engage them,” said Jamie Gutfreund, CSO of The Intelligence Group, at the CES 2013 Brand Matters conference this week.

That paradox is especially true when it comes to Generation Y — the 80 million 18-36 year-olds that are often difficult for brands to woo.

CMOs and marketers paid close attention Wednesday as a group of young panelists  from a self-proclaimed Pinterest-obessed fashionista in velvet maroon platform shoes to an entrepreneur who built his first company at 19  shared their perspectives on brand engagement at the conference.

The panel of young consumers, part of the “How Are Your Consumers REALLY Engaging With Digital Media?” session, was sponsored by MediaLink, in collaboration with The Intelligence Group.

Here’s what brands should know if they want the keys to these powerful buyers’ hearts:

1. A brand’s voice should be trustworthy

This doesn’t just mean, “avoid lying.” It means whatever content you share, the voice has to be consistently believable.

This generation’s first words were probably typed, and it’s just too easy to tell when a brand lets different employees from different departments throw out content. Even just 140 characters that seem “off” can wreak havoc on brand equity, they said.

2. Instant gratification is ubiquitous

If your content isn’t instantly and seamlessly accessible from either a smartphone in the drugstore and a tablet on the couch, forget it: they’re already moving on to something that is.

3. Content is meaningless if your customers feel neglected

Don’t pat yourself on the back for addressing that dissatisfied consumer’s issue you on Twitter if you didn’t do it in 30 minutes or less — preferably a lot less.

One of the panelists expected brands to “have someone on Twitter 24/7 to deal with complaints.” No, she wasn’t joking.

4. “Content is king” is old news

What’s more important for content? Context. Y-er’s don’t hate every ad they come across. What bothers them is when a brand’s content is forced on them out of context.

One of the panelists admitted he loves the ads suggested by a brand on Facebook, mainly because they were up his alley (fancy ties). A majority of the panelists agreed: if it’s relevant, and especially if they have a choice in what they see, branded content is valuable.

5. Branded content should promote an experience over product.

This has been called an “asset light” generation. Ownership of anything  from cars to movies, to music  just isn’t that cool anymore. This is partly a reflection on the fast pace of technology  you get a new phone and it’s no longer relevant in a year —and also sheds light on the way younger consumers think. Their identity isn’t so much tied to a new convertible in the driveway as it is on their recent Foursquare check-in to a new restaurant.

The bottom line is that content isn’t only about the brand. In a virtual world where “you are what you share,” customers, and especially younger customers, are far more concerned about themselves, aka Brand Me, than any actual brand.

It might be hard to swallow for the older set (one audience member was heard grumbling “They think it’s all about them” of the fresh-faced panel), but the panelists said brands must take a back seat when it comes to creating engaging content that they will share.

One of the panelists pointed to a recent successful “First And Forever” Doc Martins campaign as an example of a brand putting its fans first.

Marketing to Gen-Yer’s isn’t that hard. These panelists, though demanding, were full of gratitude for the platform developers who give them the tools “stay in touch with people they wanted to talk to, and people they don’t.”

All a brand’s got to do, as one panelist sheepishly pointed out, was to basically “be perfect human beings who never did anything wrong.” Is that so much for one generation to ask?

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