Integration of communications should not stop with advertising, however. In fact, to truly connect with Gen Y, the entire marketing mix should be realigned. For example, the retail environment must have the same appeal to Gen Ys as the marketing materials that drove them there. Apple has taken this path in its computer stores, which mirror Gen Y kinetic energy and the group’s distaste for formality by offering a blend of workshops, tutorials, places to “chill” and get comfortable with products, and salespeople who can close a transaction by typing a customer’s e-mail address into a handheld computer and using the information on file in his or her iTunes account.
3. Accept that your product and advertising may have a short shelf life. Instant communication, constant media use, and the desire for individualization have greatly limited the life cycle of popular Gen Y brands and the campaigns that sell them. “Gen Y is growing up in an instant-gratification era, when music, news, and entertainment of any kind is available almost free, almost instantly, and in unlimited variety,” says Coke’s Kini. “That drives an extreme lack of patience with anything that doesn’t appeal to that need for instant gratification.”
Put another way, classic multiyear marketing campaigns, in which a character like the Energizer Bunny can keep going and going and going, are not likely to appeal to Generation Y. A better option is advertising that evolves but is built around a consistent marketing platform. For example, Burger King’s Gen Y marketing effort includes rotating versions of its “Have It Your Way” ads with continually updated leading figures like Subservient Chicken, the King, the Whopperettes, and Dr. Angus.
“We talk a lot about idea obsolescence versus idea extension,” says Tom Birk, director of research and planning at Miami-based Crispin Porter + Bogusky, Burger King’s ad agency. “Rather than extend the existing campaign and try and give it legs, even as we launch a campaign, we’ve got teams upstairs trying to outdo it and replace it.”
Transforming a company’s marketing philosophy to fit the needs of a demographic like Generation Y is an extraordinary commitment, but it can pay off for decades and generations to come. Marketers who attempt to understand Gen Ys now will have the jump on competitors as this group matures. After all, some of the biggest brands on the market today bonded with baby boomers early and rode with them from youth into middle age. Who will be the winners of tomorrow? Will the brands that grew up with the baby boomers reinvent themselves for Gen Y, or will the big brands of the new millennium be names most of us haven’t even heard of yet?
John Jullens (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a principal with Booz Allen Hamilton in Cleveland. He specializes in helping companies improve their sales and marketing capabilities, including revenue growth strategies, brand management, customer relationship management (CRM), and retail channel effectiveness.