Influencing Gen-Y is not easy
By Tom Dougherty
Influencing Gen-Y is no simple matter. Neither is it easy to influence kids. The Golden Rule in branding and, for that matter, marketing in general is the younger the target audience, the easier it is to create preference. Ever tried to talk a kid out of going to McDonalds or not desperately needing to see the new Pixar movie? Pulling a camel through the eye of a needle easier is than that, as any parent can tell you. Marketing to kids is different and challenging. Influencing Gen-Y and branding for kids is downright difficult.
To gain that preference, advertisers spend loads of cash primarily on TV advertising, making their product look like the coolest thing on Earth. In nothing flat, kids start begging Mom & Dad to take them to your doorstep. (They’ll even search on the Net to show you how easy it is.)
That’s the reason why advertisers like the 18-25 age demographic, because like the younger demographic, they are the most likely to be brand loyal and is the ultimate goal when influencing Gen-Y is the task at hand). Unlike the younger demographic, however, the 18-25 year olds actually have disposable income.
Brand Loyalty and Influencing Gen-Y
But how brand loyal are, let’s say, Gen-Y, the pre-teens or even younger? The truth of the matter is that children are very brand loyal – up to a point. They will covet what you have to offer until something new comes along. They are like microbrew drinkers. Those beer drinkers like to sample the latest and greatest so they can demonstrate their expertise. They won’t be upset if you don’t have their beer of choice. They’ll try something else. Influencing Gen-Y needs special attention.
Meanwhile, try telling a Bud drinker you are out of Bud and they will go somewhere else to find it.
Creating brand preference to children, marketing to kids— is a moving target and very few brands have been able to maintain preference without having to completely re-invent themselves over and over. There’s McDonalds and…that’s about it.
It’s certainly a big space. According to James McNeal, the author of Kids as Customers, children under the age of 12 influenced household spending of more than $600 billion in the U.S. Often because children can’t distinguish between commercials and TV programs, they don’t recognize that they are being sold to. They may see these commercials as style, entertainment or, as brand strategists know, seeing themselves in that brand and wanting to be a part of it.
Nike Can Have Little Effect
Think about it in terms of shoes. For the kids and pre-teen, it’s mostly about fashion and what their peers think. Even a powerful brand like Nike can have little effect, especially if the immediate peer group does not accept it. (Shoes that look like skateboarder gear.) Preference is gained by what’s of the moment, like Wii in video gaming or “Life is good” T-shirts. (Read more about NIKE here)
So what is a brand to do? How branding and influencing Gen-Y can change your fortunes.
Here are a few simple rules to follow to create more lasting preference than your competition, especially when targeting audiences less than 13 years old. The same rules basically apply for the teen generation too, although it can be more complicated.
- Make it about the kid. Too many brands make it about the product, which can create that initial flush of excitement without this emotional connection influencing Gen-Y is a pipe dream. They simply are not really marketing to kids. On rare occasions, it even creates that Tickle Me Elmo-type phenomena. However, for the long term, kids are like everyone else. They like to see themselves in the brand. Ever wonder why kids become so obsessive about movies, especially fantasy films? It’s because they can see themselves in the films – even fantasize about it – to the point that you will have a 10-year old striding around the house ready to take on anyone with a light saber to prove his Jedi mastery.
Don’t make it quite so “of the moment.” Whatever is “new” appeals to kids because it represents discovery for them. Take it one step further and make it so they feel like they discover your brand on their own. That’s where your brand should often play. It’s the reason why YouTube videos have become so popular and kids like to show off what they’ve discovered. “Look at this. We need one.” It feels found to them, which is always marketing tactics such as kids versions of mainstream magazines (SI Kids, for example), children’s radio and TV networks, promotional toy tie-ins, cross-branding, etc., are so effective. (Ever have a child who wanted a box of cereal because Indiana Jones was on it?) Influencing Gen-Y is a different beer.
- If so, it’s because they want to see themselves in it, it helps define it and they feel like they discovered it when no one was looking.) Once kids feel like they are the ones who discovered it – “Come look. Come look.” – they will own it. If you become too much about new, instead of exploring why new is important, you become trendy and you are not marketing to kids in the truest sense. And that means you won’t last long. In fact, if you are too in the new and not built to last over the long haul, over time the target audience will resent your brand, make fun of it and make fun of those who use the brand. Remember Clackers? Cabbage Patch Dolls? Slime? Anything that looked like a Power Ranger? Trendy is not a good long-term strategy when influencing Gen-Y, but you need to balance it.
- Make sure your brand is easy to understand. This is not because kids have undeveloped minds. Kids do, but they can program an iPhone like it’s second nature. But they do not like process and will quit as soon as something appears too complex.
Brands themselves work best when they are single-minded, (read about simplicity here) when they represent a stake in the ground instead of trying to be everything for everybody. Kids respond to that kind of brand message and promise as well. They understand it, move quickly and can digest the meanings instantly.
With a few nuances, Influencing Gen-Y and younger audiences isn’t that much different although it’s smart to be aware of those nuances. Without them, you could go the way of the Furby.