First Published in Marketing Mix Magazine (2001)
STRAP: The age of the customer
I dont remember Apartheid, but I know all about AIDS. I dont care who won the Cold War or wonder who shot JFK, but I know the answers are just a click away if I need them. I was weaned on a diet of mass media and massive choice, and I know how to use both to my advantage. I am Generation Y. And if you want me to listen, you have to speak my language.
By Kim Penstone & Graeme Codrington
The age of the customer is upon us. Never before have customers had so much choice, and so much information at their disposal to influence this choice. Never before have they had the confidence to use this power to control the companies that cater to them. And never before have they had the extent of power that they have today. Until, of course, tomorrow.
Because future generations will have access to even more information than we have today. Generation Y will be wired to the hilt, capable of absorbing and processing information more quickly and efficiently than any generation before them. And they will have both the confidence and the power to use this information to build or destroy brands at the click of a button.

More importantly, Generation Y is the largest generation to hit global markets since the Baby Boomers. In the United States, its already 60 million strong and more than three times the size of Generation X. In South Africa, it accounts for almost a quarter of the population and, when fully developed, will double the size of the local Boomer Generation, accounting for a hefty 35% of the population by 2010.
Any marketer who isnt speaking to this market today, and learning how best to cater to its needs tomorrow, is already dead in the water.
Who is Generation Y?
South Africa’s Millennial Generation, or Generation Y (so-called simply because it is the generation after Generation X) is still in its infancy. Born after 1990, and characterised primarily by the fact that they grew up surfing the Net and have no personal memories of Apartheid, they’re now less than 20 years old.
But don’t underestimate their importance. Yes, Generation Y will grow into an enormous market over the next twenty years, but its already a force to be reckoned with. Generation Y youngsters have a greater impact on family spending than any generation before them. Not only do they have substantial private discretionary income, but they also exert tremendous influence on family spending in several, sometimes surprising, categories. Americas YTV Tween Report showed that 9-14-year olds influence their parents choice of virtually everything — and not just at McDonalds or Pizza Hut, but much larger ticket items, from cars to computers.
In addition, investing in a youth market reaps lifetime rewards if brand loyalty can be established at an early age. Even in the midst of a world of constant change, Generation Y does exhibit strong loyalty patterns, as long as you continue to deliver what you promise, when you promise it. If not, youll be tossed aside with one click of the mouse.
So how do you secure their support? You have to speak their language. And in order to do that, you have to understand who they are, where they come from, and where they want to go.
Family forum
Generation Y doesnt live in a so-called traditional family structure. Mom and Dad often dont live together, which results in kids having two separate families. Mom and Dad both work fulltime, often leaving grandparents to care for and bring up the kids. Increasingly, Mom and Dad are both women, or both men. And, in South Africa, Mom and Dad are no longer necessarily the same race.
What used to be called broken homes are fast becoming the norm. But theyre not broken anymore. These new single-parent, multifamily homes seem to have one thing in common they revolve around their children. In fact, most late Boomer and Generation X parents tend to place huge emphasis on their childrens growth and development andtreat them like intelligent beings from day one. As a result, their children are incredibly self-confident, and possess an innate belief that they can do anything they put their minds to.
Unconventional homes, increases in multicultural interaction, increased access to information in other countries and globalisation, have bred a generation that is far more tolerant of difference than any generation before it. Instead of shying away from difference, Generation Y embraces it and believes passionately thateveryone has a right to his or her own opinion. No one has the right to impose personal beliefs on anyone, and anyone claiming to have a corner on the truth market will be ridiculed out of court.
For marketers, this means that no one has the right to claim absolute knowledge about anything, nor claim absolute superiority as a selling technique. Generation Y grew up surrounded by change, and accepts that even truthsthat we hold to be self-evident are subject to change.
Generation wired
This change is one of the most important factors that defines Generation Y. As the first true children of the Information Age, they have grown up with rapid change — in technology, in science and in society. Theyre the first real Cyber Generation, and are the first generation to really benefit from the incredible power of the Internet.
This has resulted in a generation that expects immediacy. They want it all, and they want it now. And, as if thats not enough, they want it tailored to their individual tastes. They value choice and variety and they want to see options. Individualism is the license to make money from Generation Y. Offering truly custom-made products and individualised services will be the key to real success with this generation. Marketers must move away from broadcasting to narrow-casting. Products must move from mass-production to mass-customisation.
But you have to keep up. Because having access to the Internet means that these kids have access to global markets. Finding out about fashions after they hit the catwalks in Europe and the schools in the States is too late. The Cyber Generation will be way ahead of you.
The wired phenomenon has also resulted in another trend that towards interactivity. This can best be explained through Generation Ys cultural weapon of choice the remote control. Although Generation Xers and Boomers tend to use the remote control because theyre lazy, for Generation Y the remote is anything but a tool for passivity. In fact, it allows for interactivity with the television. Using the remote control, they flip between four or five channels, not searching for a show to watch, but rather watching all five programmes at once.
Having grown up in this media-saturated, brand-conscious world, Generation Y also responds differently to ads. Traditional ads are more like background music to them. Generation Y prefers to encounter ads in their own space, whether its on the Internet or at a rave. They also balk at media hype, and have a built-in ability to spot phoney attempts at being hip, coolor relevant. Marketers from older generations who try to hype up their products, because thats what works for them now, are going to lose the race. Generation Y responds to reality, irony and the unvarnished truth. Sprite, for example, has hit the right tone with Image is nothing, and the US-based Arizona Jean brand is onto a good thing with its tagline, Just show me the jeans.
Together we stand
The information overload, combined with new-age parenting skills, has produced a generation thats old beyond its years. And despite being seduced by individualism, Generation Y isnt a Me Generation. Unlike the Xers before them, Generation Y is community minded and tends to be much more collaborative than previous generations. They feel connected to each other, and seem to actively pursue activities that will foster group work and team spirit. Childhood heroes like the wholesome, team-driven Power Rangers have taken over from anti-heroes such as the Xers junk-fed mutant ninja turtles and the Boomers lone operator, Lone Ranger. There is a lot less emphasis on individuality and self-expression, which means that marketers should have a much easier time identifying target markets.
In addition, there are those who predict that Generation Y will prove false the supposition that youth is ever the age for rebellion, alienation or cynicism. This new generation, according to authors of The Fourth Turning, Neil Howe and William Strauss, will make every youth domain more mannerly, civic-spirited and emotionally placid.
New pop culture trends will be big, bland and friendly. In film, young stars will be linked with positive themes, display more modesty in sex and language, and link new civic purpose to screen violence. In sports, players will become more coachable, more loyal to teams and fans, and less drawn to trash talk, in-your-face slam dunks and end-zone taunts. In pop music, Millennials will resurrect the old ritual of happy group singing, from old campfire favourites to new tunes with simple melodies and upbeat lyrics.
Life has a way of turning full circle, and as it happens, my language isnt that different from yours!
What is generational marketing?
Every human being is an individual with a unique set of values, attitudes and opinions, and while grouping these individuals into categories dependent on their birth dates may at first appear grossly unjust, it later emerges as a valuable marketing tool.
Generational marketing, as this is termed, reasons that the fact that while all individuals have unique influences on their value systems as they grow and develop, these self-same individuals all grew up in similar time spans, in the same centuries. And in this century, like never before,global forces have allowed people all over the world to experience the same events, and face similar situations at similar times. These defining moments tend to affect young, developing people in similar ways, allowing sociologists to identify certain common behaviour patterns that shape the way each generation thinks, acts and lives. The effects of these momentsare visible throughout the life of that generation. By studying historical data, sociologists can make predictions as to the behaviour of current and future generations.
Of course, generations arent equal across the globe. In South Africa, for example, Generation Y is still under 20 years old. In the United States, they’re between the ages of 10 and 25. This can be attributed to the fact that, although global events impact on everyone, their impact can be felt at different times in different places. Television, for example, hit South African shores considerably later after causing waves in the United States and Europe. In addition, country-specific events still carry an incredibly heavy weight. The demise of Apartheid is one event in South Africas history that had (and will continue to have) a tremendous impact on our local Generation Y. It is, in fact, the defining moment that sets South Africa’s Generation Y apart from Generation X.
However, as historys moments become more global, so the various country-specific generations begin to drift together. South Africa, for one, is fast closing the gap on the States and its likely that our next generations will live and die together.

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