Inside the Mind of Gen Y

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Last year, the research firm Yankelovich argued that the most efficient way to market to the Baby Boom generation was to separate it into three groups. In its Yankelovich Monitor report, “Dissecting Boomers,� the company contended that to effectively target a generation as large as 78 million people, businesses needed to understand the psychographics and lifestage differences between the youngest Boomers and the oldest.

The same can be said about Generation Y, the 71 million children of Baby Boomers. Like Boomers, Gen Y is expected to transform every life stage it enters. It's no surprise, then, that Gen Y is on the radar of just about anyone who has a product to sell. If there's one thing businesses have learned from the Baby Boomers, it's not to take such a huge cohort — with such major spending power — for granted.

So how, then, does a company market to this vast and complex generation? Gen Y spans 17 years; how can businesses communicate effectively with all its members? To begin to answer these questions, Associate Editor Pamela Paul studied birth patterns from the U.S. Census Bureau, and carved Gen Y into three age groups: young adults, teens and 'tweens. Paul then asked a dozen leading demographers, sociologists and marketing experts to name some events that have the potential of becoming defining moments for Gen Y. The reason: Collective or formative experiences help shape psychographic attitudes — attitudes that marketers use in developing messages to target specific groups of consumers.

The answers we've assembled from our experts are hardly scientific, and they no doubt will be controversial. But they should provide businesses with some perspective on this immense Gen Y cohort. Says Paul: “The pace of business is changing dramatically. Marketers are especially eager to understand as much as possible about this next generation of consumers. That's why understanding the psychographics of Gen Y is crucial to businesses today.�

If anything, the need to dissect a generation to create a workable portrait of its members is more urgent for Gen Y than for the Boomers. If companies can figure out today what will make the current 15-year-old nostalgic at age 22, or what kinds of characters today's 9-year-old will want to emulate as an adult, they will gain key insight into what kinds of products, services and messages will resonate with them as lifelong consumers. Obviously, there's no way of saying for certain that the collective experiences of today will resonate with Gen Ys for years — and therefore help marketers sell products tomorrow. But it is possible to understand this generation's attitudes as it matures. As most marketers already know, it's never too early to start thinking about the next generation of adult consumers.

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