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Generation X
Generation Y
Generation Z

Marketing To X And Y: How To Reach The Next Generation Of Consumers

How do you reach an audience that can choose their own music without listening to a commercial radio station, can block outsiders from their social circle—which revolves around cell phones and online networks like Facebook and MySpace—and only refer to newspapers when they need packing material to move on to their next venue?

How do you reach an audience that can choose their own music without listening to a commercial radio station, can block outsiders from their social circle—which revolves around cell phones and online networks like Facebook and MySpace—and only refer to newspapers when they need packing material to move on to their next venue?For starters, you can’t rely on adding a 1980s soundtrack to your advertising, a blog to your Web site, or a young professionals networking social to your programming and call it good. Marketing to Generations X and Y requires a comprehensive approach that features technology and is focused on relationship-building on multiple levels.To succeed in reaching X and Y, you must first understand they are unlike any other consumer that has come before them. They were raised on music videos, technology, and advertising, so they are savvy and skeptical consumers that can spot a sales pitch a mile away–and they really dislike being sold anything.X and Y cannot be reached through traditional marketing channels. Direct mail, print ads, and television advertising bounce off these powerful consumers like bullets on Superman's chest. They are also the most diverse, well-educated, and cutting edge generations. Gen Y (ages 13-25) is the largest generation in our nation’s history, wielding a tremendous amount of influence and buying power.As an Xer myself, and in my work with companies who are trying desperately to reach these elusive markets, I've discovered many ways in which marketers have totally missed the mark with Generation X and Y consumers.Few know how to motivate and engage them, so let me clue you in to a few ways in which you can effectively connect with this growing market of savvy spenders:GET PERSONALXers and Ys are not impressed with corporate-speak or sales pitches, and they are more loyal to people than to places or products. For the best results, use messages that get to the point, are honest, and personal. Incorporate testimonials, case studies, and videos featuring the stories and successes of your employees, clients, and consumers.RESPECT THEMGenerations X and Y are savvy and intelligent consumers. Don't talk at or down to them. Instead, continually address their needs and interests, what your company or product can do for them and how it benefits them. Having been raised with a lot of stress, Xers are especially responsive to genuine initiatives that help them reduce anxiety and retain peace of mind.BUILD RELATIONSHIPSX and Y want to know that you care enough to find out what makes them tick. But don't rely on the old method of marketing surveys. Get out there and talk to them! Find out how they spend their time, the music they listen to, and what they eat, wear, read, watch, and drive.BE HIPThrow out those tri-fold brochures and bullet points in your PowerPoint presentations. X and Y are tech-savvy and media-savvy and will buy based on a sleek, beautiful, cool-looking packages. Use graphics, technology, and innovation to get your message across.STAND FOR SOMETHINGToday’s brands can't just strive to stand out; they must strive to stand for something. X and Y are family-focused and socially responsible. They want to know your company cares about their well-being and is aligned with causes that benefit their communities and the world at-large.JOIN THEIR NETWORKSIf you can't connect with their preferred methods of communication (texting and social networks), forget about reaching Generation Y. Go where they hang out online—MySpace, Facebook, etc.—and learn how to integrate mobile technology in your marketing efforts. Get into their networks and your company will get noticed.GO VIRALIf these generations like your product, people around the world will know it. Blogs and video (vodcast) and audio (podcasts) bits uploaded to your Web site will quickly spread across the Internet as X and Y share their favorites with their friends, who pass it along to their circle, and so on. And these generations are the first to trust, almost exclusively, the recommendations of their peers.These are not your grandfather's marketing strategies. The tried-and-true marketing strategies of product, place, and promotion, and direct mail, advertising , and networking socials won't work with these young, hip consumers.Learn how to reach , motivate , and engage X and Y, and your company can expect a successful and prosperous future.

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”. 

Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.

Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.


Zs want to be challenged.

Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.


Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.


Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

Sarah Sladek

Concerned about declining engagement in our nation’s membership associations, non-profits, and workplaces, Sarah Sladek founded XYZ University, the nation’s first and only generations-focused training and engagement strategy company, in 2002.

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