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Why Gen Y Won’t Buy What You’re Selling

Compared to previous generations, Generation Y (1982-1995) has some very different habits that have taken the marketplace by surprise.

One game-changer in particular: Generation Y doesn’t seem to enjoy purchasing things. From cars to association memberships, jewelry, and non-light beer – Gen Y just isn’t buying.

For many brands and companies, this is their worst nightmare. They desperately need to convince America’s largest population – 80 million 17 to 30 year-olds – to buy. But Generation Y is hanging out there, living “in the cloud” (that digital space where media, internet, and entertainment reside), seemingly content and unfazed by most marketing attempts.

Gen Y is unique from other generations in the buy-sell continuum for other reasons, as well. For example, this generation:

  1. Trust their peers first and their parents second;

  2. Hates to be sold anything;

  3. Actively researches prices and reads reviews before making a purchase;

  4. Expects exceptional service, like which tells them which products they might like;

  5. Seeks to do business with ethical, environmental companies; and

  6. Values customization, customizing everything from their music to their jeans and soda.

So it’s time to face facts:

  1. Old-fashioned marketing won’t reach this generation that spends $200 billion annually. Gen Y ignores advertising and prefers a grassroots effort, such as hip events, viral videos, social media, student fans, and street teams.

  2. The balance between supply and demand has been altered and the value of owning “stuff” has diminished. The value now lies in the doing.

The global Membership health matrix

Let's take the pulse of how members think of different association practices. You can use the insights to stop declining memberships and engage existing members better.

Today, a product or service is powerful when it connects people to something or someone else. As leaders and entrepreneurs, we can use this knowledge to our advantage. We just have to think about the “stuff” we sell in a slightly new way.

Here’s what motivates Gen Y to buy (and what has started to influence the rest of us, as well):


Gen Y wants to do something important with their purchases. You’ll notice this sentiment in Apple’s commercials, which depict ways people use products to do amazing things like curating music, crafting three-dimensional spreadsheets, or using FaceTime to call loved ones.

DO THIS: Explain how your product or service makes people’s lives better and make the message as simple as possible. This is an instant gratification generation; simplicity is essential.


Many times the joy of having something isn’t in the having, but in the sharing. When we share something we like with people we like it creates a bond, and this is especially meaningful to Gen Y.

DO THIS: Find ways to connect people to other people through your business. Sales isn’t really about selling anymore, it’s about building a community.

We have assembled many tools to assist your organization.


Perhaps Gen Y’s disinterest in buying cars has little to do with being anti-car and a more about being environmentally conscious. Gen Y is driven by the desire to make a difference.

DO THIS: Connect people to something bigger than themselves through your product or service. A bigger impact is almost always there, we just tend to forget about it or fail to market it.

A lousy economy and rapidly changing technology is likely changing every generation’s buying habits. Chances are, we’re all spending less on physical products.

Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe our focus is shifting off the material things and onto the more important things, like relationships, quality of life, and a creating a better world.

In that case, we can thank Generation Y for giving us a message worth marketing.


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