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Why Small Businesses Should Think Young
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By Dr. Rodney Luster

Generation Y, children born between 1980 and 2000, represents a collective force in the consumer market that is influenced by their brand-conscious Boomer parents. These 60 million young men and women are attracted to brands at an early age and remain loyal to them, especially when they are positively recognized by their peers for associating with these brands.

As an aggregate group with a disposable income, Generation Y spends an estimated $150 billion a year on consumables. To understand their needs, every small business must delve deeper into their motivation. This article represents the psychology of Generation Y and the importance for small businesses to capture a core competency in their marketing technology strategies.

One of the most crucial trends that a small business needs to be aware of is the rise in experiential marketing. It was once viewed as a bolt-on piece of sampling, but is now a sophisticated technique to create one-on-one brand experiences with consumers.

Generation Y frequently listens to their iPods, text-messages friends, chats online and watches their TiVo simultaneously. This means that reaching them through traditional media will become more difficult with time. In a survey facilitated by Jack Morton in 2005, Marketing VOX reported that "70percent of 13 to 23 year-olds prefer experiential marketing vs. Internet or television advertisements." Experiential marketing allows brands to cut through the cluttered advertising environment and engage deeper within the consumer's mindset. It has the capability to evoke emotions and inspire brand loyalty among consumers by involving them in a way that more traditional, non-experiential types of marketing do not. The discipline is now becoming prolific among industries that would previously have considered it too left-of-center to award it budget.

So how does the small business owner capitalize on what we know about this generation and their technology and experiential marketing needs? The following are a few crucial elements in understanding their needs.

Technology: Generation Y thrives on high-speed, cutting-edge technology. Since their formative stage of development has been saturated with technology, life is a drop-down menu of choices for them. They are totally plugged in 24/7, 365 days of the year, and have never experienced life without it at their fingertips. It is more than a product to them, it is part of their lifestyle.

Unlike the generations before them, Generation Y is “market-wiser" and understands the psychology of flash advertising and glamorous ad campaigns. Their hyper vigilance is a result of social experience with scandals such as Enron and a host of other corporate predators. Technology and the constant communication with family and friends have made Gen Yers rely on their instincts. If it feels like someone is trying to pull a fast one, they withdraw and communicate their experience to others. They are disillusioned with such marketing schemes and trends.

Leveraging technology to adapt to this generation is key. It helps small businesses connect with its customers to build strong relationships and brand loyalty. To continue staying in touch with its customers, a company could build in response systems or avenues for feedback. This will satisfy Gen Yers’ technology craving as well as their desire to express themselves.

Organizations should also be flexible in today's fast-moving world. They need to be able to make adjustments to address customers' needs quickly and effectively. Knowing customers and anticipating their needs has been and will always be the cornerstone of building relationships. Once the small business has maintained the relationship, utilize it. Customers, specifically Generation Y, are more likely to learn about new products from friends, over the phone or via e-mail, so it is essential for a business to offer different ways they can send a link to your Web site to friends.

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Dr. Rodney Luster is the Director of Academic Affairs for University of Phoenix - Austin.
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