Businesses struggle to serve Gen Y

This generation of consumers are digital natives immersed in technology, and companies are unsure about how to attract and retain them, survey reveals.
Written by Sol E. Solomon, Contributor

Most companies are grappling with how to adapt their businesses to serve the Millennial Generation, or Generation Y (Gen Y), according to a new global survey released Thursday.

Conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and software vendor Genesys, the survey asked c-level and senior executives worldwide how they are creating a customer experience to attract and retain Gen Y consumers, born between 1982 and 2001, also known as Millennials.

It found that companies strongly debated whether to invest more to cater to ageing baby boomers--born from 1943 to 1960--or Gen Y consumers, with 42 percent of respondents tilting toward Gen Yers and 39 percent toward baby boomers and Gen Xers, born between 1961 and 1981.

"Gen Yers have grown up as digital natives fully immersed in technology... Traditional approach of mass marketing can no longer achieve cut-through with this group of unique consumers."
-- Mark McCallum

Today, Gen Yers outnumber baby boomers and will continue to grow in influence as the majority of Millennials reach adulthood in the next decade, the report said.

Mark McCallum, Southeast Asia-Pacific head of marketing for Nokia, noted how consumers, in general, have different preferences, habits, attitudes and beliefs.

"[However], these differences are even more accentuated with the Gen Yers, who are passionate in their pursuit of their creative identity and self-expression", McCallum told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview.

According to the EIU, the proliferation of blogs, podcasts, videos, chat rooms, social networking sites and other online interactive communication, has changed the corporate-customer relationship.

In the past, customers tended to go directly to a vendor to enquire about a product, make a purchase or complain. Today, they increasingly go online. On the Web, they learn, shop and share their experiences--both positive and negative, the report noted.

According to McCallum, Gen Yers are also peer-oriented, used to instant gratification, and are more distracted by the proliferation of mobile and instant communication technologies that provide easy access to the Internet, e-mail, texting, instant messaging and social networks, such as Friendster and YouTube.

Strategic action
"Gen Yers have grown up as digital natives fully immersed in technology, which has become an integral part of the way they live, work and play. As such, the traditional approach of mass marketing can no longer achieve cut-through with this group of unique consumers," he explained.

Therefore, companies today that want to reach out to Gen Y consumers, must design strategies that take these factors into consideration.

Nokia, for example, has added "Gen Y-friendly" features to its products, McCallum said. "Gen Yers want more features like music, imaging, games and Wi-Fi [capability] in their mobile devices, because they may not be able to afford multiple gadgets," he said. "Acknowledging this, Nokia offers a wide range of convergent devices to suit the different needs and preferences of various Gen Y consumers."

While consumers from this generation want to enjoy a mobile life, they also desire to be increasingly connected to the Internet to share personal experiences with friends.

"Nokia provides a range of online services, particularly in the areas of music through the Nokia Music Store and Nokia XpressMusic devices, and games through the N-Gage service," McCallum said. "These give Gen Yers easy access to entertainment while on the move."

To address the Millennials' growing participation in social networking and Web 2.0 technologies, the Finnish phone maker also offers the Friendster widget on its Nokia N79 mobile device. This allows Gen Y users to browse Friendster friends' profiles, view and post shoutouts, upload pictures with their handset, and browse their own or friends' photo albums, McCallum said.

But, for most part, the needs of the Millennials remain unmet, according to the EIU-Genesys survey.

Although 75 percent of respondents said the Gen Yers will impact their organization as consumers in the next three years, 54 percent have yet to establish business or marketing strategies for this generation, despite wide recognition that such steps are needed.

According to Genesys, the research was designed to help enterprises identify key challenges and enable them to improve the overall customer experience.

Of the 164 executives who took part in the survey, 29 percent were from North America, 31 percent from Europe, 30 percent from the Asia-Pacific region, and 10 percent from the rest of the world. Participants represented 19 industry segments, and one-third of respondents' organizations had annual revenue greater than US$1 billion.

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