Thursday, November 18, 2010

Embracing Gen Y

...continuation from last week "Of older marketers, young consumers", how older marketers can communicate with their young target audience, a different beast altogether..

The average Gen ‘Y', if research is to be believed, changes its jobs an average of 29 times and the average time in one job is as long as 1.1 years!

With an eye on the future:Candidates line up for a written test and interview being conducted by top BPO companies. These jobs have brought about a sea change in lifestyles and mores.

People of my age on occasion have difficulty in remembering the names of their own children, so more for my benefit than for yours, dear reader, let me quickly summarise some of the key points we addressed in the last issue (November 4, 2010) on the subject of young customers. The biggest challenge facing marketing in India today is the fact that heads of marketing are in their forties, managing directors are in their fifties while the customers they are wooing are in their twenties! What is it that makes these twenty-somethings tick and how can marketers use this knowledge to woo them?

India's youth wants to improve itself by education and keeps attempting the IIT entrance and the CAT, even if the odds are stacked against it. Others wish to look better - an insecurity that the fairness creams market literally lives and feeds off. Older people wish to appear young too, mothers get tickled pink when someone says that they look like their daughter's sister and fathers go out to pubs with their young sons. The space, which was exclusively youth at one point in time, has now become more inclusive with older people too jostling for elbow space and attention to the chagrin of their younger wards.

Reality shows and attempts to acquire national celebrity status through programmes such as Indian Idol are common, particularly in people from smaller towns, and it is not uncommon for youngsters to drop out of college to prepare better for these shows and then they do go back reluctantly to their old, mundane lives. We also spoke about the ability of youth to multitask, their ability to be connected 24/7 and finally of how different their sleeping habits were from older people. Young India sleeps late, to put it mildly. But is every young Indian coming home with the milkman after a night of revelry or is something else happening?

The BPO revolution sweeps young India

The BPO brigade is a million-strong today and the people who work in this sector have no alternative but to synchronise their work timings with that of their counterparts in the US or the UK, if not Venezuela. It is not uncommon to find people working from 11 p.m. at night till 7 a.m. the following day. To confuse the issue, there are also some companies that call themselves KPOs. While KPOs claim that their work is not as mundane and dull as their BPO counterparts, it still warrants unearthly times and my limited understanding of the difference between these two ‘O's is that those in KPOs cop less abuse from their customers! Abuse notwithstanding, this sector like no other demonstrates the tremendous change in terms of the opportunity that presents itself to educated youth.

Of course, the word ‘education' has to be taken with a pinch of salt. It basically means an ability to communicate in English and it is not uncommon for household help to put their daughters into classes to help learn and improve their English.

It is not uncommon for people to start work early and significantly young India believes in the value of work experience even while in college as the fact that you have worked in events during weekends and in your spare time reads well in your bio-data and denotes a seriousness of purpose. It is not uncommon to find college students hanging out at golf courses handling the registration of old fogeys and providing them their high point of the day even as they make a few cool bucks. Yes, young India wants to move up in life, look better, earn more.

Of course, there are social implications as well. The BPO culture is something that has its own implications in terms of ‘thank God it's Friday', quick money and a lifestyle that is very different from what the average middle-class Indian is exposed to in his or her own home.

Rather than going into a needless harangue on the falling moral standards, I think it probably makes sense for us to say that the BPO pie presents an interesting option to the marketer of people who probably live at home and have a fair amount of disposable income with a propensity to spend and often experiment with risky stuff that people in more traditional jobs might baulk at.

Parents live in fear as they wonder what their children, who go to work after they have gone to sleep, do. Remember the Motorola commercial where the parents worriedly ask the kid who has a new flip phone whether he is doing something that he should not be doing?

What is the big deal about change?

Old India was reluctant to change and often paranoid about it. It worked in the same company for 37 years and left it only because it was forcibly asked to at the age of 60! It might have hated the job, lived in dread of the boss but still had the hypocrisy to make a virtue of this fear of change. They lived with the same person not because they loved the person but merely because the possibility of leaving the person, while it certainly must have crossed their minds, was not acceptable to society.

While today's generation ‘Y' is not exactly the opposite, it certainly has a different outlook to work and relationships. The average Gen ‘Y' of today, if research is to be believed, changes its jobs an average of 29 times and the average time in one job is as long as 1.1 years! Of course, it does pose a counter question to employers whether they really understand this generation or are too willing to write them off as unstable and “like that only”.

Forget about jobs, people at least in the cities get into and out of relationships with the ease with which cricketers change from flannels to pajama cricket. My generation used to go into deep depression if the girl in the bus stop did not look at them at 8.15 and swear eternal love to someone who had the misfortune of smiling at them, while this generation wants to “move on”. The Fastrack commercial where the guy and girl return all the trinkets and gifts given by each other when they break up (without too much heartburn) is perhaps an indication of the times that we live in.

They are unafraid too of showing their emotions and maybe the Fastrack bag commercial with Genelia and Virat Kohli where the saucy Genelia finds a new use for her bag is a newer side of generation ‘Y' that may shock the “oldest member” but I don't see young India caring too much about us.

On a more serious note Gen Y does not seem to think that marriage is sacred either — marriages tend to break up a lot easier than before. They often seem to expect a lot more from relationships and people and have neither the patience nor the inclination to see things through. Who knows? Maybe they just don't have the energy to go through the charades their parents go through in front of them day in and day out!

So where do we go from here?

Generation ‘Y' is here to stay, rule and buy. So rather than merely accept them, let us embrace them! And here, of course, I speak figuratively. We do know that they have the attention span of nanoseconds and get bored easily. (At times they remind me of some of my clients.) So we need to engage them, not lecture to them. The communication principle of “be quick, be friendly, be gone” comes to my mind. And yet I find most advertising dull. Generation ‘Y' has a sense of humour and is willing to laugh at itself and most certainly at the older generation. The challenge for us is to entertain even as we sell.

David Ogilvy might have thundered “People don't buy from a clown”. But the only thing that we know today is that there are no rules, though you must certainly know the rules before you break them! Each young Indian is different - the student of St. Xavier's, Mumbai, is different from the student of Bishop Heber's College in Tiruchi even if they are of the same age and study the same subjects. The person in Ranchi is different from the person who lives in Boat Club Road in Chennai. Gen Y is saying “I am not just a bl***y demographic” and I do hope we are listening. Generation ‘Y' is saying “I am wired” while it secretly seems to be saying that we have our wires crossed! Generation ‘Y' is saying “I am not a scaled down adult”, “Neither am I your unrealised ambition”. But to me, at least, Generation ‘Y' is also saying “If you engage me, I could be your customer for life”.

Customer for life! What an entrancing concept! Let's view Generation ‘Y' not only as our future but the present and future for marketers. What we need is a change of attitude. But are we ready?

Ramanujam Sridhar, CEO, brand – comm.
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