Generation Y and Branding on the Fly

We are all pretty familiar with Generation X; they are the offspring of the post-World War II baby boom, the so-called “13th Generation”. Their perspectives on the world were shaped by political, environmental and financial conflicts including Black Monday, the evolution of the Internet, the Chernobyl disaster and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Generation Y, however, is still a bit of a misunderstood group – at least by the Gen X’s. Gen Y-er’s perspective on their world has been shaped by their immersion in technology, almost since birth. The New York Times describes Generation Y as “post-emotional, entrepreneurial” and replacing the Generation X commune concept with the more mainstream social aspects of small business.

On November 15, 2011 Identified.com pulled data (at the request of Millennial Branding) from Facebook for a Generation Y Study. They wanted to know how Facebook users between the ages of 18 and 29 were using the social platform, particularly as it relates to work and career building. Before getting into the meat and potatoes of the data analysis, we need to make clear the flaws in the use of this particular kind of information. To begin with, unless the user is actively seeking work or has a somewhat inflated ego, there is little reason they would list their profession on a profile page (just 36% even list jobs in their profile). Furthermore, the reliability of what is listed is questionable and it would take nothing short of an FBI-esque moral platform to verify the information. Despite those being fairly hefty factors for discounting the data, we urge you to read on.

Out of 4 million profiles in the database, approximately 1.4 million list a job title. The fifth most frequently occurring job title? Owner. That’s right; Generation Y appears to be emerging as an entrepreneurial group. The four job titles listed in higher numbers include stepping stone positions such as ‘server’, ‘manager’, and ‘intern’. There are a bucketful of reasons for Gen Y-ers to seek the owner chair; ranging from a desire to avoid their parents working life as a corporate lackey, to an extremely prohibitive job market. Taking that one step further, start-ups seeking to recruit Gen Y-ers for their drive are posing incentives aimed at flexible work programs and engaging in activities for the social good. So, here we have all manner of eager young workers at a variety of skill levels, between 18 and 29 years of age, seeking their own business opportunity, or the chance to be involved at the ground level of a generation of new start-ups with a larger focus on the work-life balance. It’s pretty exciting.

Let us also remember that Generation Y is an age group born into the world of digital computing. They grew up with the Internet, Nintendo and cellular phones. Everything that we old folks started out doing analog, they have always done digitally. The biggest difference between analog and digital is time; or rather the context in which time occurs. For example, your high school student needs to do a paper on the Jamaican Boa. In our teens, we would have headed to the library for a quick nap before looking for the natural history section. Today, that high school student heads to their tablet, laptop, smartphone or desktop PC and pulls up good ole Wikipedia. Then they have the nap. Instant results via digital means have become the norm, and we can expect all these driven Generation Y entrepreneurs to crave the same speedy routine for their start-up. It may not be how we did it back in the day, or even today, but with new generations come new trends.

There is a saucy little article by award winning journalist Geoffrey James published in the online business magazine Inc.com, in which he offers a fast-food menu of instant branding tools. Must-haves for every start-up can be created through a series of automatic generator tools including a corporate name generator, a logo generator, and even an auto-spewed marketing message accurately called the “corporate gibberish generator”. There were other tidbits mentioned, such as domain name reservations and auto-tweet generators, all costing no more than $12 or $13. Undoubtedly Mr. James’ piece was meant to be tongue-in-cheek and all that jazz, but after perusing the data from the Generation Y Study it makes one wonder if this isn’t the future of branding.

For serial entrepreneurs like Howard Leonhardt (Bioheart) and Richard Branson (Virgin), the automatic generators of branding and marketing could be a sanity saver. They are old-timers in business. They know what works and what doesn’t, but more importantly they have the resources to fall back on when and if failure occurs. For the likes of Mr. and Ms. Generation Y who yearn for a chance to be involved in a business from day one, the risk is usually much more profound. Branding on the fly with automatic tools may fit the budget, but will it work? Does the outcome fit the criteria of a winning brand for your market? The risk in using auto-tools is not in the initial cost, it is in the long term damage to your product or service.

Consider a scenario where a brand launch using an auto tool for the domain name, corporate name and logo occurs and there is traffic at first, but it soon fades away to nothing. After an anxious day of zero sales, a little competitor analysis is conducted. It seems the top two competitors have very similar domain names to the insta-name, offer better pricing and stand behind killer logos. Their social media traffic is everywhere, while the auto-generated feed is just covering Facebook and Twitter. Every internet marketer knows those are easy things to fix now, but unless your impact on the market was non-existent, damage to the brand has been done.

Branding and marketing are not things to be left to automatic generators, even for Generation Y. New generations come along and create some pretty fabulous trends, but not all of them are good. Acid wash jeans should never have left the sketch book, just as branding on the fly should never be trusted as successful.

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