Y Do I Care?

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\"ydoicare\"And Why You’d Better Care About These Five Words of Activation

Brands love me. They find me in the recesses of my social interactions and they ask (read: incentivize) me to be their brand ambassador. Who am I? I am any Millennial/Gen Y, and broke as we are reputed to be, we are quickly (like in the next five years) about to start outspending your other favorite customers, our parents, the Baby Boomers. And brands (not all, but definitely the ones we will be interacting with for years to come), are quickly taking the initiative to not only put themselves where we are, but also to make themselves known as one of us.

You might ask, “How do they do that? How does Nike become a twenty-something?” I will tell you how: they speak to us like we speak to each other. Because for the first time, your brand is in conversation between posts made by my own twenty-something friends. And how better to relate your brand to me and my friends than by using terms we use, or that excite or interest us. Clearly, I am not talking Internet-speak (LOL)—I am talking activation words; words that convey to us who we want to be; how we understand the world to be; or even how we would like the world around us to become. Because those who understand the way Gen Y ticks, understand that more than anything else, we are an aspirational generation. Helping us aspire—feeding your brand vocabulary with words or concepts we aspire to—activates us as customers that want to interact with your brand, both socially and commercially.

I’m going to share with you five words of activation that have the potential to activate your Gen Y or Millennial customer, and why knowing what each one means and why it matters will let them know you know the “Y.”


Far from the Space Mountain type of adventure, Millennials dream of the kind of adventures that they can write home (i.e. Facebook) about. The more obscure, the more secluded, the better. Drag racing in Patagonia? Surfing in Thailand? These are the ways Gen Y lets its hair down. “Why,” you ask? Because we are a risk-averse generation 365 days a year. When the opportunity to take a walk on the wild side presents itself, we’ll take it. For the rest of the time, we read modern adventure blogs like Atlas Obscura, or the Adventure League that let us dream about our adventurous other-selves. It’s why Cadillac’s “Cadillac ATS vs. The World,” where affable professional drivers race through breathtaking-but-nearly-fatal cliff-side highways and caves, “An adventurer’s dream. A driver’s dream.” has nearly two million views. It’s why twenty-year-olds want to join the Explorer’s Club.


Similar to the sentiment of exploration and adventure, Ys’ entrepreneurial heartstrings are pulled with every start-up or design think tank they can find. It is why philanthropic websites like Kickstarter have achieved such stellar success—not because their audience was dying to give away money in the middle of the Great Recession, but because they want to be a part of funding the process of invention and innovation.


No, we aren’t trying to get you speak in code, but coding is a passion—yes, a passion! Gen Ys wish they knew how to do half the things their coder/ hacker friends can do. Not only that, the stereotypical hacker nerd is now at the top of the social food chain, a shot straight up from the bottom rank years ago. Coding is the language we will teach our children; it is the “Do you know Microsoft Office?”of future job interviews. And the Internet community is responding to it with agencies like Codeacademy offering free, gameified coding tutorials that will, in fact, teach you how to code if you give it enough of your free time. In other words, engage the coder-wannabees—all of us—Gen Y.


Everyone. Is. A. Curator. Now. Of everything, and of anything. It is the Gen Y way of sorting through the virtually infinite amount of information we receive every day and every moment of the day; we curate our Google Reader feed; our Netflix Instant Queue; our online presences; and our lives offline. Our unanimously favorite brand, Apple, and now Windows, is taking cues from our need to collect what is relevant to us and position each in a way that makes sense to us. It should come as no surprise then, that with the first of the Gen Y children the term “learning disabilities” is now “learning differences.” Personal differences in approach and perspective is the new normal, and this is a generation that wants to celebrate and showcase theirs.


Viral is today’s “mainstream,” the organic way the Internet disseminates new information. “Going viral,” means that something (a video, an article, an image, a what-have-you) has caught on and reached an exponentially larger audience than it would usually reach, anywhere from thousands to millions of impressions. What’s more is that Gen Y is only the beginning of virality—the generation after Y is beginning to be known as Gen V, for Viral. Watch a tween on a laptop and you will understand that the hierarchy of information has been flattened.

By understanding the significance behind these five words of activation, you will begin to understand your ever-growing Gen Y consumer base; what makes them tick, and how to activate them with words that make them feel you know what they are talking about. No more “transparency” talk; no more “innovative design” speak; and definitely no more “green-washing” (don’t get me wrong, we like green, just not in the way it’s getting thrown around). Speak to us like you would in the cafeteria, as one of us, and we’ll speak with you.



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