What makes a brand appeal to Generation Y?

What makes brands appeal to 16-34 year olds and what values do they most respond to, asks Dan McDevitt, joint managing director, w00t! Media.

What makes a brand appeal to Generation Y?

As a broad group, people in Generation Y are well aware of being inundated with brand and advertising messages, yet there are clear differences in how these messages cut through to different segments of 16 to 34 year olds, depending on age and circumstances.

A 25 year old could be single and studying at university, a co-habiting young professional or a married parent with a mortgage.

What’s more, they could theoretically shift through all of these life stages in less than a year. This has a clear impact on how they make decisions about brands – including those that appeal and the products they actually buy.

We recently conducted a detailed research project with over 1,000 16-34 year olds to find out what made brands appeal, including what values they most responded to and how they felt about advertising.

We found that there are three key life stages people naturally fall into. We called them: ‘All About Me’, ‘All About Us’ and ‘All About Them’.

All About Me

In this group, young adults don’t yet have any firm responsibilities. They are typically 16 to 21 years old and only need to consider brands for themselves, not having to buy for the home or a partner or children. The key brand types that fared well were snacks (such as Fanta and Maltesers), while alcohol, fashion and digital platforms made up the majority of those that dominated the most liked brands in this stage.

All About Us

This is an interesting stage that feels like first true adult independence. Typically they are 21 to 30 years old and may be moving into their own home for the first time, living with a partner or taking the first rung on the career ladder.

At this stage the most liked brands start to include more alcohol, department stores, and household grocery brands such as Colgate. Credit card brand Visa also makes an appearance.

All About Them

This life stage is about having to be open and accountable to other considerations and influences. Typically this group are 25 to 34 years old and may now have a partner, children and mortgage payments.

It is at this stage that trading off between brands really starts to speed up. This is because the needs and wants of others trump initial personal preferences.

At this stage, young adults are also making decisions about wider categories of products than ever before, and their brand repertoire will have grown considerably. This is evidenced with more family orientated brands such as Johnsons, Warburtons and Kellogg's appearing in their most liked brands list.

Why brands appeal

Regardless of life stage, a series of truths emerged from our questioning about why any brands appeal to young adults. Right across the board, the common denominators in choosing brands are the perceived quality and performance of their products.

Intriguingly, near the top of the list is the brand’s personality - with 60% of people agreeing that a brand has to fit with who they are, what they like and how they do things.

We found that younger audiences were more influenced by whether or not they like the brand's advertising than other groups, while those with children will compromise their own feelings on brand fit for performance and quality of products.

Let's get emotional

Which brand values actually impact on people’s decision making when choosing to purchase?

Aside from the hygiene factors - creating quality products that are good value - the emotional needs of the individual dominate beyond rational thinking. Brands need to show that they understand people’s personal satisfaction needs - that they can make them feel good about themselves and make their life better. This is particularly true for younger audiences.

Older audiences that are married/cohabiting with children are the only audience to place an emphasis on what we termed 'brand driven needs' - such as ethical and environmental considerations. For everyone else these fall to near the bottom of the list. 

Advertising must connect

For Generation Y, advertising can be highly informative. Yet the sheer volume delivered in broad reach environments means it often becomes wallpaper. Worse still, it is usually perceived as a punishment to be endured for content they actually want to consume - with pre-rolls coming out particularly badly as the most annoying ad formats.

This means brands wanting to create an emotional connection through advertising face some hard work.

Some key rules aren’t surprising:

* Generation Y expect successful brands to advertise, but not to interrupt.

*They expect professionalism, not brands that try to trick, patronise or stereotype.

*They want ads to be useful and/or entertaining - but be mindful of your audience.

The less responsibilities your customer has, the more open they are to brands that invite them to get involved. These basics do need to be combined with emotional supports, such as association with environments that mean something personally to the customer. For example, sports brands sponsorship or aligning advertising around their favourite sites. 

This helps them to cut through the clutter, easily identify and find brands that will add value to their lives.