People older than Generation Y, such as baby boomers and Generation X’ers, laugh at the younger generations because they think they are naive…when in fact, it is the older generations who are naive. It is this Generation (Y) and the next generation behind them who are and will be the smartest,

most well-informed group, in history. This is the age group (ages 15 to 22) that today’s branding professionals must appeal to but it’s not as easy you think. The scariest thing is that today’s CEOs and upper managers in branding and marketing do not do this well because they are not “”living”” the life of Generation Y — but it’s no fault of theirs. So, an education into branding of today is needed if a branding strategy is going to work.

By not appealing to the young, hip, cool generation, your brand will go nowhere. It doesn’t matter if you’re brand if H&R Block or Johnson & Johnson, your branding flavour has to be hip.

In the new study Framing the Youth Market, branding strategy to the “”hip”” generation is dissected. What makes it click? Which brands do people attach themselves to?

The youth market is hot and hip and it’s where branding executives must always look to when developing and designing their branding strategy.

The problem, according to the study, is that today’s CEOs and other high level managers are not part of that age group so the understanding becomes an obstacle. Age barriers divide the branding learning process.

The Framing the Youth Market study included real-life snapshots of various high school and college students within the 15 to 22 age group whereby the subject answers a few questions, one of which is about a brand they like and why. From personalized one-to-one information, the study becomes a concrete account about what today’s younger generation likes and what they think about. Today’s youth are the smartest, the most well-informed generation in history because of education and technological advances, i.e. the Internet. The main objectives and discoveries from the study are as follows:

  • Who are the today’s youth and find out what the relationship is between the youth and brands
  • What makes up be attracted and then stick to certain brands
  • Creation of a guide for successful youth brand
  • Immediacy from technology and the Internet makes the younger generation very different from generations before them
  • A brand must fill the need of our image we want to portray
  • Brands convey images through stylized approaches
  • There is a thin line between the success and failure of an image
  • When being critical, there is a core formula for companies to relate to the youth market and this formula needs to be “”cool””.

The study was conducted via online survey with 60 plus participants, one-on-one interviews, and two focus groups. They tapped into 19 highly populated states spread wide throughout the U.S., from Washington state to Florida and from California to Massachusetts. Statistical information, such as how much money teens spend per year, was gathered from various online sources and hard copies. Students were represented from schools nationwide, such as the University of Arizona, Penn State, Marist College and Mamaroneck High School in New York.

With that the study found that the Internet and the youth movement are joined at the hip.

Since 95 per cent of all college students are online for many reasons, the biggest section in Framing the Youth Market is the area of technology. According to the study, today’s multi-tasking young generation use the Internet for three mains areas; (1) funseekers – games, new sites, interacting with friends, (2) enthusiasts – hobbyists, creation of communities, information gatherers and (3) the focused – specific ideas seekers and functionality. The study also looks at certain brand’s Web sites and described which are the better ones, for example Snapple (www.snapple.com) and an anti-tobacco campaign (www.thetruth.com). Tapping into these sights, the youth are looking into brands and messages that appeal to them whereby sights likes these, know how to be hip and cool.

Many of today’s CEOs do not understand how to brand to today’s young people because they are simply not part of that age group. The important thing to learn is how to be a hipster and when this happens, true branding will be achieved. Until then, you will miss the mark. It is their world to be learned, not ours.

Simon Williams is the president and CEO of the Sterling Group (www.gosterling.com). The Sterling Group is an international branding agency headquartered in New York. The company’s high tech clients include SAP and Sun Microsystems.

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