Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Generation Y are loyal - just not in the way you want them to be

Another TravelWeekly story caught my eye (have been at home sick so have had plenty of time to surf and read). In this article Gregg Hopkins of Softbrands declares that there is no brand loyalty online for the younger consumers (also called Generation Y). He says
“This is the first true ‘web generation’ of travellers who have used computers all their life...As a whole, they ignore offline points of sale and have no brand loyalty.”
I don't agree. I think there is loyalty it is just a different kind of loyalty. There has been a lot of talk in marketing circles about different approaches to brand and therefore loyalty. Let me talk through these trends to show why I disagree.

The traditional brand approach is where you design or target a brand at/for a particular demographic or age group. As a person grows up marketers try to shift them from their current brand/product loyalty into the "older" demographic brand. This approach is applicable particularly in FMCG marketing and is epitomised in cosmetics industry where different brands target different age groups of women and seek to move them "up the brand food chain" as they get older. This approach to marketing is often called "Revlon Branding".

A new discussion is emerging around brands that try and stick with a demographic as that demographic ages by morphing the brand over time. This is being called "Harry Potter" branding. The brand (or wizard) gets older as the consumer (reader) gets older. The brand attaches itself to a generation and sticks with that generation. It provides different entry points for new generations such that each level of the brand (or episode or book) speaks to a different audience under the same brand.

The other type of loyalty and branding that I think applies to Generation Y is best described as "Night Club Branding". Generation Y are loyal, fiercely loyal but for very short periods of time. They attach their loyalty to the latest "thing" recommended by a friend or network and consume that brand almost to the exclusion of all others...until it is time to move on to the next one. Then they drop the first brand like and stone and take up the next one with the same ferocity. Hence the reference to the popularity of a night club. We have already seen examples of this online with the migration from Friendster to Myspace and now onto Facebook.

It is a mistake to describe this behaviour as meaning Generation Y have no loyalty to a brand, instead it means they are loyal in different ways. Night Clubs responded to this type of loyalty by creating different themed/branded nights or events and changing them regularly as they try to catch the next wave of loyalty. Websites targeting this group (including travel) have to be similarly adaptive if they want to attract and keep this group. It does not mean re-branding every six months. Instead it means building community and relationships that can be flexible and targeted all that same time- I did not ever say the answer was going to be easy.

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