Fighting for the Young Consumer's Attention

Businesses are finding fresh ways to appeal to young consumers, who switch media about every two minutes.
April 24, 2012

Do you want to reach younger American consumers? The challenge is that they switch between their media options so rapidly and reaching them is harder than you might think.

A new study finds that these "digital natives," who have grown up with constant access to the Internet, cell phones and television, switch media 27 times per hour. The study, commissioned by Time Inc. and conducted by Innerscope Research, found their older counterparts switch 17 times per hour, which is still a lot.

It’s no wonder that marketers are scratching their heads trying to figure out how to connect with this generation, as they jump from the computer to cell phone, check the newspaper, read a magazine article, switch to the tablet—changing about every two minutes.

Catching their interest is important: Their spending power is expanding, and will continue to do so in the coming years, as they move into higher-level corporate positions.

So what's a marketer to do?

Holding the attention span of young consumers is part of the challenge when they have an information and connectivity overload, moving rapidly from one topic to another. Now, this study shows that the channels they use to consume that media are also vying for their short attention span.

For an advertiser, determining where and how to place marketing messaging becomes a daunting task.

The solution is to move toward a marketing model that engages young consumers on their terms. Find ways to integrate your business offering into their lives without relying on a traditional advertising strategy that may go unnoticed during their multi-tasking.

Focus on the elements of your offering that appeal to younger consumers. For example, they are very receptive to marketing for a cause, and they are more likely to purchase products that support a cause.

They also operate as social consumers at a much higher rate than previous generations. This means they spend an enormous amount of time online, reviewing products and services. In fact, 60 percent of young consumers rate products and services online. It used to be that only people who were extremely satisfied or extremely dissatisfied did reviews.

Now, as a marketer, you have an endless amount of customer feedback to inform you. That can help you improve your business without relying on less effective one-way marketing messages.

Bertucci’s, a brick-oven pizza restaurant, is doing a good job of adapting to the younger generation. In 2011, the company reported roughly $200 million revenue. A New York private equity firm based in Boston owns the chain.

The restaurant made its mark with baby boomer customers in the '80s and '90s. But to stay relevant and grow, it needed to adapt to the next generation of customers.

So, it made some physical changes. The music mix contains less classical Italian and more pop songs. It replaced booths with larger open-style seating because young people like to socialize while they dine out. It changed its menu to include smaller, cheaper options.

It also has a YouTube series that features the restaurant's executive head chef, Jeff Tenner.

All of this helps spread word-of-mouth interest in the restaurant. Viral marketing is still the most effective, especially with the advent of social networks.

What do you think? How can companies connect with younger consumers when they jump around from one media channel to another?

Dan Schawbel is the managing partner of Millennial Branding, a Gen-Y research and management consulting firm. Subscribe to his updates at

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