Gini Dietrich

Use Gen Y Stereotypes to Your Advantage

By: Gini Dietrich | July 19, 2010 | 

Guest post by Matt Cheuvront, founder of MATTCHEVY and part of Gen Y

What is the first thing you think of when you hear “Gen Y”? Almost unanimously, the first adjective that comes to mind is “entitled.” Yep, Generation Y is arrogant, conceited, ungrateful, and demands instant gratification. We know more than you, we’re better than you, so if you could just accept that, we’d all be a lot better off, and working together would be so much easier.

That arrogance is an exaggeration, but let’s face it, those of us born in the ‘80s get a pretty bad rep. To many, we’re almost seen as an entirely different species.

There’s no denying the stereotypes. They’re out there, and they’re there for a reason. Gen Y includes about 77 million people and, like it or not, we are the future of the economy, we are the future of society, we are husbands, wives, parents, CEOs…

So instead of resisting and denying, why not use Gen Y stereotypes to your advantage?

We’re over-entitled, but it’s your fault!

“Entitled” is synonymous with Gen Y, but did you ever stop and think that YOU made us this way?

For my slightly older audience, do you remember that “Baby on board” sticker you slapped on the back of yourminivan? That baby on board was me, it was the new account manager you just hired at your ad agency. Back “in the day,” our parents thought we were SO special that they told the entire world to stop, slow down, and be careful around their vehicle because there was such a special Gen Y baby on board.

Now for the Gen Y crowd. Remember those fun races on Field Day back in middle school? I have at least 10 blue Field Day ribbons and, folks, I was not fast, at all (sore subject).

The point is, from a very early age we’ve been made to feel very (very) special. We’ve been rewarded for effort instead of results. And that has carried over to the way we live and work today.

The key in dealing with and targeting Gen Y isn’t to say “You’re not special,” but rather to encourage Millennials in saying, “Yes, you ARE special, and we expect very special things from you”.

We roam in packs

The definition of community is much different to folks like me than it used to be. Community very much exists online nowadays – and within our communities, we tend to roam in packs (ehem, flocks). Go ahead and call us sheep. We’re in tune with what others are doing around us and are quick to follow.

Your task is to find the true thought leaders, those people (online and off) who can be your biggest advocates and evangelize your brand. Get something in the hands of these people. Send a sample of your product, develop an incentive or referral program that encourages your greatest customers to actively promote for you.

We’re selfish philanthropists

Gen Y puts an emphasis on doing good and supporting companies and brands that are genuinely serving an added bottom line. Cause marketing is real and it’s only going to continue to develop as an important marketing medium in today’s economy.

But we’re not as quick to help if there isn’t a return on investment. Selfish though it may be, we want people to know when we’ve done something good. And we’ll tell them through our blogs, on Twitter, you name it.

Use this to your advantage. Make it easy for your customers to share via social media when they’ve made a purchase. Develop an incentive-based word-of-mouth marketing program. Rewarding your most loyal supporters a little will pay big dividends.

So maybe we’re not so bad, after all? Then again, maybe we are. Either way, we’re not going anywhere, we do have a lot to offer, so, yeah, use Gen Y stereotypes to your advantage.

Matt Cheuvront is an avid blogger, entrepreneur, and founder of MATTCHEVY – a Chicago-based online marketing consultancy and web design firm. Check out his personal blog, Life Without Pants, and swing by to say hello on Twitter.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Matt- Love this! You nailed so many stereotypes square on the head (I should know, DOB:11/2/80) and by playing to them, you are turning a traditionally negative slant into effective communication.

    • There is SO much talk out there about Gen Y stereotypes and, instead of arguing their validity, let’s just accept them for what they are but more importantly, figure out how to tap into them and potentially profit from the ‘attitudes’ and behaviors the younger demographic represent. Thanks for the comment!

  • Very good point! I have so many friends that indeed feel entitled. Most of them come from an upper class family background.

    Even so is it a bad thing? I think it depends, I feel entitled in some situations but I believe that it has gotten me places. Feeling entitled can cause you to be more confident.

    As long as the sense of entitlement is not hurting other people, or making you cocky, it could be a positive.

    • There’s a fine line between entitlement breeding confidence as opposed to it breeding arrogance. Much of the time it’s the latter…which is unfortunate, but ‘is what it is’ so to speak. Rather than focusing on the negative – which is what MANY do (let’s face it, it’s easier to bash and complain than it is to find solutions) – I’d rather focus on finding solutions and opportunities. There’s a positive spin to almost anything, even if it is much harder to find…

  • I like the idea of using stereotypes for good, and in general, finding the positive in all situations. Kudos to you for taking that approach here.

    I’m not sure I buy the idea that it’s our parents fault we come across as entitled. Maybe my mom had a “baby on board” bumper sticker, but that doesn’t give me the right to communicate I should have the world handed to me on a platter, or have things easier, or think I know it all.

    I’m my own person. I have my own beliefs. I live my own life. Yes, my parents are a HUGE influence on all of that, but at the end of the day, if I come across as entitled, it’s MY fault.

    Great take on the subject, Matt, I enjoyed this.

    • What I’m dying to know is if you’re going to have a Baby on Board sticker on your bike?!

      • Haha, I’m pretty sure I’m not. 🙂 I am really excited though to start taking Noah out on the back of the bike though for some leisurely rides. My dad used to take me out all the time!

        My wife keeps reminding me though that those sorts of activities have to wait till he’s a tad bit older.

        Can’t wait!!!

    • It’s not all our parent’s fault – you’re 100% correct. Pointing the finger of blame to someone else is soooo a Gen Y thing to do, right? 🙂 That being said, we are a product of circumstance – and that circumstance was being rewarded not for actual results, but for effort – the whole ‘as long as you tried, you’re a winner’.

      It’s up to you and I and the rest of the Gen Y population to break free of that mindset and step into the real world in which respect is earned, not given, and rewards are based on results. Sometimes, it takes a little nudge from a boss, a mentor, or a trusted advisor to help us realize that we aren’t all that a bag of potato chips by default, but that we all certainly have the capacity to be pretty damn special.

  • Well said Matt. I’m a boomer (and proud of it I’ll admit), a lawyer and a former law firm partner (25 years) now coaching Gen Y, Gen X and Millennials. I’m also bored with all the whining about various generations and their perceived faults. Your suggestions are on the money, and notably constructive. I’m always looking for ways to better understand the way my clients, and friends, think and feel.

    Some Boomer lawyers complain about what they perceive as a poor work ethic among associates and young partners. Then again, when we were young lawyers we had mentors and access to clients and more meaningful work. Many of us had partner mentors who taught us to be fine lawyers, and who fully expected us to inherit those client relationships we helped to expand through excellent service. And many of us spent much of our careers in a relatively stable working environment, where institutional loyalty-and the collegiality it permits, was a given, and even the top producers knew how to leave a marble or two on the table.

    We were an advantaged generation in so many ways–personally and professionally. Sadly, we have not, broadly speaking, delivered to the younger generations the tools and opportunities essential for them to succeed us in style. We hold our clients, even the best work, too close. We expect business generation and self-sustaining practices from lawyers we did not adequately train (or encourage) to network. We care so so much about our comp–and that of our colleagues, and less (at least it seems that way in some of the largest institutions and firms) about culture, loyalty and quality of life.

    So–we’re in need of fresh ideas. Welcome to the fray.

    • It’s interesting that there are so many ‘generational’ stereotypes that are perceived as exclusive to a particular generation – but I’ve never really understood this. Through my conversations with folks from all age ranges and demographics, this has been a repetitive pattern time and time again. The preceding generation thinks the generation following them is a bunch of over-entitled know-it-alls, yadda yadda yadda.

      The bottom line, the stereotypes Gen Y is faced with isn’t (or at least doesn’t appear) to be anything new. The only difference between us and the folks who came before us, and the folks who came before them? We grew up in a different environment with new technologies and tools at our disposal. We’re defined by different historical events (like Columbine and 9/11). But in the grand scheme of things, our attitudes and beliefs aren’t so unique…

      It’s an interesting conversation, to be sure. Thanks for coming by and adding to the discussion!

      • Whilst there will be common threads and some common stereotypes there are differences which a superb talk I attended given by Dr. Paul Redmond in March ’10 explained very clearly. (If you have get the opportunity he is very entertaining – there are YouTube clips of various keynote talks)

        Like myself Paul is based in the UK but the research behind the findings is from at least two dozen countries. Having lived in America however I can attest to the fact that there are broad ‘generational markers’ that cross country/cultural divides.

        Interestingly the talk I attended was organised help marketers market to GenYs.

        And yes I am GenY (also called Millenials in some books).

  • Bull. At what point is it no longer about external events in the past (parents, locations we were raised in, etc) and start becoming what WE have done, both individually and collectively? Not everyone has this entitlement attitude you mention, either. But I simply cannot understand why someone would hold on to that ‘snowflake’ mentality. Not only does it come across as selfish and arrogant, it is incredibly limiting in terms of personal and professional development. Instead of embracing a negative thing (entitlement is very much a negative thing. Always have been), why not try to prove the stereotype wrong?

    • I apologize for this coming across as selfish and arrogant – it was not my intent at all, and for the people who DO know me, they know that selfish and arrogant are two things I very much am not. But it’s silly to think that our upbringing has absolutely nothing to do with where we stand today. It very much does. Did my parents have the baby on board sticker? No. Did they reward me for doing nothing? No…but this post isn’t about me and my life (or ‘taking ownership of it’) – it’s about a ‘generalized collective’ stereotype of an entire generation.

      My point? Instead of debating whether or not it’s valid, whether or not the ‘definition’ of entitled is negative or not – figure out how to tap into generational behaviors and attitudes and, in the case of this post, use them to your advantage professionally.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • Matt:
    Nicely done; way to turn conventional thinking on its head. On your initial issue, while entitlement can have a way of wrecking the meritocracy system (interesting thoughts, Betsy), sometimes it’s a matter of bridging that gap between “This is that to which I am entitled” and “This is the path I will take to achieve it” that makes that sense great and powerful in its potential. After all, “potential” seems to be one of those buzzwords thrown at Gen Y by more seasoned folks.

    • Hi Dave. Thanks for the comment. Yes…”potential” is extremely buzz-worthy these days, eh? We all have potential, but you can’t survive on ‘potential’ – it’s about taking action, getting out of your own way, and earning your keep.

      Interesting that all of the comments here are focused on the ‘entitlement’ issue…There’s much more to us youngn’s than this idea of being ‘entitled’…

  • Spot on. Generation Y wants it all and wants it all right now. Your article brought me back to high school. My Baby Boomer Physics teacher despised the infamous “Baby on Board” declaration. He would rant and rave almost weekly about it, saying things such as “How dare someone tell me how I should drive just because you have a baby on board. What the heck does that mean anyway? Shouldn’t you be the one who is mindful of this baby rather than me? I personally don’t care who is in your car and it’s none of your business who is in mine!”

    I didn’t really understand his take on a seemingly pointless topic at the time. However, I see his point-of-view in a different light now. In a way, our parents did bring on this feeling of entitlement to our generation since they felt obligated to tell the world about their greatest accomplishment – us. Our parents put all of their effort in ensuring we were appreciated. And here we stand in 2010, ready to be appreciated by the world.

    I, too, had loads of ribbons from various school functions during my elementary days. I actually had a sixth place ribbon from a spelling bee. Sixth place?! Yep, and I was damn proud of that ribbon.

    And why? Because my parents were extremely proud of my effort. Is there something wrong with that? Fast forward to right now – I would much rather have a hardworking employee who sometimes makes mistakes than an employee who is always right but could care less about the work. Passion is what separates Generation Y from those before us. Generations before us needed to work to support their families. Our generation chooses to work for what we are passionate about. There’s no doubt that we still want it to happen right away, but even when it doesn’t, we still persevere. Is this a bad thing? Absolutely not. I predict effort will trump precision forevermore.

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  • alexklevine

    I so want to be on board with this article, but I feel like your point further propagate misconceptions. I think the bottom line is that the blanket statements people make are just like any other blanket statements: inherently flawed. As a society we’re now starting to realize that making blanket statements about any group (ethnicity, gender, etc) are ridiculous and unfair, so why would generalizations about this group be any different? In ANY demographic you’re going to get entitled jerks, people who are “philanthropic” for selfish reasons, and so on. I can give you plenty of examples of other generations exhibiting these same qualities. The propagation (and “confirmation”) of such stereotypes only serve to feed these. As a fellow gen y-er, I’m a bit bummed that you (a thought leader) are telling people that all that bull is true. That said, you do have a point about us being rewarded for making little to no effort. However, saying that that dictates how the entire generation acts seems far-fetched, as individual character will be the deciding factor if an individual accepts that model or not. I noticed the Gen Y bashing around the same time that companies were firing upper level people and replacing them with Gen Yers to cut costs. To me, that is more indicative of the reason for all this negativity than anything else.I will still continue to read your blog and actually enjoyed the article, even though I disagreed with the majority of it. I greatly enjoy reading well-written, thoughtful opposing viewpoints, especially on this topic!

  • TenderNYC

    My main complaint with Gen Y types is that you’re no fun in bars.  I have to listen to your crap as a bartender in NYC 6 nights a week.  The happy hour crowd is great:  mostly Gen Xers and maybe a little bit older.  As soon you folks hit the bars, the conversations become so vapid and uninteresting that I usually sneak a few drinks myself to deal.  No senses of humor, no senses of adventure, a lot of bickering about really lame crap and frankly, from what I see, a generally less attractive generation.  Lack of P.E. I guess..

  • Ninoushka

    I think Y gen are so pushy because many are from the creche generation, where they had to fight for attention everyday from very young. They have simply missed out on many of the details provided by one to one child-raising. However, this is reality. I manage y gen and i have found the best thing is to keep them very busy and challenged but i have had to be strict to prevent/overcome disrespectful behaviour on their behalf.

  • Invincible

    This is yet more entitlement.  “Yes, we realize our hippie/Yuppie parents were on drugs when they conceived and carried us, and we’re a nation of selfish crack babies.  Yes, it’s true we’re essentially valueless.  Now here are the rules for how to interact with us.”
    As a Gen X-er, my question is why should we?  Most of you are unemployed and have no disposable income.  Equally unenticingly, your generation shows no brand loyalty.
    My vote as someone born in 1968 is we all — Boomers, Gen Jones, all of us — skip this spoilt brat demographic and jump over them to the next one: Gen X-ers’ children.  
    Much the way the brats jumped over us back in the Grunge days 🙂
    Turns out we were the last generation with any money, and we hire and call the shots now, so Generation Y jumped snottily right over us into an alligator-filled cesspool.  Enjoy your swim.