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Capturing the Gen-Y Audience

The hot topic among my marketing peers of late has been Gen-Y. Ah, the millenials, the twenty-somethings, the first-adopters.  The target audience for buzz-building brands, and for the arts, your audience of tomorrow… or possibly sooner.

At the recent, excellent L2 Generation Next Forum in New York, a series of rapid-fire presenters shared insights on some marked differences between Y and their predecessors, including Gen-X and the Baby Boomers. Why does this matter? To stay relevant as a player in arts and culture, you have to affect the tastemakers – those who are leading the conversation on the street and online (where their opinions are permanent and untethered), and whose buying power shouldn’t be underestimated.

As one who stands on the border between X and Y (generationally, not genetically, ha ha), here are some of my favorite Gen-Y audience insights and their potential applications for the arts:

Gen-Y is drawn to community.

From Facebook to the Obama campaign, Gen-Y is drawn to belong. Cliques are no longer just for high school, they roll out to the interactive space: profiles, channels, groups. I strongly believe that if arts organizations that focus not just on one-off tickets but on building communities, they will set themselves up for a far more loyal long-term audience.

Arts App: How can you make your audience part of your mission, production, organization in a way that makes them feel influential?

Gen-Y is interactive.

Unlike the comparatively reclusive Gen-X, Gen-Y craves involvement. Not just spectators, a culture of gaming and networking has created a need for a voice, a way to feel invested in an activity. Witness the endless brand-built contests: no longer names drawn from a hat, they ask entrants to create, engage, and pivotally – to promote.

Arts Application: How is your production inviting active participation from your audience?

Gen-Y wants value over price.

It’s not about the price of the ticket – it’s about the perceived value. While this applies to every demographic, Gen-Y is particularly concerned with feeling they’ve gotten a “deal.” Think more deeply than discounting – what about your subscription, donation, ticket price, is just too good to pass up?

Arts App: How is the purchase of your product an investment rather than an expense?

Gen-Y has a say in celebrity.

And how could it not, with YouTube and American Idol turning average kids into household names with no sign of slowing down? Warhol’s 15 minutes are so last century (after all, the YouTube video limit is only 10). We’ve democratized fame. It’s not about who’s in your show – it’s about what that association means for the audience member.

Arts App: How can your audience feel like it’s responsible for your success?

Gen-Y wants meaning.

Saturated with advertising from an early age, Gen-Y can see right through a pitch. The green movement is an excellent example: we know whether a brand has a true dedication to the environment or is just “greenwashing” to drive sales. You can’t just tell Gen-Y to “buy a ticket now!” – you must explain what makes your production meaningful, timely, intelligent, far-reaching.

Arts App: How will your production enrich the lives of your audience beyond just entertainment?

Gen-Y is a team player.

At some point we will all collaborate professionally with a Y. And that’s the key word: collaborate. Gen-Y doesn’t believe in hierarchy and authority. As a generation that grew up with parents who talked out conflict rather than ruling with an iron fist, they expect to be engaged and consulted. Instead of perceiving this as questioning of authority, focus on leading laterally: building consensus, delegating responsibility, rewarding competence over experience – all with transparency and authenticity.

Arts App: How can you engage your entire team and give true responsibility to each member?