Getting the Most Out of Gen Y

Posted by , Oct 01, 2012 5 comments

Amelia Northrup

For decades, the arts industry has chased new audiences, especially younger audiences. Today, that chase is directed at the largest population under 30 years old in human history. It’s little wonder that Gen Y (born 1981–2001) is a hot topic for arts marketers.

As a data-informed member of Gen Y, here’s a take on my generation of arts consumers.

We curate our lives. For as long as we’ve been consumers, we have always had access to Google and Amazon. Search is our way of finding out anything and everything we want to know. We are the generation of the long-tail. This means we have had access to more variety of art, music, performances, and consumer products than any other generation in history.

Because we have access to virtually everything, we take pleasure in exploring the original and local and not just mass-market products and experiences. The data backs this up; an Edelman Digital study found that 40% of Gen Y participants preferred buying local, even if it meant paying more than a mass-market product.

Beyond buying local, the exploration of everything available in the marketplace has led to a culture where we curate our lives. The rise of personal curation—selection of exactly what we want from all that’s available—is evident in the recent popularity of Pinterest.

We spend on what we value. Gen Y is often characterized as cheap. There’s good reason for our cost-consciousness. Gen Y paid much more for college than previous generations and now has record levels of student debt. We face an unprecedented labor market that has offered us more unemployment and underemployment than under-30s of nearly any previous generation.

In light of our generation’s thriftiness, the Edelman study’s spending metric suggest that a cheap price is not our only motivation to buy. Warren Buffet once said, “Price is what you pay, value is what you get.” Price and value are connected for Gen Y.

The research suggests that ticket price, while important to Gen Y, won’t always make or break their decision to attend. Reliance on tactics like using Groupon or deep discounting can get Gen Ys in the door; but, offering cheap tickets is no silver bullet for audience building at good ROI, especially for a group of consumers who could be your patrons for a very long time. In fact, building value perception and loyalty among this generation will be key to getting them to come back.

We give. Gen Y not only spends on what we value, we also value giving back. Most Millennials (57%) say that they had volunteered in the past 12 months, according to the Pew Research Center’s Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next. That’s the highest percentage of volunteerism of any generational group alive today.

And, surprise! We are already donating—a characteristic TRG’s ongoing study of consumer behavior generally finds among the most loyal patrons. The Millennial Impact Report, released earlier this year, reported that 93% of surveyed Millennials gave to nonprofit organizations in 2010.

In TRG’s initial study of generational giving to arts organizations, we found that among the small numbers of Gen Y patrons, there were donors. Their median gift was 20% more than that of Gen X patrons in their early 30s and 40s:

Finders, Keepers. TRG loyalty study finds most Gen Y patrons among first-time or lapsed ticket buyers in a behavior category we call “Tryers.” As audience members, Tryers are the least loyal patron group and most vulnerable to churn. Most organizations lose between two-thirds and 80% of their first time buyers after that first attendance.

It all comes back to developing loyalty. Gen Y might require different messages and media, but the objective is the same: once you’ve attracted them, hang on to them. You can only turn a Gen Y-er into a life-long attendee and donor if you get them to come back.

5 responses for Getting the Most Out of Gen Y


Ms. Devra L. Thomas says
October 02, 2012 at 10:15 pm

As a cusp child (although on the Gen Xer side), I find the data interesting, but wonder what other data points need to be studied to get a more usuable frame. That is, the mid Gen Y people I see most often don't even seem to have the non profit arts on their radar. I would be interested to see research on those folks, on how to get them out of the music clubs and into the symphony halls or theater seats.

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October 01, 2012 at 4:45 pm

"Sampling isn’t necessarily enough to give Gen Y or other audiences what they’re actually seeking in the arts experience." Great point, Sara, and thanks for your kind words. As I mentioned, the first step to increasing loyalty is getting them to come back.

But how? Honestly many times it comes down to simply inviting them back (whether the patron is a Gen Y-er or not). It's simple, but sometimes time- and cash-strapped orgs overlook it. A thank you email, a postcard for the next show, a call from the box office or telemarketing team--all of these keep the organization top of mind and puts the patron on track to continue their relationship with the org. To do this, an organization should be able to collect patron data in order to contact arts-goers again, and implement a system to contact recent newbies via a direct and targeted communication channel--those two things are key when getting patrons to come back. Thanks for your comment!

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Mrs. Sara R. Leonard says
October 01, 2012 at 3:35 pm

Amelia, Thanks so much for what is likely one of the most straight forward and useful analyses of Gen Y audiences I've seen! I really appreciate your point that it all comes down to loyalty-- for Gen Y, but also for others! As arts organizations put more and more focus on appealing to our (I eek in on the older end of Gen Y myself) collective "tryer" nature through Groupons and other promotions, it seems they lose focus on the bigger picture. Sampling isn't necessarily enough to give Gen Y or other audiences what they're actually seeking in the arts experience. From your perspective, what is the key to creating the loyalty that will keep audiences coming back?

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October 03, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Thanks Shoshana! Do remember which white paper that was? I feel like I read about the similarities of Gen Y to Traditionalists somewhere too. Now I can't remember where.

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October 02, 2012 at 2:02 am

Great post, Amelia! I once read in a white paper on generations that Gen Y is very similar to the traditionalists. Gen Y will actually read a full brochure or seek out more information if they are interested. Gen Y can become loyal like traditionalists if you take the time to build the relationships and follow up with them. Gen Y are very good at working in groups like the traditionalists. They are "team" oriented. You have also pointed out other similarities in your post.

I will note that people from every generation deserve stellar attention, but I agree that Gen Y is definitely worth the time and effort when considering building your audiences.

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