By Joe Pulizzi published September 22, 2012

5 Content Marketing Tips for Targeting Generation Y

While speaking this week at Mechanical Systems Week (the largest show dedicated to HVAC and plumbing contractors), I was able to see Jason Ryan Dorsey, famed “Gen Y Guy” and author of the book, My Reality Check Bounced, present on how contractors can bridge the generation gap.

What was most telling about Dorsey’s presentation was the different ways each generation communicates. According to Dorsey, right now is the first time in history that four generations are working side by side in the workforce. Not only does this present a challenge for both managers and employees, but for content marketers, as well. Yes, that means we need to create content for FOUR different generations.

What defines a generation?

Simply put, a generation is made up of people who were born around the same time period in the same general location. When creating and distributing content to each of these groups, content marketers must understand channel preference BEFORE deciding how to publish your content marketing.

The four generations

Dorsey reviewed each generation in detail and included an overriding mantra for each group.

Generation Y (born 1977 – 1995)

Mantra: This group has grown up with the feeling of entitlement. Dorsey detailed how entitlement is a totally learned behavior, brought upon by Baby-Boomer parents. This has created, in many Gen Y males and females, the idea of delayed adulthood. In Dorsey’s own data, when Gen Y’ers were asked at what age they truly enter adulthood, the average answer was 30.

Generation X (born 1965 – 1976)

Mantra: This group is naturally skeptical. Its members believe that actions speak louder than words. Gen X is also the most loyal generation, not to brands or organizations, but to individuals.

Baby Boomers (born 1946 – 1964)

Mantra: Baby Boomers judge success by work ethic. How hard do you work? How many hours do you work in a week? First in the office, last out of the office (FILO). Baby Boomers believe there are no shortcuts to success.

Traditionalists (born before 1946)

Mantra: Extremely strong military connection. Traditionalists are and have always been comfortable with delayed gratification.

So, if your brand needs to target 18- to 35-year-old males and females (which includes most of us), what do we need to keep in mind?

  • Gen Ys most preferred way to communicate is through texts. The next preferred method is email.
  • Email behavior shows they only read the subject line.
  • To Gen Y, phone calls are an invasion of privacy.
  • Gen Y is desperately lacking face-to-face conversations.
  • Gen Y connects most with the oldest generation, traditionalists.
  • Gen Y connects least with Generation X.

Content marketing tips for Generation Y

  • Provide stories in visual form. Gen Ys are completely visual learners, so videos, infographics and pictures in your storytelling are a must.
  • Since Gen Y connects with traditionalists, it may make sense to include traditionalist content creators in your planning?
  • Invest in the best resources for email subject-line writing.
  • Calls to action should never include a phone number or having to call someone (real friends text, they don’t call).
  • Provide opportunities for Gen Y’ers to meet face to face in comfortable situations.

Want more content marketing inspiration? Download our ultimate eBook with 100 content marketing examples.

Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi is the Founder of Content Marketing Institute, a UBM company, the leading education and training organization for content marketing, which includes the largest in-person content marketing event in the world, Content Marketing World. Joe is the winner of the 2014 John Caldwell Lifetime Achievement Award from the Content Council. Joe’s the author of five books, including his latest, Killing Marketing. His third book, Epic Content Marketing was named one of “Five Must Read Business Books of 2013” by Fortune Magazine. If you ever see Joe in person, he’ll be wearing orange. Follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

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  • Katie Lynn

    You’re right in line when you say that Gen Y consumers are visually driven. I’m also a member of Generation Y and I can tell you my short attention span can’t last for much over 5 paragraphs when surfing online. This blog post makes me think you might be interested in some of the content YAYA Connection has to offer. They provide market insights on the 18-24 year old audience. You can find their blog at:

  • Jack

    A little short-sighted in your characterizations of generations, don’t you think?

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Hi Jack…definitely generalizations, but this is what the young man said.

  • Jill Tooley

    Generational data is so varied that it’s tough to make marketing assumptions. As a member of Gen Y (which I’ve also heard is interchangeable with the Millennial generation…SO confusing), I should be more of a visual learner who’s particularly impacted by infographics and videos. However, I would much rather read an article or a blog post than sit and listen to/watch a video, and infographics aren’t that interesting to me. So what does that say about me? Maybe I’m just an oddball, I don’t know. 🙁

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Hi Jill…I agree, there is no hard and fast rule…just trends we can go by. That’s what makes this so darn difficult.

  • Garrett Specialties

    I agree with the article. I guess it helps if you are older as you are able to see the generation gar. I am one of the baby boomers and the comment is right on. Baby Boomers judge success by work ethic. Baby Boomers believe there are no shortcuts to success. It was the generation of creativity without all the technology. The younger generation is missing the boat with all with gadgets and parents today are directing children where and what to do with their spare time instead of allowing the child to come up with their own ideas. When they get out in the real world, they are faced with decisions and really do not know what direction to go. I see Gen X is also the most loyal generation, not to brands or organizations, but to individuals in my children. Yes your article is general but it is not too far off


  • Heather Ferreira

    Here’s more on Generation X, from a market research study my company performed in 2001:

    – Gen X is unusually fond of nostalgia. TV shows, music and films from 1966 to 1979 are cherished by this demographic. Show genuine, proven, long term respect for these programs and cultural touchstones and you will have gone a long way towards winning Gen X over.

    – Gen X is more socially conservative than you think. We’re far more socially prudish than Gen Y and their Boomer parents. We believe in gay marriage, for example, but as a group often shy away from outward displays of pro-gay sentiment. Gen X tends to believe sexuality, politics and mores should be strictly private. What Gen Y likes sharing online about personal things, Gen X views with HORROR.

    – Gen X secretly believes the Boomers intentionally sabotaged our generation in favor of their children, Gen Y. There is heavy evidence leaning in favor of the suspicion. The cultural betrayals hover around the media’s widespread blame for the Dot Com Bubble (even though Gen X entrepreneurs were correct that the web would be the chief POS hub of the future – they just predicted it earlier than Boomers believed or had patience to wait for), Gen X music and fashion tastes being “officially declared overwith” and suddenly marginalized, and Gen Y being declared media darlings just as Gen X was coming of age. Gen X has never forgotten the slight and loathes Baby Boomers to this day for it.

    – Gen X is the most Atheist generation. Gen Y claims to be, but Gen X is Atheist for the right reasons and will remain Atheist. Gen Y will swing wherever the wind blows and wherever their Facebook friends go; even if that means Evangelism.

    – Gen X is not, as Bono said famously of the Irish, “a designer jeans race”. While Gen Y is hysterically obsessed with fashion and clothes, Gen X trends towards traditional American staples such as the plain black suit and tie, plaid lumberjack shirt and jeans, and 1960’s Mad Men attire for women. Most Gen X-ers, if asked in secret if they could wave a magic wand and it would be 1966 again, would reply an emphatic YES.

    – Gen X believes in spanking and disciplining their children and views government and small interest group intrusion on this factor with extreme dislike. Boomers believed their children were their equals and allowed their kids to address them by first name and dictate family policy from babyhood. The results can be seen in the vast entitlement and social dysfunction of Generation Y. Many Gen X-ers were suspicious of Boomer leniency towards children from the very beginning and warned Boomers this policy would backfire and create “a generation of monsters”. Were Gen X-ers right? Are Gen Y a generation of monsters? Well, as I am age 44 and a Gen X-er… my official answer is NO COMMENT. 🙂

    – Do not underestimate the fondness of Gen X for media nostalgia. We will buy a product if the manufacturers package it with retro logos and wrappings, and will begin watching a TV network again if they start using 1960’s and 1970’s idents and logos ahead of broadcasts. This is not to be ignored lightly, yet strangely is. NBC for instance seems unable to grasp that if they simply brought back the “Living Color” Peacock ident, our 44 million-strong demographic would work very hard to find serious reasons to resume watching NBC again. Yes. Retro branding is that serious to us. You can either use it and market to us, or not.

    – Most Generation X-ers do not own a television set in their households today. This statistic should startle you. Ask some Gen X-ers and see if I’m wrong. We got rid of them and our radios because we felt the material broadcast through them was substandard, no longer worth our time, and toxic to our children. We want to raise our children the traditional way our Silent Generation parents did. Authoritarians? You betcha.

    – The ideal Gen X family home exhibits the authoritarian streak of stern discipline of our Silent Generation/Depression Era Generation parents, and the upbringing they gave us, without the strong religious slant of those parents. Imagine an Atheist authoritarianism and you’re getting close to what most of us idolize and consider the ideal breeding ground for our offspring. Most of us find the permissiveness of a Boomer household (the actual modern template for American households) off-putting at best, and outright dangerous for our children at worst.

    – The ideal Gen X family in every Gen X adult’s mind: The Waltons. Ask and see if I’m wrong. The Boomers’ version: The Brady Bunch. There is a difference. Once you notice what it is, you have Gen X-ers figured out.

    – Every Gen X man secretly wants the era of the dependable milkman in the clean white uniform to come back. Every Gen X woman, however feminist, secretly wishes it were a safe country to wear a 1960’s twinset dress and pearls in, and that men today were strong enough to structure a society where she could do that, AND make a decent, equal wage.

    – Gen Y flirts with socialism but Gen X is the demographic most likely to know what socialism really is, and vote for it and bring it successfully in.

    – Insult Sesame Street or Charlie Brown cartoons at your peril. Doing this might provoke a Gen X-er to fisticuffs.

    – Do not separate a Gen X male from his action figure toys and DVD collection. Death may result.

    – Do not separate a Gen X female from the songs and records she loves, or make fun of That Photo. If you value your life, avoid these expressions.

    – Every Gen X-er would react with a startled smirk then a big smile if it were announced at 8:00 tomorrow morning all computers were no longer functional and the internet was gone. And then set right to work cranking up beloved analog replacements to keep society working, without so much as batting an eye.

    – Larry Page and Sergei Brin, both Gen X-ers, would agree with the last item.

    And they invented Google. 🙂

    I’m a Gen X-er and I know my demographic well. I love us. I’ve devoted my entire career to making things specifically for us. If you have any questions about us, feel free to contact me at Sellino Films. Yes, we have a website. But, being age 44, I’d be perfectly glad not needing to have one, and with you finding us in the big yellow phone book.