the article I wrote: “Yo,
Hesiod, Listen Up”
(From the Spring 2006 edition of Savingteen)
Yo, Hesiod, Listen Up
by Philip Heckman
Question: What’s the latest Gen Y slang for money?
a. Grit c. Pastry
b. Frank d. Banjo
Answer: When it comes to providing financial services to young adults, does it matter?
Much is being made lately (and once again) about how out of touch adults become when they reach the age of 30. Self-proclaimed Gen Y marketing experts delight in stumping older audiences with definitions of jargon recently popular with the 20-something demographic. The implication is that if you’re not fluent in youthful argot, you can’t serve the market.
Bunk. Piffle. Rot. Not to mention grit, frank, pastry, and banjo, the phony slang terms listed above.
The fact is, personal communication between generations has always been difficult. More than 2,500 years ago, the Greek poet Hesiod wrote: “I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolouss youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words.”
An understandable sentiment, but not much of a business philosophy. In selling – and serving – here’s what’s important:
Consumers, all consumers, make buying choices based on myriad factors, including convenience, price, service, and quality (real or perceived). Compared to these practical considerations, a sales pitch in patois isn’t going to clinch many deals. To attract more Gen Y business, forget about serenading them with slang.
Find out what your Gen Y members want. Research their particular living and consumer habits. Find out their financial challenges, and design services to meet those needs. You’ll earn Gen Y members’ business if you can explain your service benefits and answer their questions. And stay in regular contact, because this market segment’s needs can evolve rapidly with technological and lifestyle changes.
Communicate clearly. So how do you talk to the younger generation? how do you communicate concepts such a overdraft, minimum payment, and APR? “Plain English” works fine. Just as young adults don’t expect their parents to pierce their navels and wear midriff-exposing tops, they don’t expect financial institution staff to use street lingo. Gen Y members aren’t looking to hang out with you; they’re looking for ways to meet their financial goals.
Treat Gen Y members as you would any other members – with friendly professional service. Some years ago, the Wisconsin Credit Union League created a terrific 60-second TV ad that told the story of a burly biker preparing to apply for a loan by shaving his beard, cutting his hair, removing his jewelry, and trading his denim and leather for a suit. As the nervous applicant waited to meet with a credit union loan officer, the applicant ahead of him – a bearded shaggy-haired, bejeweled, denim-and-leather-clad biker – emerged from the loan office smiling and counting his money. Message: The Four Cs of Credit have nothing to do with costume or can’t.
Win each generation early. If your credit union had recruited and found ways to serve Gen Y 10 to 20 years ago, you wouldn’t be wondering how to get on good speaking terms with them today. Young children, who have yet to form an allegiance to a financial institution, will be very responsive to your credit union’s appeal. Demonstrate the advantages of membership while they’re young and you’ll build up the goodwill to retain their loyalty through the prime borrowing years.
As a bonus, members are cheaper to recruit before they reach their 20s, the age at which your competitors want them. So while you’re trying to win the hears and minds of Gen Y, be sure you’re also serving Gen Z and starting to introduce yourself to the generation coming after that.
Hesiod might have been able to speak to the frustrations of parents dealing with their alienated offspring, but he was no marketing genius. Neither are marketing consultants who suggest that they’re the only ones who know the secret password to communication with youth.
Don’t worry about what young people call money today; it’ll change tomorrow. What remains constant is the mutual benefit of “People helping people,” not jiving them.