Adopt a New Value Proposition: Generation Y Is Coming of Age, and Their Values-And Attitudes toward Joining Associations-Are Noticeably Different from Those of Their Parents and Grandparents

By Sladek, Sarah L. | Information Outlook, November-December 2014 | Go to article overview

Adopt a New Value Proposition: Generation Y Is Coming of Age, and Their Values-And Attitudes toward Joining Associations-Are Noticeably Different from Those of Their Parents and Grandparents


Sladek, Sarah L., Information Outlook


Harley-Davidson is a true American icon, with real brand cachet. For a particular breed of leather-wearing motorcycle enthusiasts, there is simply nothing on par with a Harley.

The motorcycle company was founded in 1901, but it wasn't until the Baby Boomers (born during 1946-1964) came of age that sales skyrocketed. Boomers embraced Harleys as totems of rebellion in the 1960s and 1970s and continued to drive the firm's growth in the ensuing decades.

Youth. It's why Harley thrived during the Boomers' heyday in the 1960s and 1970s, why Nike became the go-to sportswear brand with Gen Xers (1965-1981) in the 1980s and 1990s, and why Apple is popular with the Gen Y (1982-1995) cohort.

Today, Harley is making headlines again, but for the opposite reason--motorcycle sales are declining, dropping as much as 30 percent over the past six years. As one Forbes columnist wrote, "Harley will never get its old mojo back for one critical reason that is completely outside of its control: demographics."

Harley Davidson's brand and sales depend disproportionately--almost exclusively, in fact--on middle-aged Caucasian males. In recent years, the company has tried to expand its appeal to women, minorities, and younger generations, but thus far it has enjoyed limited success.

Perhaps Harley waited too long to engage other demographics, riding the Boomer wave and never really thinking about the future. Perhaps the passing of the Harley era is a reminder that not everything that was relevant to one generation will be relevant to the next. Perhaps it's a little of both.

Associations must be careful not to follow suit. Paying close attention to the changing needs and values of the marketplace is critical for membership associations. This is especially apparent with the arrival of Generation Y in the workplace.

Unlike their Baby Boomer parents and grandparents, Gen Y isn't wealthy (not yet, anyway), but they are the largest generation in history and will likely comprise the majority of the workforce by 2015. As the first generation to be raised with access to computer technology, Gen Y has become known as the instant-gratification, review-driven, social-networked generation that hates to be sold anything.

What does the arrival of such a large and technologically immersed generation mean for the future of associations? it means the membership value proposition has to change.

Recessionistas and Migrators

Generation Y is turning out to be very different from the other generations out there today. Part of this difference stems from their experience coming of age during a recession.

Having incurred more credit card and college debt than any previous generation, facing the highest prolonged jobless rates since the Great Depression, and becoming known as the "boomerang generation" for their tendency to move back in with their parents, Y's have had to scale back their expectations of reaching major milestones and construct a reality quite unlike the one their parents experienced. This reality has led Y's to be dubbed "Recessionistas"--informed shoppers who stick to tight budgets while still managing to stay trendy and cultured.

Associations need to understand the financial constraints facing Gen Y. While Y's occasionally splurge, the fact is that the largest generation in history might never spend as lavishly as their parents did. Some associations will find that their membership dues are hindering Y's from joining.

Associations can also expect the migratory habits of Gen Y to influence their decision about whether association membership is a good fit for them. After World War ii ended, large numbers of people moved from cities to the suburbs, a trend fueled by new roads, low congestion, and modest energy costs. it was a new beginning for the Baby Boomers, and the American Dream became synonymous with owning a big house with a sprawling lawn and a white picket fence. …

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