I walked out of a restaurant mid-meal once because I was getting horrible service. Not a huge deal, but it happens in even the best places. However, this time when I complained to the manager on my way out, rather than apologizing for the bad experience, he told me rather condescendingly that I was acting entitled. No, really.
And why wouldn’t he? As a member of Generation Y, that’s the label that most often applies to us: Entitled. It’s meant as an insult. But being entitled isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it can be a virtue.
Hear me out. Entitled people expect things. They feel they deserve them. And when they don’t get them, they get mad. When they get mad, they take action (and if they don’t, that’s being angry and lazy, or “langry,” which is entirely different from being entitled). Taking action leads to not only getting better service at a restaurant, but also changing cultural customs, changing the laws of a country, and, yes, changing the companies we buy from.
It’s surprising to me how little companies actually understand the entitlement generation, and that they often resent them. We’re likely the product of the instant feedback, instant gratification, instant meme online world we as a generation have always lived in. We’re the first to not remember life without the Internet. We’ve never really been in a position where our voice wasn’t heard by somebody. We’ve grown up sharing every opinion on every single silly subject online. And thanks to hosts of rating sites, and companies that closely monitor social chatter, our opinions have mattered. They always have—to one degree or another. We expect good service, good products and good experiences, and if we don’t get any of those, we complain to the manager. And our manager’s name is Yelp.
So it’s easy to see why marketing to Generation Y seems like catering to a bunch of spoiled brats. Understandable, but that’s the wrong attitude to take. There’s a big opportunity for brands if you look at it the right way. You have a large, passionate, vocal audience of people who are looking for the best. They can make you a hero as fast as they can tear you apart. That’s the risk and opportunity, which is actually the same marketing game you’ve been playing with people since the beginning—make your customers happy—but with different rules and higher stakes. Smart brands use these new rules to their advantage. Dumb brands crash and burn.
Companies such as TOMS Shoes, Zappos, and Patagonia have reaped the benefit of successfully catering to a more entitled, vocal online community. These companies do great, original things that get us on their side. So, as a result, we praise them and get our friends on their side, too. But to get that kind of support, you have to earn it. Screw up or act like you’re entitled to your customers … well, you could end up like Amy’s Baking Company.
The time has come to embrace the entitled. Because, pending the zombie apocalypse, the Internet isn’t going anywhere and neither is the entitled marketplace. The truth is, the feeling of entitlement isn’t new or even exclusive to Generation Y. All customers are entitled. Generation Y is just the first to realize it.
Brian Havig is a copywriter at gyro New York.
Follow him @brhavig