January 19, 2001, 12:00 AM

Gen Y to Net marketers: Brand, schmand

Brand isn't a driver for young consumers online, according to a new study by Forrester Research, Cambridge, Mass. For that reason, the firm says, some companies don't need mass-appeal sites and should redirect their online efforts to banner advertising and sponsorships.

     Forrester's analysis of the most visited sites shows that companies requiring mass-appeal Web sites should focus on functionality and utility, including strong customer service and technical support--not games, chat or sweepstakes.

     "In comparing 16 to 22 year-olds' brand preferences with their actual online behavior, we discovered a paradox," says Ekaterina Walsh, a Forrester analyst. "Although Coke, Nike, and Pizza Hut are still among the favored brands of today's young adults, these companies do not generate high traffic to their sites. Since brand leadership doesn't necessarily yield the most clicks, companies must determine whether they need a Web site at all--or if they will gain brand equity by establishing a persistent online presence using other methods."

     In describing their favorite Web sites, 70% of the 8,500 young consumers who were surveyed say the sites not only caught their attention but loaded quickly. The balance between cutting-edge technology and ease-of-use is critical to attract young consumers, the firm says. . Banner ads also are useful in building brands online, as are clubs and sponsorships. Of those surveyed, 86% have clicked on banner ads--47% higher than adults.

     Forrester estimates that young online consumers earn $37 billion a year combined, $1.5 billion of which they will spend online.

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