Face to Face With Gen Y

21 Min Read

An interview with OMG? Lia!, a Gen Y blogger, college student, and business woman

In my post the other day I wrote about how Generation Y is embracing not only Social network Services (SNS) but all sorts of Consumer Generated Media (CGM) even blogging, which isn’t exactly a ‘new’ technology. In Anderson Analytics’ 2009 GenX2Z/US College […]

An interview with OMG? Lia!, a Gen Y blogger, college student, and business woman


Lia Saunders (Anderson Analytics GenX2Z Panelist)

In my post the other day I wrote about how Generation Y is embracing not only Social network Services (SNS) but all sorts of Consumer Generated Media (CGM) even blogging, which isn’t exactly a ‘new’ technology. In Anderson Analytics’ 2009 GenX2Z/US College Report we found that Gen Y is much more likely to blog than the online population in general. More interestingly, Gen Y women are three times more likely than Gen Y men to embrace blogging!

In the past I’ve interviewed several business and marketing gurus on this blog, but today I’m especially excited to be interviewing one of Anderson Analytics’ own GenX2Z ambassadors (Panelists), Lia of OMG? Lia!.

Lia, is in many way not unusual. She is a college student, is on Facebook and MySpace. However, she is also among the 16% of Gen Y women who maintain their own blog. Beyond this she is also an entrepreneur maintaining a sore on Etsy where she sells her own handcrafted “Funky & Cute DIY Accessories”.

Tom: Hi Lia, Thanks for agreeing to this blog interview. While we survey thousands of students it’s always interesting to get a more personal understanding from someone like yourself and to hear a more specific voice.

Always interesting to marketers to see how students actually live and how it is similar to or different to what it was like when we were in school.

First, can you introduce yourself briefly?

Lia: My name is Lia Saunders, I am an 18 year old sophmore at IU bloomington where I am majoring in Apparel Merchandising and minoring in Business and am also planning on getting my fashion degree certificate. I run http://omglia.com , which is an online website/business where I sell DIY jewelry and accessories made by me.

Tom: What is it like being a college student today?

Lia: It’s very challenging – there are a lot of things to balance, between school work and socializing. You have to find a good balance or prioritize properly. I tend to keep school work confined to the weekdays and then do my socializing on the weekend. College students today have to memorize or learn a LOT of things in every class that they take because of the wealth of information available today. Each year the curriculum changes and updates itself based on new information in that field, so that even a graduate a few years out of college is at risk for being behind.

Tom: What websites, blogs, and or social networks are most important to you?

Lia: I use facebook to keep in touch with people daily. I know what they’re doing almost every single day because of the “status” feature, and I can send messages to multiple people back home to let them know how I’m doing. Then I also use myspace to check in with my non-college friends (being from Kentucky I have a lot of friends who aren’t currently enrolled in college.) I use livejournal.com to keep up with friends in all different networks around the world. Those are the sites that I use the most to network personally -w hen I use those sites for my business, I approach them differently but still utilize their basic concepts.

Tom: How is your use of the web similar to and/or different than other college students?

Lia: Like I mentioned in the previous question, I do a lot of socializing on facebook/myspace/livejournal, like many of my peers. However I also use the web a LOT for my business. I have business profiles on each of those sites, as well as a blog at http://omglia.blogspot.com, plus a flickr account, etc etc, that I use for networking, marketing/advertising, brand-name recognition, and connecting with potential customers. This really helps me connect with my target demographic -especially since I personally, as well as many of my friends, fit into this demographic – and I am able to actually connect with and have conversations with many of my customers. Because of my knowledge about networking on these sites I have also done paid consulting work for a start-up company that was looking to connect to the younger generation, which is something I doubt too many of my peers have done.

Tom: How do you and other students use blogs and social networks? Which ones are more/less important to you? Have the importance of certain sites such as like MySpace, Facebook, Live Journal etc. changed or remained the same?

Lia: Everyone checks facebook constantly. It has an instant messaging system you can use to talk to your friends instantly, as well as a “status” update feature which is a lot like “twitter” (www.twitter.com) that your friends can comment on and such. Those are some of the most popular features, aside from the usual pictures/wall postings/etc. You can know what your friend is doing all day long even if you haven’t really talked to them in a while, which is nice. It also has a great security feature which allows you to control how much of your profile can be seen by others. I think that facebook has become much more relevant to college students than myspace or livejournal because of its capacity for instant communication. Livejournal is most valueable in my opinion because of the community feature – you can post to an active group of people who will all see it and may comment on it. Myspace’s best feature in my opinion is bulletins, which are like a longer version of status updates.

Tom: Are you familiar with LinkedIn as well? How do you view this social network sites compared to some of the others?

Lia: I have heard of it in a business capacity but have not used it. I don’t think that it is popular or as relevant to college students as facebook/myspace/etc and I am not currently interested in networking with other business so I haven’t used it.

Tom: You are perhaps unique in that you are not only a college student, but you also have your own business. Can you tell us a bit about your business, how you started it, and where you are planning to take it?

Lia: I started selling online at http://etsy.com (a venture-backed online marketplace for handmade goods) when I was 16 and eventually started http://omglia.com so that I could have some more control over my shop. Because I am a full-time student, I can only devote so much time to my business so it is not as expansive as I would like. I get on average about an order a day. I am truly running it all by myself so I have to fill every job description: I buy supplies from vendors, design and manufacture the goods by hand, market them all over the web, list them on the website of which I am also the sole admin, update my database, keep track of finances, package and ship orders, etc. I sell online as well as at craft fairs and at brick+mortar stores all over the world. When I graduate from college I plan on getting a studio in Louisville, KY and begin building up my online business to its full potential, as well as hopefully opening up a brick+mortar store to sell handmade goods including my own.

Tom: Do you think your entrepreneurial nature is very unique or are there other students like you?

Lia: I know of at least one other IU student who has a store on Etsy, although selling on Etsy releives quite a few of the jobs I listed above (for example, Etsy has a built-in customer base, so less marketing is required in order for people to find your shop; it also alleviates any need for coding or website maintenance.) I have heard of students who have designed their own lines of clothing as well – although they sent it out to a manufacturer rather than making them all by hand. I’m really taking the most difficult road because I am insisting on making all of my items myself instead of sending them elsewhere (At least right now.) As far as having an entrepreneurial nature in general, IU is full of business-minded individuals considering we have such an amazing business school, so I am definetly not alone in that aspect.

Tom: Who do you currently market your products to? Do you market your products to other college students? If so, what have you found to be effective in doing so?

Lia: My target demographic is females age 10-30 who are interested in alternative merchandise, being “Green”, cute/funky/kitsch jewelry (think Claire’s), and/or the DIY/handmade revolution. I do make an effort to have a political undercurrent to my merchandise – I sell BITCH wallets made out of a feminist magazine’s cover, for example – which appeals to a slightly different demographic but often fits right into that 10-30 age group. I definetly do market to college students. Many of my customers are my own friends and acquiantances, and word of mouth is effective to selling to THEIR friends as well. I have found the best way of reaching other students is social marketing sites such as myspace/livejournal/facebook.

Tom: Do you think corporations do a good job in marketing to college students? Why or why not? Can you give an example or two?

Lia: The modern college student is very skeptical. They are often aware of the tactics that corporations use to sell things to them and tend to rebel against very obvious selling pitches. The most effective college-aimed advertisements on tv (though I don’t watch very much TV, personally) I have seen are humor based and often do not directly advertise a product. I can’t think of a specific example but sometimes you’ll see a commercial that makes you laugh but you really have no idea what the commercials is even for, until they show the brand at the very end. Although the commercial didn’t actually tell you why the product is good or why you should want to buy it, it connected in a way that was almost friendly and thus becomes associated positively with the consumer who watched it. On the other hand, if a commercial starts out with a bunch of facts about why their product is the best, a potential consumer often will tune out knowing what the average consumer knows about corporations and their marketing techniques. Students don’t like to be seen as commodities or numbers – they like to be recognized as people with individual styles and beliefs. Many college students are aware that they can “vote with their money” and will buy only products that they support ethically or for environmental reasons. College students are a much trickier demographic than your average uninformed high school student and in some ways even more so than an adult within a defined career path because they are at a point in their lives where they want to learn as much as possible in order to figure out what direction they want to take in life – because of this, they are very opinionated and skeptical of new information and not very impressionable. It’s a tricky market but I think a lot of brands and corporations do manage to identify with the college student demographic by appealing to them on a peer-to-peer basis. The younger and more aloof a brand seems to be, the more a college student can identify with it.

Tom: What is your view of marketing research surveys or focus groups? Do you think students view these? Do you think they answer these questions truthfully? In your opinion how do you think market researchers could improve these if at all?

Lia: I mentioned above that students like to be valued as individuals with their own opinions rather than as numbers or markets. I also mentioned that students are quite skeptical. This is something that comes into play in regards to surveys and focus groups: although students are eager to make their opinions heard, they know how valueable their input is to corporations and as such will only help out those which they deem worthy or which they really like and identify with. And of course then there is the question of getting to the students and giving them the incentive to participate. Sweepstakes can be a good incentive although often students figure they won’t win anyway and won’t bother. Usually a gift for participating can be very helpful, like a $5 gift certificate somewhere or a free coupon for a product or food item. Also, long surveys are usually not very helpful. If a survey takes more than 10 minutes, guarenteed that the last few questions are not going to have reliable information because the student will have already lost interest. Also try to mix up the questions so that they aren’t all just bullets because a student can just put “maybe” for every answer without even reading the question. Maybe try to have a box where students can give you their input in their own words for a few questions.

Tom: What do you see yourself doing when you graduate?

Lia: I see myself living in Louisville in my studio apartment shipping out multiple orders every day and applying for grants and loans to start my store, which I already know exactly where I will open it and what it will look like. I might work for a retail corporation for a few years to save up some money before I open my store if the market is still doing poorly.

Tom: Would you say there were different types of college students? If so, what general types are there, what would you call them? What makes them different/similar as a group?

Lia: Well you have your fraternity/sorority types who aren’t too into the academic side of college and are much more focused on the social life: parties, drinking, social events, etc. Then you have students like me who know exactly what they are in college for and are working very hard to achieve their goals: they know they’re paying a lot of money to go somewhere and aren’t going to waste their time there. Then you’ve got students who don’t really know what’s going on with their lives and are mostly in college to either figure something out, or stall until the last possible moment before they have to enter the real world: their grades might not be as good as the driven students and might be better than the heavy socializers. Then you’ve got all sorts of different monetary groups: students who are on scholarship or financial aid and have to work hard to maintain that status, but have some money to spare from their loans; students whose parents are paying for everything and don’t really have to worry too much about money, and are much more willing to spend it; students who are working their way through college, and are less willing to part with their hard-earned money. Then of course you have a whole lot of students interested in different things: some of them are very concerned with making the world a better place/environmental issues/humanitarian aid, some of them are very into fashion and style and pop culture, some of them are very career driven. There are lots of students who overlap or don’t fit into any of these groups as well either but those are some of the main ones I’ve noticed.

Tom: Thanks so much Lia

Lia: Hope I’ve helped out!

Some of Lia’s Links:
Web Site

Etsy Shop
Supply Shop

Flickr Account

Images from Lia (Dorm Room, Products…):

Lia at trade show

Lia at school


Link to original postTom H. C. Anderson – Anderson Analytics

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