Last year, for the first time in its 95-year history, the American Association of Advertising Agencies held its annual confab in Los Angeles, reflecting the city’s status as an ad industry hub. The event’s title was Transformation L.A. 2012 and one of its themes was the intersection of Madison Avenue with Hollywood and Silicon Valley. Coincidentally, 2012 was also the year that the next generation of consumers came of age, a generation often called Generation Z, but it more likely will be known as the iGen generation (a nod to Apple?).
As such, the association’s transformative theme was a timely prelude to the enormous disruption that this generation is likely to bring – one that could fundamentally change how brands and consumers communicate and, more importantly, the media’s role in this process. Considering that L.A.’s communications and marketing professionals cut across several industry sectors, such as technology companies, incubators, entertainment companies and national consumer brands, and is a city recognized as a center of innovation, the coming of age of iGen presents an opportunity for communication professionals in this market to take the lead in recognizing the seismic generational changes about to occur and to potentially change the very definition of marketing.
Just consider that more than half of the world’s population is under 30. That means that 50 percent of the world’s population was born after the year 1982. Nearly 20 percent of the world’s population was born after 1994 and they were born at such an astonishing rate, USA Today called it the next Baby Boom.
The oldest member of this generation was, as of last year, old enough to drive and vote in his or her first presidential election, and is probably on the way to college. This generation doesn’t know a world without smartphones, has never used a card catalog, considers email antiquated and has no use for printed books.
This year, and every year thereafter, digital natives will be entering the marketplace in droves. By 2020, the entire generation will be adult consumers. We are past the age of Gen Y, which entered the workforce during the great communications disruption of the past decade symbolized by the iPhone and then iPad. They entered the workplace with a different mindset, changed social behaviors and a sense of entitlement.
IGen, born between 1994 and 2004, in just a few short years will be joining Gen Y as a majority among digital natives. Communications and marketing professionals will need to recognize that there has never been a generation so globally plugged in and informed, and that traditional strategies and tactics will be increasingly ineffective in connecting with them. IGen is a generation born with consumer-driven capitalism at its core and altruism at its heart. Their patterns and behaviors are opposed to anything that has come before them and they basically ignore messages from brands.
So if iGen-ers will no longer be paying any attention to any traditional form of controlled brand messaging, how are brands supposed to communicate with iGen?
It has become abundantly clear that it is simply in iGen-ers’ DNA to listen to their trusted network, rather than controlled messages from brands. They only care about information if it is relevant to them and, since the power of brand engagement is in the hands of the consumer, iGen-ers will serve as their own gatekeepers, awarding relevant information by sharing it with their trusted networks of peers and burying irrelevant information so it will be invisible to their peers. Brand communications must change to be relevant to and accessible by members of iGen.
Brands have to earn admittance to their infinite touch points. Brands will have to become fluent in their language and habits, converse in two-way genuine and authentic communication, and deliver on brand promises.
An acceptable bypass into iGen’s circle of trust is to leverage influencers that already have access to iGen’s infinite touch points. These influencers can be anyone from individuals active on social media to just people with a lot of friends or it can include the professionals in the communication industry. If a brand can ethically earn favor from influencers, then Brian Solis’ one-to-one-to-many process of communication is leveraged. IGen may not listen to brands, but iGen will listen to influencers they trust when they talk about brands.
Since this is predicted to be the new normal, the challenge then will be how to be relevant in this new environment, how to leverage influencers and how to become a brand that iGen loves. Brands need to brace themselves, be alert to change and be very, very smart.
Companies’ success or failure in relating to this new public will be contingent upon their ability to communicate with iGen and earn their advocacy.
Stefan Pollack is president of Pollack PR Marketing Group in Century City and author of a new book, “Disrupted, From Gen Y to iGen: Communicating With the Next Generation.”
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