About three years ago, we received a much-needed wake-up call from our brilliant, 20-something friends and interns.
Meet Lauren: We were sitting at the conference table late in the afternoon. Lauren’s friend Kara called and they talked about meeting for dinner, but didn’t decide on a place or a time. Instead, they agreed to call each other back. Five conversations later and no plans on the books, we were both getting stressed and silently annoyed.
Meet Cassie: While dropping off a big project, Cassie received a text message from Dominika that said, “Do you want to go running?” Cassie texted back, “sure.” Dominika was less than 30 feet away in the next room.
Meet Carmen: Her computer screen was exploding like fireworks. Instant messages were popping up at an alarming rate. “How many people are you talking to right now?” we asked. “Six,” she said nonchalantly. Six separate conversations, all on IM. She was also browsing through the campus networking site, Facebook, there was music blaring from the computer speakers, and she was surfing the ‘Net while reading a magazine.
Question: What do you do when you realize that an entire generation’s behavior is utterly baffling? When do you say, “my instincts about this group are probably way off?” How do you address a growing gap that will only widen over time?
Answer: You dive off a cliff and join the happy ruckus. You suspend judgment and attempt to understand. You get in the game, join the party, start asking better questions and get your hands dirty.
Meet the connected generation
They’ve got technology. They’ve got friends. They’ve got the tools to overhaul your business, and they’re already using them. From MySpace to iTunes to YouTube, the connected generation is behind the hottest headlines, the biggest business deals, and the most talked-about cultural phenomena on the continent. Baby boomers may still hold the purse strings, but the connected generation is changing the way we all do business.
Why do we call today’s 18-to-40-year-olds the connected generation? Because they’re connected to technology and their social networks around the clock. They are also seeking a peer-like connection with the brands they love.
These young consumers are a powerful group because they will quickly spread the news about ideas, brands and services that they love – and hate. This generation is incredibly sophisticated about media and advertising, so they will bypass all forms of unwanted push marketing and instead, only pull into their lives what they need and more importantly, what they crave.
Instead of fighting this shift, we need to say that yes, the market has changed and I’m willing to change, too. The old push model (go big, go loud and get in front of them often) has turned upside down. The connected generation is active, not passive. They’re highly engaged and they’re creating their own solutions. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a rock band, a fashion designer, a nonprofit organization, or a sporting goods outlet, you and your team need to understand what makes the connected generation tick.
As we researched our new book, Mind Your X’s and Y’s, we studied brands that were experiencing success beyond anyone’s expectations – fueled by a young, connected community that became unofficial brand ambassadors. These breakaway companies achieved major underground buzz by tapping into cravings, not big advertising budgets. Conversations with the members of the connected generation and the breakaway brands they loved helped us crack a code and uncover the 10 core cravings that drive this group of renegade rule-changers, industry flippers, innovators and technology-lovers.
The following 10 cravings are helping brands large and small learn how to satisfy their market and attract the most savvy, hard-to-reach consumer group in history.
1. Shine the spotlight: Extreme personalization gives marketing a new face
The connected generation is clamoring for personal recognition. They’re itching to stand out, stand up, and be celebrated with their names in lights (or print or pixels). Brands that tap into this powerful need with highly creative efforts will get not only great buzz, but a whole new level of loyalty and brand ownership to match. For example, the University of Oregon’s football recruiting program created superhero personas, logos and personalized comic books to fuel the dreams of young athletes and successfully capture what insiders called “the surprise recruiting class of the year.”
2. Raise my pulse: Adventure takes its place as the new social currency
There is a new premium placed on venturing into the world, collecting exotic adventures and memories, and pushing personal limits. Customers are seeking highly interactive encounters that teach and challenge and in the process, give them personal insight and explore who they are. Today, more brands are responding to this craving for adventure by offering fresh, unique, and easy-to-access experiences. From stiletto shoe-making classes to test-driving new careers during a Vocation Vacation, it has never been easier to raise your pulse.
3. Make loose connections: The new shape of “families” and social networks
The connected generation has embraced technology to build social and professional networks with a brave new structure. This generation is rejecting traditional associations and club-style memberships in favor of loose connections through sites including MySpace and Facebook, which more accurately reflect their interests, lifestyles, and busy days. Brands need to understand how to interact with these powerful new social structures if they want to stay hot and stay in the loop.
4. Give me brand candy: Everyday objects get sharp, delicious, intuitive design
Design has emerged as a sign of the good life. The look and feel of objects, places, and things is becoming increasingly important. Design is shifting paradigms and spurring people everywhere to rethink established products and industries. Consider how struggling cell phone pioneer Motorola used the ultra-thin Razr model to get its mojo back. Design, along with its strategic twin innovation, has become a vital tool to stand out and stay strong in an increasingly competitive market.
5. Filter out the clutter: Editors and filters step into a new role of prominence
In a world that’s inundated with choices, editing is a critical market phenomenon and an important process in our daily lives. Consumers rely on editors to sift through the raw data and identify the top picks. As a result, many savvy brands are learning to build editing mechanisms like top 10 lists, expert bloggers and collaborative filters (think Amazon.com) into their brands, products and websites. In today’s globalized world, it feels good to be “in the know” and to avoid costly and frustrating purchases.
6. Keep it underground: The rejection of push advertising and the rising influence of peer-to-peer networks
The connected generation has grown up feeling saturated with advertising and marketing messages. They are suspicious of ordinary “push” campaigns and gravitate toward integrated, contextual offerings from trusted friends and members of their networks. A select group of people discovers something new, from shoes to bands to politics to neighborhoods, and translates it to satisfy a much wider audience. This is the way of the underground. Toyota’s Scion brand successfully tapped into an underground network of young urban males by fanning their artistic flames, showcasing their talent, and respecting their underground street culture.
7. Build it together: Connected citizens explore their creative power and influence change
There are currently one billion people connected online around the world. With so many people conducting large portions of their lives online, we’ve only just begun to tap into the power of web-based networks. If you’ve made a phone call on Skype or researched a topic on Wikipedia, you have connected citizens to thank. The connected generation is becoming intoxicated by their growing ability to spark change – both as consumer groups and end users. This awareness is spurring mass creativity and launching a power shift away from companies and into the hands of consumers.
8. Bring it to life: Everyday activities are orchestrated to deliver a dramatic sense of theater
From designer coffee beverages to “make it with friends” dinnertime solutions, brand theater is popping up in virtually every industry, as savvy organizations deliver compelling and entertaining new experiences. Brand theater allows companies of all kinds to create emotional connections with their customers. It takes typical experiences a few steps forward by engaging the senses, the imagination and the spirit, and transforms routine tasks into riveting entertainment.
9. Go inward: Spiritual hunger and modern media find common ground
Increasingly, the meaningful life is defined as the spiritual life, and spirituality has become a dominant value among today’s consumers. Companies and media channels are introducing new products, services and forums to support this spiritually hungry generation. Relevant Media Group, for example, explores “God, life and progressive culture” through a 20-something’s spiritual lens. Their active online community, magazines, podcasts and books have quickly made them the leading publisher for spiritually engaged members of Gen X and Y. The connected generation has embraced modern media and blurred the lines between secular and sacred, finding spirituality in all aspects of their lives.
10. Give back: Redefining volunteerism and the meaning of contribution
There’s a new spirit of volunteerism in the air, led by a young, connected generation that has new ideas about how to give back. Today’s volunteers want to give their time and talent instead of simply writing a check. Modern volunteer associations combine fresh structures with fun people and a chance to make direct, meaningful connections with the community. Websites such as Donors Choose match everyday citizens who want to give back with teachers who need help funding class projects. A $70 check might buy a used microscope for Mrs. Peters’ 3rd grade science class in New Jersey. In return, donors receive not only a receipt, but also a package of drawings, pictures and handwritten thank you notes from the grateful teacher and her class. These new giving models are igniting a whole generation and making their volunteer efforts convenient, high impact and more emotionally satisfying.
The 10 cravings are a market code and a roadmap for navigating the modern marketplace. They spur new questions and fresh concepts. Savvy brands across all industries and supply chain segments are using these powerful tools to gain significant competitive edge. Bring your most innovative ideas and put the cravings to work for your brand.