Just consider that more than half of the world's population is under 30 today.
That means, 50% of the world’s population was born after the year 1982. Nearly 20% 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 is, as of this year, old enough to drive, voted in their first presidential election and is probably on their way to college. They don't know a world without smart phones, have never used a card catalog, consider email antiquated, and have 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 work force 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.
But with the coming of age of the next generation -- a generation often called Generation Z, but more likely to be known as the iGen generation (a nod to Apple?) -- there is likely to be such an enormous disruption that fundamentally it will change how brands and consumers communicate and, more importantly, the media’s role in this process.
"iGen," the generation born between 1994 and 2004 will, in just a few short years, be joining Gen Y as a majority among digital natives. This new consumer that came of age in 2012, landed in a marketplace environment where the online world and real world are inescapably connected and where TV is served through computers, where the Internet is omnipresent and global borders are virtually eliminated. The iGen generation has the entirety of human knowledge on their phones and, as such, is projected to be the largest and deepest generation gap in history.
Companies' success or failure in relating to this new "public" will be contingent upon their ability to communicate with iGen and earn their advocacy.
They will need to recognize that there has never before been a generation so globally plugged in and so informed and that traditional strategies and tactics will be increasingly ineffective ways to connect 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 network 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 iGen.
Brands have to earn admittance to their infinite touch points. And there is a price for admission. Brands must 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 also 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 is then is 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...
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Stefan Pollack, a tenured PR and marketing professional, is president of The Pollack PR Marketing Group and author of the new book, “Disrupted, From Gen Y to iGen: Communicating with the Next Generation."