New Digital Influencers: The Coming Youthquake

Elements of inspiration that went on to become my new book, What’s the Future of Business, Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences

Blame it on the youth they say. Indeed, there’s a great assumption that the future of technology falls in the hands of emergent generations. The youth of today will someday represent the majority of consumers, employees and citizens. That’s always the case, but what we don’t yet fully appreciate is just how different young adults think today. We don’t yet understand what it is they value and why. We’ve not yet assimilated how they make decisions and what factors influence their daily activities and journeys.

Generation Y, also referred to as Millennials, and Generation Z represent those individuals born in the late 1970s or the early 1980s to the early 2000s. They follow Generation X, my generation, and they are already a powerful force in the future of the global economy and politics.

70 million people in the U.S. belong to the Millennial Generation aka Millennials today. Millennials also represent 35 percent of the workforce today, and by 2014, they will comprise of almost half of all employed professionals. In a separate study conducted by Millennial Branding, it is expected that by 2025, Generation Y will represent 75 percent of the workforce.

Right behind them is Generation Z. And as they grow up, they too will have a profound impact on society. In fact, they already do. In the United States, Generation Z is said to already control up to $30 billion in spending.

What’s different about these generations than those before them? Gen Y and Z were born with digital in their DNA. While that may seem like a given, it is the very detail that separates them from their parents, teachers, businesses, governments, and any organization other than those already run by Gen Y and Z. As a result, our society splits into two camps, those who “get” these connected generations and those who do not or will not.

Your Experience is Not Their Experience

I’ve studied connected behavior for many years now. And it never ceases to amaze me how older generations refuse to see the world any other way than through their perspective. It’s almost as if there’s a superior and inferior right to certain life experiences. Yes, to ignore our own experience and point of view is a personal strength. But when considering the vantage points of Generation Y and Z, it is also a potential weakness.

For each decision we make in life, we bring an abundance of life lessons that help us choose what we believe the right path at every personal and professional intersection we encounter. But we are not qualified or truly experienced for that matter to assume that how we make decisions and how younger generations make decisions are in parallel. And, we cannot assume however, that as we design products, services, or any agenda for that matter, that Gen Y and Z will appreciate those outcomes as we seem the. The reality is that they already see the world differently than you and me.

Perspective is a gift nowadays. It’s in how we see the world through their eyes that we can then invest in the future of their experiences.

Why?

They will not do the same for us…at least not yet.

Some of us can multitask, but we say our ability to do so diminishes each of the tasks we simultaneously perform. This is not true for younger generations as their brains are wired differently.

We complain about privacy in social networks. They’ve mastered it.

We don’t get why people share as much as they do online. They’ve created incredible filters to sort through the noise.

We use Google.com to find relevant information but younger Generations go to trusted networks or rely on YouTube videos to make decisions.

We watch TV on televisions. They watch TV on tablets and smartphones

We listen to radios on radios. They listen to music on Pandora, Spotify and the like.

We can eat dinner or sit in the same room with loved ones without looking at our phones and we get angry when others don’t return the favor.

We trust family and friends and younger generations trust people “like” them whether they know them or not.

This is just the beginning…

Empathy is the Gift worth Getting: Seeing the World Differently

Look, getting older doesn’t mean we have to become irrelevant. Assuming that the way we live is the only way to live is incredibly presumptuous. Young adults started life differently than us. What they know is what they know. You and I had to learn how to evolve from analog to digital and we’re still learning. But the gap that separates us and them is bridged only by our ability to take the first step toward understanding their behavior, expectations, and preferences. Then and only then can we build a more connected world and chart a better course for the future of education, commerce, government, art, and everything that keeps society and humanity moving forward in positive and productive ways.

In a study of young adults in the US and UK conducted by JWT entitled “GEN Z: Digital in their DNA,” we learn just how connected they are and how different they are from us.

When some of us wonder whether or not Facebook will follow the way of MySpace and all the other social networks that succumbed to digital irrelevance, we can see that for those 13-17 and 8-12, Facebook is the online homebase for 84% and 46% of younger generations respectively.

For those who question whether or not kids who focus on their screens are having an affect on conversations in the real world, be warned. Times, they are a changin’. In the study, almost half of Generation Z expressed that they feel their real social life happens on social networks. And, 43% in aggregate feel more comfortable talking to people online than in real life.

Online relationships are also making the world a much smaller place. This is true for all those connected online however. But for 26% of such a young demographic to say that they would have to board a plane to visit their online friends is exceptional and practically unprecedented.

And when you ask Gen Z parents how they feel about their children’s online behavior, 68% wish they would log off and engage more with the real world. But that’s just a digital fantasy it seems as younger adults are already affecting how households make important purchases.

73% influence this week’s dinner menu.

69% influence entertainment.

60% influence TV.

The list goes on…

Born Digital

What’s clear is that Generation Y and Z are born digital and therefore engagement strategies, products, services, and employee relations need to also be born digital to meet expectations. If you think you’re placating or giving into this generation whines or unfounded demands, think again. This is just a way of life for them and any organization or decision maker that doesn’t understand them cannot with any meaningful effect engage them or earn relevance among them. But think for a moment what this means.

These younger generations aren’t the only one who are becoming incredibly connected. Anyone who throws themselves into the digital lifestyle start to exhibit different but eerily similar behavior to that of their more youthful counterparts. iPads or Droid tablets, smartphones, laptops, Nike Fuelbands, FitBits and other personal devices, social networks, connected devices, collectively contribute to an always-on society. The result, people are not only connected, they’re informed, empowered, and discerning. This means that they are also either elusive or immune to traditional marketing messages in traditional marketing channels.

According to a Google Insights macro study exploring the “Zero Moment of Truth,” today’s shoppers now rely on over 10 sources when making purchase decisions. This is twice as many as the previous year. The more society embraces the digital lifestyle the more likely this is to go up.

We’re moving from a world that prefers “screen face” to face-to-face engagement and it knows no geographic or demographic boundaries. In a separate Google report, “The New Multiscreen World,” it the extent of cross platform, cross screen consumer behavior among connected consumers was revealed. Google found that we are indeed becoming a society of multi-taskers and multi-screeners with consumers spending an average of 4.4 hours of leisure time across four screens every day. Those screens include smartphones, laptops, tablets and TVs. The study also found that only 10% of all media interactions are non-screen based, which include radio, newspapers and magazines. Wow.

What’s clear is that Millennials and Generation Z behind them are in fact born digital. To get them takes effort. And, to keep up with younger generations takes a shift from antagonism or skepticism to that of comprehension. Understanding how they connect, why, and how doing so influences online and real world behavior, we can make informed decisions about how to develop relevant engagement strategies and meaningful products and services.

Essentially we must become digital anthropologists and ethnographers to learn and appreciate the differences and subtle nuances that create a great divide among living generations. Doing so teaches us about current culture but also conditions us to better anticipate change. This is important as technology is only accelerating therefore making change a constant.

As we learn more about these digital natives, chances are that we too, might very well become the people we’re trying to reach. What we cannot do however, is underestimate the influence of these connected generations on economy or society. They, and those who learn how to connect with them, contribute to a culture that’s not only digitally literate but also interconnected. Perhaps soon, we will not be so different after all.

Join me as the story continues…#WTF

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Image Credit: Intel, “How computers are born”

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ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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