It’s All About Generation C
We are no longer Matures, Boomers, Gen Xers, or Gen Yers. Those monikers defined us by the year in which we were born. We had no option into which cohort we were placed. We were described by our age; but no longer. Now, thanks to a myriad of converging forces, we can all become members of the same generation—one that is defined by choice. We can choose to be members of Generation C and we have chosen to do so.
The Gen C nickname had its genesis around 2004 when trend watchers began noticing a new type of consumer emerging—one that crossed age boundaries and defied traditional segmentation strategies. These individuals were not necessarily similar in age, but were similar in their attitudes, values, interests and certain personality traits—and all were digitally connected.
In other words, they formed a psychographic or psychological cohort that required a totally different approach to thinking about consumers, one that could include everyone of every age and in essence could possibly stretch to every corner of the market.
To begin thinking about how a business can embrace the opportunities emerging from the Gen C trend, one needs to understand what is driving it:
• Longevity. Simply put, there are more people living longer. By 2030, when all surviving baby boomers will be over 65, there will be 72 million seniors and they will amount to about 20 percent of the population. As this is being written, the U.S. population clock reads 311,332,287, while the world population is nearing the seven billion mark.
• Mobility. There are dozens of statistics about how many people move every year, ranging from 10 to 25 percent. No matter what the actual number, however, even a small percentage represents a large group of people who leave friends and family behind to live in unfamiliar surroundings.
• Resurgence of family and friends. The iconic Norman Rockwell images of families and friends have always been part of the American lexicon. But it seems that, since the tragic images of 9/11 were seared into our hearts and minds, there has been a renaissance in our need to stay in touch with those who are important in our lives.
• Celebrity. Andy Warhol quipped, “In the future, everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes.” If you ever doubt the truth of his statement, just look at the proliferation of TV reality shows and video clips on YouTube. I recently read somewhere that everybody has creative inclinations, but until now, we haven’t had the guts or the means to go all out.
• Technology. Hardware and software companies have given us the technological and content-creating tools to leash this pent-up creativity with cheaper, yet ever more powerful technologies. We now have the ability to create, produce and participate via social media. Now there is also cloud computing.
So what does this information mean for business? First, it means owners have to rethink how they segment their markets. Gone will be the days when owners could just categorize by age, gender or income. A 60-year-old baby boomer customer belongs to Gen C because he or she is heavily into Facebook and YouTube. The Millenial customer is a member of the same generation because he constantly Tweets and is a mayor on FourSquare. Both customers Skype, blog, look for their Groupon offer on their mobile phone, search and buy online, and use word-of-finger (WOF) instead of word-of-mouth as their way of telling family and friends about a brand. Remember when owners thought that a happy customer would tell six to 10 others while a disgruntled one would tell twice as many? In the Gen C world, that reach grows exponentially and it extends worldwide. Gen C also believes that connectivity is a basic human right; they want to be securely connected anywhere and anytime and at no extra cost to them. So having complimentary Wi-Fi service available in any store, office or factory is considered a necessity, not a luxury.
Some managers, owners and leaders get it, like Scott Westerman and John Hill of Michigan State University’s Alumni Association. Both understand that Gen C is a growing market that passionately WOF about things they care for, such as causes, brands, things, people and so on. They understand that Gen C is not just recent graduates, but the potential for the ever-growing Spartan Nation of alumni and friends, no matter what their age or location. They understand that their organization is about building relationships, as is every business’s.
I just finished reading a great book—in hard copy—which should convince anyone that Gen C is not just another cohort but the phalanx of a growing and vital market: The Thank You Economy, by Gary Vaynerchuk. The author does an amazing job of explaining how any organization can listen to and connect with the people and customers of Gen C, including obliterating the 10 top objections and excuses for why some smart people don’t embrace this trend. I urge you to run, don’t walk, to your nearest bookstore to buy the hardcover; or as any Gen C might do, order the e-version through one of your mobile devices.
We are just starting to understand Gen C. We must understand that it is a market cohort to which people choose to belong. This is so they can conveniently and comfortably control when and how they connect to (and communicate with) those in the cloud, in like-minded communities throughout the world. They continually create customized content about compelling experiences that capture the curiosity of family and friends—and they can bring ca$h to your coffers.
In the movie Dead Poet’s Society¸ Mr. Keating (played by Robin Williams) has his students stand on their desks to see things differently. This is what every business needs to do. Gen C holds tremendous potential for each and every one of us if we, like Mr. Keating’s students, look at things differently. As the American social writer and philosopher Eric Hoffer said, “In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.” You are the learner for your organization; through you, it can inherit the future.
Your bottom line will thank you!
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Bonnie J. Knutson, PhD is a professor at The School of Hospitality Business and Broad College of Business at Michigan State University.