Branding for Digital Natives: iGen Comes of Age

September 13th, 2013
by
Image courtesy of Stefan Pollack

Image courtesy of Stefan Pollack

More than half of the world’s population is under 30. That means 50 percent of the world’s population was born after the year 1982. Of that, nearly 20 percent of the world’s population was born after 1994 and they were born at such an astonishing rate that USA Today called it the next “Baby Boom.” As of last year, the oldest member of this generation has voted in their first presidential election, and many younger members are on their way to college. They don’t know a world without smartphones, 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, this next generation will be adult consumers. We are past the age of Gen Y. It’s time to take a close look at the next generation—those born in the mid-nineties or after—and one that most have been calling Generation Z.  I call them iGen.

Sure, that’s a nod to Apple, but why not? Whether or not Apple is the poster child for completely turning our world mobile and ushering in mainstream social media, or whether it is just took advantage of a wave that was already cresting, the iPhone and iPad symbolize the great communications disruption of the past decade.  Another disruption is here, and we need to consider what this disruption means for brands and, in particular, how we are going to communicate to a generation of consumers that have known no other world.

In my more than 25 years in public relations, I’ve witnessed tremendous change. The website arrived, the Internet rose, the dot-com busted, the 24-hour cable news was born and the information age dawned. I saw how mobile phones and email impacted the immediacy of communication and tore down geographical borders. But in all that time, I have never witnessed such an enormous disruption that fundamentally changed how brands and consumers communicate and, more importantly, the media’s role in this process.

iGen is a generation born with consumer-driven capitalism at its core and altruism at its heart. Never before has there been a generation so globally plugged in and so informed. We need to recognize that their patterns and behaviors are opposed to anything that has come before them and that they basically ignore messages from brands, unless those brands have earned admittance to their infinite touch points. It is simply in their DNA to listen to their trusted network, rather than controlled messages from brands.

iGen literally has digital appendages that give them, in real time, anything they want. It no longer takes time to earn knowledge. Entertainment is no longer confined to particular times or places. Perhaps most importantly to us: consumers no longer have to listen to brands. Consumers only listen to other consumers. This is the new normal—our age after the communication disruption.

The challenge then is how to be relevant in this new environment, how to leverage influencers and how to become a brand that iGen loves.  We need to brace ourselves and be very, very smart.

Stefan Pollack Stefan Pollack (@StefanPollack) is president of The Pollack PR Marketing Group, an integrated public relations and marketing firm with offices in Los Angeles and New York. Since 2001, he has taught as an adjunct professor at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. Stefan Pollack’s book, Disrupted, From Gen Y to iGen: Communicating With the Next Generation is out now. To learn more about Disrupted visit www.disruptedbook.com

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