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A modern age: Generation C

Technology has until recently largely defined and divided generations, but could this be changing with the dismantling of intergenerational barriers?

As the older population become more tech-savvy, they will use the same technologies as younger generations in the workplace and in their day-to-day lives. And as the similarities begin to outweigh the differences, a common evolutionary path is emerging. The ways we connect, share and obtain information are no longer explicitly defined by the standardised characteristics and behaviours of the decade in which we were born, but are instead a malleable mindset spanning all of these and strongly influenced by the ever-present, all-encompassing online world.

Shifting patterns

As life-span and population continue to increase, we are seeing global demographics alter, and the shift in the UK has also been notable, with the Government having to plan accordingly. Traditionally, the demographic profile has been portrayed as pyramid-shaped, with a broad base, due to the large number of younger people. This quickly tapers towards the top, as the population thins out through successive age bands.

The UK of 1950 contained 10 toddlers for every 65-year old. Today, this number is three, and it is projected that by 2100 it will hit a ratio of 1:1. Hence this new population distribution is shaped more like a pencil. These changes will mean that we will all remain in the workplace longer than our parents and grandparents before us did. Anti-discrimination policies will ensure that workers of all ages are treated equally, carrying out the same tasks in the workplace. Surely then, it makes less sense to talk about age as a societal point of interest, as this will decreasingly represent a defining characteristic of the worker of the near future. Soon, we will all be tech-savvy. Should we then be talking about a mindset, or perhaps multiple mindsets, instead of focusing on age?

It makes increasing sense to talk about a ‘postgenerational’ era, and this, in turn, surely represents a shift in the marketing paradigm, fuelling the evolution of brand communication and the fostering of brand loyalty. And within this new era, there is a group that cannot be ignored — Generation C.

So who are Generation C?

They are the influential facilitators of the post-generational world, connecting people globally across geographic, economic, and demographic boundaries. Simply put, Gen C isn’t an accident of birth, it’s a conscious choice people make which aggregates to a psychographic segment driving the digital movement. Being in a post-generational world, the ‘gen’ is a misnomer; they are not a generation, but a collective.

Consuming and demanding more content than any ‘generation’ before them, Gen C are the connectors, curators, and creators (hence the ‘C’). They decide what becomes popular, what spreads, and what needs to be heard. They are trend setters, and they are no longer only physically connected to colleagues and friends — they have a limitless sphere of online influence that can mould the opinions, attitudes, and experiences of those with whom they connect.

They are innovative, flexible, and collaborative, and they expect brands to mirror these characteristics too.

Gen C expect to be informed, to respond, and for their responses to be heard and recognised. With the plethora of devices and platforms available to share content, the traditional marketing pyramid is being turned on its head. One example of this is Gen C’s enthusiastic adoption of services such as YouTube. This has revolutionised the entertainment industry with a shift towards internet video content, away from traditional TV habits. Gen C choose what they watch and when they watch it.

Research awareness

As researchers, it is vitally important that we are alert to the role that Gen C will have in the coming years. At Discovery, a key focus of our work centres on customer journey research and we take great pride in understanding the end-to-end journey that customers undertake. We have noticed a clear shift in behaviours in recent times and Gen C are drivers of this.

Today’s customer journey is a continuous process, a circular construct rather than a linear one. There are feedback loops along the way that take customers from research to store, and back to do more research, for example. This means that customers can have multiple touch points with a brand before purchasing one of its products. Peer reviews, both online and via word-ofmouth, become extremely important, as customers absorb user-generated content via informational osmosis.

One issue for brands is that many studies have reported negative opinion outweighing positive sentiment online, the internet acting as a venting tool for those ireful due to a bad customer experience.

Gen C are always-on, and continually creating and sharing content. And as brand loyalty decreases, there is a danger that the content they create and share may undermine the very attributes and attitudes that brands are hoping to exemplify. So, what must brands do to ensure that Gen C are creating the ‘right’ type of content.

Engaging the Gen C

Being engaging, authentic, and shareworthy are key ideals that brands need to take to heart when considering content. Remember, Gen C are not passive observers; they are active commentators and they only watch adverts they consider worthwhile. In 2013, for example, Pepsi MAX launched ‘Test Drive’, a four-minute prank video in which a US racing car driver disguised himself as an ex-con, to take an unsuspecting car salesman on the test drive of his life. It accrued nearly 40 million views online, and was successful because it traded on its humour and surprise to give viewers something that could be shared.

Moving forwards

Gen C will grow in importance as the role of age in consumer modelling becomes less so, while business models will come to be defined by a more cohesive approach, with brands present throughout the journey. All this will require enhanced engagement strategies catering to individuals, based not just on behaviour but also on expectations, needs, and communication platforms. Be prepared!

 

Darren Till
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2015

This article was jointly authored by Darren Till and Joe Roberts-Walker of Discovery Research