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Generationally Speaking

What was supposed to be a listen-and-learn assignment turns into fodder for the editor’s monthly page, and he thinks you’ll understand why.

May 2, 2017

I had the rare opportunity last month to be a conference attendee. It was weird not having to think about the quotes and photos I needed for my post-show coverage. I just got to sit there, listen and learn … well, sort of.

The event was part of the Digital Summit series, a digital strategies forum that travels to major cities around the country. And the who’s who of digital marketing and technology innovation were there, from YouTube, Bank of America and Facebook to Google, ESPN and even Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak.

As I said, I was there to listen and learn. In fact, I was part of a group of editors, publishers, web developers and in-house marketing staffers hoping to gain insights on how to keep our brands relevant in this new age of digital marketing. While overwhelming at times, it was also very energizing.

And I tried to stick with my assignment to simply listen and learn, but the pen couldn’t help itself, especially during a session on marketing to millennials. It was led by marketer Anne Gherini, who also writes a column for Inc. magazine.

She opened up with this revelation: We’ve been labeling millennials as individuals between 18 and 34 years of age for four years now. That means the oldest millennial is now 37 years old. So, yeah, they’re legitimate adults who, collectively, claim a trillion dollars in spending power. So maybe it’s time we stop with that stuck-in-their-parents’-basement stereotype. And maybe I need to stop describing them as the coming-of-age generation, because it appears a majority of them have already arrived.

Gherini also addressed this belief that these younger generations aren’t brand-loyal. She said you can blame that on college debt. Keep in mind that six out of 10 millennials attended college. Also consider that the Class of 2003 was saddled with, on average, $18,271 in college debt. For the Class of 2016, that number has risen to $37,172. So what these younger generations are loyal to is anything that helps them pay off those debts sooner, she said.

I guess that’s why pricing transparency is such a hot topic these days.

Also consider that millennials, according to Gherini, were the first generation to experience high school with social media. Think about how that’s impacted the way they shop and consume. I guess that’s why 70% of consumers, according to another speaker at the event, consider reviews older than 90 days irrelevant.

Then there’s Gen Z. We talk about how Gen Y is changing the face of marketing and commerce, but, according to Gherini, Gen Z is the one who will change the shape of marketing and the way we communicate. Keep in mind that this generation is still being born, with the oldest of them just now entering college. I guess that means they’ll soon be replacing Gen Y in mom and dad’s basement.

Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.

Gen Z accounts for about 26% of the U.S. population. They also work and have disposable income. And thanks to YouTube, this generation is all about self-education. And, no, they don’t suffer from attention deficit disorder. Gherini said what they really have is continuous partial attention. That simply means there are various points in the day in which they jump on their mobile devices to consume. Google calls them “micro-moments,” and marketers need to figure out when they happen and what drives them.

By the way, one in three millennials doesn’t watch broadcast TV. Instead, they’re on Apple TV streaming Netflix. The good news for me is that a majority of them still like to read the news, albeit on their mobile devices. Yeah, micro-moments.

The other bullet point in Gherini’s presentation that caught my attention was this: “Technology has made it possible for anyone to become a business owner.”

I recently read an article in The New York Times that painted a bleak picture of brick-and-mortar businesses. It opened with a bit on how the SoHo neighborhood in New York City’s Lower Manhattan has been replaced by the Brooklyn enclave of Red Hook as the most sought-after real estate. That’s where ecommerce merchants are vying for warehouse space they can use to deliver goods the same day they’re ordered online.

“This transformation is hollowing out suburban shopping malls, bankrupting longtime brands and leading to staggering job losses,” the story reads.

The article made that bullet point an interesting revelation, because maybe we’re about to witness a major shift in how our economy functions and thrives. Or maybe we’re not.

Well, what was supposed to be a listen-and-learn assignment turned into an editorial. And, no, I’m not trying to make any statements here. I just thought you’d find the information I picked up as interesting as I did.

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