How do businesses stay relevant to the generation born from 1985-1995?
I just attended a conference for e-commerce retailers, Shop.org. It was a great conference—lots of opportunities for exchanging ideas, learning best practices, and stimulating new concepts. Retailers such as Target, Home Depot, Urban Outfitters, Circuit City, Best Buy, and Macy's were there, to name a few.
I had the opportunity to facilitate retailer roundtable sessions, where retailers in different businesses could share insights and compare notes. Once again I saw that getting people outside of their own element and providing a forum for cross-business exchanges was valuable.
I went away from the conference struck by the changing nature of the world for the consumer, and how the work of retailers and marketers is poised to change as today's crop of 10-20 year olds becomes a powerful consumer force.
Watch how an average 14-year old navigates his world. Working on a literature project, he downloads SparkNotes onto his iPod. He is crazy about Boondocks; after watching the latest episode thanks to TiVo, he goes online and adds it to his iPod to show his friends. Putting the newspaper comic strip onto the TV was a way for him to keep enjoying the series.
For Christmas, this 14-year old has asked for books and CDs, with the stipulation that they be bought used because "it's a waste to buy stuff new." The music he listens to is from bands he heard on MySpace on sites created by other youth who are interested in punk and ska like him. No marketing message about any of these bands has ever reached him.
After school he goes to Newbury Comics record store to return one of the CDs he received as a holiday gift (a duplicate copy of Brain Failure, a great punk band from Shanghai). He shops for aviators, and has narrowed his choice to 2 pairs. How to make the final decision? He takes out his phone, snaps 2 pictures, and reviews them both to make the decision.
He stops next door at Work N' Gear, a store catering to work wear apparel for blue collar workers. He is impressed by the clothing. Usually he shops used and vintage stores for clothing. Surprisingly, these clothes are authentic enough for him.
I am shocked at how quickly convergence is happening. I am struck by the ease with which this crop of consumers moves from one medium to the next. To them, it's not about some cool technology—it's about choices and individuality and authenticity.
I am wondering how those of us who earn our living by attracting and delighting consumers with our goods and services are going to find a way to be relevant to this generation. How much time do we have to learn their ways before they are a dominant consumer group?