Greater Lansing Business Monthly
Bonnie Knutson, PhD
The School of Hospitality Business
Broad College of Business
Michigan State University
There are ten of us in our immediate family – me, my husband, our two daughters, two sons-in-law, and four grandchildren, who range from age 9 to 20. When we all get together at the “up north cottage,” it seems as if we fill every electrical outlet in site. PCs, Macs, iPads, e-readers, mobile phones. Multiply by ten people and you get the potential for 50 chargers that might need plugging in at any one time. That’s because we are all members of 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 in to which cohort we were place. 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 done 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 in their attitudes, values, interests, and certain personality traits. And they 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 every one of every age and could, in essence, stretch to every corner of the market.
To begin thinking about how your business can embrace the opportunities emerging from the Gen C trend, you need to understand what is driving it:
ü 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, 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.
ü 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.
ü Resurgence of Family and Friends.The iconic Normal 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.
ü 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 You Tube. 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.
ü 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 and, now, cloud computing.
So what does all this mean for you and your business? First, if means that you have to rethink how you segment your markets. Gone will be the days when you could just categorize by age, gender or income. Your 60-year old Boomer customer belongs to Gen C because she is heavily into Facebook and YouTube. Your Millenial customer is a member of the same generation because he constantly Tweets and is a mayor on FourSquare. Both of them 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 your brand. Remember when you thought that a happy customer would tell six to ten others while a disgruntled one would tell twice that many? In the Gen C world, that reach grows exponentially and it goes 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 WiFi service available in any store, office, or factory is considered a necessary, not a luxury.
Some managers, owners, and leaders get it. Scott Westerman and John Hill of MSU’s Alumni Association are two who really do. They understand that Gen C is a growing market that passionately WOF about things they care for – causes, brands, things, people. 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 yours. 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 ten top objections and excuses for why 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 – to understand that it is a market cohort to which people choose to belong so they can conveniently and comfortably control when and how they connect to and communicate with, in the cloud, like-minded communities throughout the world. They continually create customized content about compelling experiences that captures the curiosity of family and friends. And they can bring ca$h to your coffers! (Whew! Do you know how long it took me to weave all those “C” words into these three sentences? J)
In the movie, Dead Poet’s Society¸ Mr. Keating (played by Robin Williams) has his students stand on the desk 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!