26 March 2008

The new image-makers

One of the points I had raised in my earlier posts on Generation Next was their fearless attitude of sharing personal information publicly on online social networks, forums, chats and databases. They don’t seem to care about who sees their personal profiles, messages, blogs, photos or videos. On the contrary, the more people they connect with online using such personal information and self-expression, the happier they are.

The truth behind this lifestyle is quite interesting. Generation Next actually spends days on end creating their personalities through words, images and music, uploading them and changing them constantly, in order to make themselves attractive to others. One could say they have become their own publicists, creating their own brand identities and flaunting them like marketers do with their brands.

To me, they are the new image-makers of the digital world. A marketer or PR person can learn a lot from them. However, not everyone feels this way.

“But are we seeing real people, or personas?” asks Jennie Yabroff in a recent Newsweek article titled Here’s Looking At You, Kids. Adding later, “Sociologists have begun to question the effect of all this exhibitionism on young people. Can they form durable identities off-camera, or are they so used to producing their images for outside consumption that images have replaced their essences? Will a generation for whom all secrets are fair game and every private moment can become public trust each other and form intimate relationships?”

Now hold on. Aren’t we being too tough on Generation Next? Ms Yabroff’s last question certainly sounds a wee bit judgmental. At least, I feel so. From my experience with them, youngsters today are more open-minded than we are – or were, when we were at their age. For all you know, as Generation Next grows up, they’ll be more skilled – and wise – in handling people and situations than we are today.

Although I, too, believe that self-presentation seems to be a priority for Generation Next, I’m not sure if we can declare that what we see aren’t real people, but only personas. In my generation too, and even earlier, the game between ‘the real’ and ‘the persona’ has always been on. Volumes of psychological theory are based upon it.

What’s the truth of the matter? Well, perhaps what Ms Yabroff mentions towards the end of her article makes sense: “It’s probably too soon to weigh the implication of all this publicization on teens’ abilities to have meaningful experiences off-camera.” But, that’s not the end of it. There are theories on the contrary. So, you might as well read the entire article.

[Citation: Here’s Looking At You, Kids, article by Jennie Yabroff, Newsweek, 15 March 2008.]

25 March 2008

Learning from Generation Next

Maybe there’s something to learn from Generation Next: their easy acceptance/use of technology; their unabashed habit of going public online with personal information; their online social networking skills; their trust for each other’s recommendations.

What’s fascinating about this is that most of it is accomplished from inside their bedrooms. Some of them, like Ashley Qualls of www.whateverlife.com, have even become millionaires living this lifestyle.

If this is a massive socio-cultural and economic movement knocking on our doors (which is what it seems to be), then it is going to have a huge impact on the world of business. Businesses will follow Generation Next practices and adopt or tailor new product/service offerings to consumers who are waiting eagerly to try out new stuff… and tell their friends about it.

The influence that Generation Next already has – and can have in the future – is, and will be, simply phenomenal. Technology-related products and services are likely to be benefited most – particularly those that offer multimedia options (remixes, mashups, graphics), user-friendly customisation, and encourage creativity, collaboration and communication.

Advertisers and marketers need to understand this generation and this movement, and channelise this huge potential in their favour to get ahead in business. Mind you, Generation Next is not a patient lot. Every moment lost is a missed opportunity.

21 March 2008

Still untapped

Generation Next may be heavy users of the Internet, emails, IMs and social networks, but from a business perspective, everything is not cool for companies which provide Internet-based services to this consuming target group.

The fact is, GenNext wants it all for free. And they want more and more of it. Apart from mobilephone and Internet service providers which charge for usage (and, in some cases, for features like downloads and responses to contests or polls), no one has been able to come upon a sensible revenue-generating business model.

Search, email and IM/chat services (e.g. Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, AOL), social networking sites (e.g. MySpace, Facebook, Orkut), blogging services (e.g. Blogger, Wordpress, Typepad), as well as services like Flickr and YouTube have all admitted defeat. There just doesn’t seem to be a way to monetise their ventures.

On the contrary, they all have to add new features, increase user archival space and improve their services to remain competitive.

Placing ads on user pages is, of course, being tried out. But so far, revenues have been dismal. No matter how many registered users these service providers claim to own, in GenNext category or otherwise, no one is making pots of money.

Considering the billions of users these companies service 24/7, economically speaking, it’s a huge market, still untapped!

20 March 2008

Generation Next loyalty

“Globally, 18-34 year-olds are more likely to rely on technology not only to communicate and shop, but also to enhance their social lives. One-third agree that their social lives would suffer without technology, and that technology has helped them to overcome their shyness.”

[Quote from It’s A Family Affair: The Media Evolution of the Global Family in a Digital Age research report. Research commissioned by Yahoo! and OMD. Project Directors: Mike Hess (OMD) and Michele Madansky (Yahoo! Inc).]

It’s heartening to read research findings which help me make sense of the digital age. Gives me hope that this digital lure is not just another bubble which will burst any day now, but will show us – marketers and social animals alike – a way to plan our future.

Honestly, I am intrigued by what’s happening around me. Particularly, by the lead the 18-34 year-olds have taken to set the direction for the rest of us as far as day-to-day use of digital technology goes.

I realise that, at 48 years of age, I’ve missed the bus. Being digitally connected means spending hours on end with computers, the Internet, mobilephones or iPods – a habit I’m yet to develop. Sadly, I’m from a generation that prefers reading books, listening to music on a large stereo system and meeting friends in person. And even more sadly, I’m still loyal to this lifestyle.

Sure, I have my share of computers, the Internet, mobilephones and online social networks, but it’s never the same as a Generation Next lifestyle. In fact, I was reading an article on the Internet last week that kind of woke me up. The article, called Is Loyalty At Risk? by John Gaffney, explained why – and how – my life is different from Generation Next’s. You’ll understand when you read this extract:

Kids talk on cell phones while they IM, and do all this while they watch TV with 90 percent of the screen, a crawler at the bottom, and promotional messages flashing in the corners.

“Attention,” says Umair Haque, a strategy consultant with Bubblegeneration, “is becoming the scarcest — and so most strategically vital — resource in the value chain. Attention scarcity is fundamentally reshaping the economics of most industries.”

The generation that will control the purse strings of the future is being raised to expect even more from companies while hearing less from them. What the Pew Internet project calls Generation Next (ages 18–26) doesn’t seem to be loyal even to some of the Web sites whose success it has been most responsible for. More than 40 percent of customers who have a profile on MySpace have profiles on Friendster, Facebook, and other sites.

According to Terry Dry, cofounder of teen-focused online promotional firm Fanscape, loyalty is an allegiance to the next big thing and the next cool brand. “Kids don’t feel like they owe you anything,” he says. “They want what they want and they want something for their loyalty even if it’s temporary. Keep delivering value and you have a shot.”

[Citation: Is Loyalty At Risk? by John Gaffney, September 2007, 1to1 Magazine.]

17 March 2008

Generation Next

A lot of investment has gone into researching today’s youth – the Generation Next (people in the 16-25 years age group) – the ones who cannot live without mobilephones, iPods and the Internet; the ones who create their own content digitally (since they feel what’s available is dismally out of time) and expand their networks socially from the confines of their rooms and their home computers.

Most such research reports are likely to be protected under private ownership, but there are a few which have been released in the public domain. One such report, released a year ago, and called A Portrait of ‘Generation Next’, is from Pew Research Center for The People and The Press, Washington DC. Although the research was conducted in 2006 in the United States and reflects those sentiments, it is a pretty good indicator of what today’s youth (probably) is.

Here’s an extract from that report:

“A new generation has come of age, shaped by an unprecedented revolution in technology and dramatic events both at home and abroad. They are Generation Next, the cohort of young adults who have grown up with personal computers, cell phones and the internet and are now taking their place in a world where the only constant is rapid change.

In reassuring ways, the generation that came of age in the shadow of Sept. 11 shares the characteristics of other generations of young adults. They are generally happy with their lives and optimistic about their futures. Moreover, Gen Nexters feel that educational and job opportunities are better for them today than for the previous generation. At the same time, many of their attitudes and priorities reflect a limited set of life experiences. Marriage, children and an established career remain in the future for most of those in Generation Next.

More than two-thirds see their generation as unique and distinct, yet not all self-evaluations are positive. A majority says that “getting rich” is the main goal of most people in their age group, and large majorities believe that casual sex, binge drinking, illegal drug use and violence are more prevalent among young people today than was the case 20 years ago.

In their political outlook, they are the most tolerant of any generation on social issues such as immigration, race and homosexuality.”

The report is quite substantial and revealing. You can read a PDF version here.

[Citation: A Portrait of ‘Generation Next’, Pew Research Center for The People and The Press, Washington DC, released January 2007.]

16 March 2008


Advertisers and marketers know how to reduce their work. They define consumers into segments of people belonging, say, to age groups such as 16-35 years or 12-24 years, with specific behaviours and disposable incomes to allow them certain buying choices.

Consumers are no longer treated as human beings with individual likes, dislikes, habits and preferences. They are reduced to sets of decision-makers fitting demographic and/or psychographic descriptions that are input into advertising and marketing campaigns.

Entire populations of countries are reduced to such descriptions of stereotypes that have a common thread that binds them. A thread that finally forms the basis of a marketing-communication strategy.

The question is, of course, if masses of people with diverse needs, wants and behaviours can identify with, or conform to, such reduced descriptions.

15 March 2008

Not the 16-35 years

Nokia may be eyeing trend-setting consumers in the 16-35 years age group for ‘circular entertainment’ (see my previous post), but in 5 years, 35-year-olds will be over 40 and their lives may revolve around something more important than creating their own entertainment – ‘creating’ being an essential criterion in the phenomenon Nokia is describing.

That’s because most 40-year-olds will be in the middle of their careers, with growing children, and pressures of upward mobility driving their lifestyles. Creating their own entertainment is unlikely to be top-of-mind for them – though, a digital lifestyle is certainly going to be ubiquitous 5 years from today. Most likely, it’ll be the children in the family who will create their own entertainment.

In fact, this is no big discovery. Today, perhaps not children, but trend-setting teens are finding their own ways to entertain themselves. They are sitting on the Internet, downloading stuff, creating pages about themselves, networking with others, and sharing their creations – self descriptions, stories, photos, images, videos, podcasts, comments on other websites, blogs, etc.

They are also on their mobilephones – talking, messaging text, images and videos, sharing ringtones, listening to music or playing games. Even while studying or commuting, they have their iPods or other MP3 players plugged in for music – music which they have downloaded from the Internet or from their friends to create personal playlists.

You won’t find them watching TV half the day like the generation before them used to. Today’s teens are digitally active – participating and creating content for themselves. If I were Nokia looking at future trends, I would study the trend-setting 12-24 year olds today (and not the 16-35 years age group as they did).

12 March 2008

Circular Entertainment

Late last year, Nokia released an interesting bit of news in the market. That, within the next five years, as much as “25% of entertainment will be created and consumed within peer communities.”

This is no ordinary soothsaying by Nokia, but the result of a global study (by The Future Laboratory, UK) of trend-setting consumers (9,000 consumers aged 16-35 years from 17 countries) and their digital behaviours and lifestyles, investigating the future of (their) entertainment.

According to Mark Selby, Vice President, Multimedia, Nokia, the study, titled A Glimpse of the Next Episode, revealed that “people will have a genuine desire not only to create and share their own content, but also to remix it, mash it up and pass it on within their peer groups – a form of collaborative social media.”

[I remember Apple’s Steve Jobs say something very similar way back in 2000.]

Mr Selby explained, “The content keeps circulating between friends, who may or may not be geographically close, and becomes part of the group’s entertainment.”

Nokia has dubbed this phenomenon ‘circular entertainment’ and is pinning some of its business hopes on it. Having watched Nokia’s N-series advertising all through last year, I’m pretty sure Nokia had wind of this trend much before the study was done.

Perhaps the world is already headed in this direction. Perhaps it’s Nokia’s way of engineering a consumer trend in order to capitalise on future marketing opportunities. Whatever the case may be, ‘circular entertainment’ seems like an inevitability!

You can access the Nokia press release here.

[Citation: Nokia press release, 3 December 2007 – Nokia predicts 25% of entertainment by 2012 will be created and consumed within peer communities.]