Life on the Edge With Generation Tomorrow

A typical 21 year old has played 5,000 hours of computer games; exchanged 25,000 e-mail, SMS, and chat messages; used a cell phone some 10,000 times; and spent 3,500 hours online.

That’s your future consumer.

When I conducted the research for my book, “BRANDchild” (the world’s largest study on kids and their relationship with brands), one result that surprised me was the number of channels kids are able to handle simultaneously. Adults are able to manage 1.7 media channels at the same time, say, watching TV and reading a magazine. Kids, however, can pay attention to an astounding 5.4 channels. They can watch TV, send SMS messages, surf the Net, chat on IM, listen to music, and even devote 0.4 of their simultaneous communications energy to homework.

When I recently repeated the study, not only had the number of channels kids handle at once increased by 0.2, but the adult capacity for dealing with multiple channels had grown almost 0.1. The ever-evolving media environment, therefore, not only influences the younger generation. It affects us all, and we’re adapting to it. This leads to a question: what behavioral changes will we see in future generations vis-À-vis communications strategies and media use?

A lot. But here are two key developments you can expect to deal with in handling consumer behavior in the future:

  • Welcome to the Me Selling Proposition (MSP) generation. This generation assumes personal ownership of their favored brands, thus turning the power dynamic between consumers and corporations on its head. Rather than brands controlling consumers’ power of choice, consumers demand their own input, even customization, of products. You can see the MSP reflected in such concepts as Build-A-Bear and American Girl, both of which allow kids to design their own toys down to the last detail. Kids, present and future consumers, are suddenly in control of their own brands. In the future, brands will have to give consumers the power to design their own products. If they don’t manage to adapt to this power shift, “generation tomorrow,” with the highest expectations of customization — online, offline, and wireless — will be lost to them.
  • Welcome to the broadcaster generation. I recently received a link to a video promoting a brand of energy drink I’d never encountered before: K-fee. If you saw the ad, you’ll know what I mean when I say it’s shocking. At first I thought I must have been one of only a few people to receive it. But after making presentations and speeches all over the world, I realized at least 25 percent of my audiences in any of the 20 countries I’ve been visiting have also seen the ad. Recently released information shows an estimated 45 million people have seen K-fee’s ad. The production budget for this massive exposure? Roughly $10,000!

    The key to its success is this: K-fee is a product that fits perfectly with the MSP generation. The MSP generation is a generation of broadcasters. Interacting with 5.6 media channels at once, these kids are simultaneously recipients and transmitters of the brand message. They relay it. They do the marketing for the brand. These days, every brand must trigger broadcast responses in recipients. Of course, this can be a gamble. If you win, you win big time. If you lose (if the MSP generation discards your approach), too bad. A fact of future branding is playing with the confident, self-aware, critical, and canny MSP generation can be risky.

You’re dealing with a generation of broadcasting MSP consumers. You have to live on the edge to tackle this crowd. It’s essential you take chances to meet the ultimate objective: having your brand stand out.

Sadly, most companies perceive and represent themselves according to core values extracted from an MBA textbook. Tomorrow’s brands must be distinctive to push the envelope of acceptability across a spectrum of socio-economic and political tolerances. Brands must even offend certain audiences to make their presence felt and their distinction from competitors clear.

The challenge of releasing and growing a successful brand is ever-greater, making it essential brand-builders and their colleagues focus on narrow audiences. In doing so, a brand can reflect values that only this audience appreciates. Yes, you may offend a lot of people beyond that specific group, but in doing so you’ll build your brand’s relationship with its core audience. This philosophy is a radical departure from branding in the past, in which everything — values, reputation, nuances — had to be perfect and acceptable to the vast majority.

Mass-market audiences are a thing of the past. In principle, no brand can afford to be friends with everyone at the same time.

Is your brand MSP-ready? Are you factoring the broadcaster behavioral phenomenon into your platform? Do you recognize these key consumer characteristics by making your audience the center of your brand? Have you revisited your brand values to ensure you’re stretching its message and personality, voice and style, to the edge? If not, polish off your brand and arm it with relevance to the motivations and impulses of generation tomorrow, before they discard your brand forever with one brief click.

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