Historians, anthropologists, behaviourists, marketers – and many others – when differentiating between one generation and the next in the (mostly) western world classify them according to the major behavioural traits exhibited by the people born and raised during those eras.
So there’s the Lost Generation (1883-1900), the Greatest Generation (1901-1924), the Silent Generation (1925-1942), the Baby Boomers (1943-1960), Generation X (1961-1981), the Millennials or Generation Y (1982-early 2000s), and Generation Z (2000s to the present day).
Generation C – Digital Natives
However, the generation currently fascinating us is Generation C, the so-called ‘Digital Natives’. The key difference between Generation C and past generations, however, is that it is not characterised by age but by attitude and adoption of technology. Futurists and marketers agree that its impact on marketing as we know it will be phenomenal.
Google agrees that Generation C is more about a mindset than an age group, characterising them as people who “care deeply about creation, curation, connection, and community” and expressing this through their connected world.
“Social interactions give Generation C its sense of self. They are what they share, like, +1, comment on, and retweet. 88% of Generation C has a social profile with 65% updating it daily. Generation C eats, sleeps, and breathes the internet across devices. Literally, 91% of Generation C sleeps next to a smartphone. For Generation C, decision-making is a team sport with 85% relying on peer approvals for buying decisions.”
Most influence on future health of companies and brands
Collaborating with IBM on a paper called ‘Digital Darwinism and the Dawn of Generation C’, futurist Brian Solaris said that Generation C-ers are among the most important customers to the future of companies worldwide. This is because they present as an interconnected landscape of customers who individually boast a personal network of their own.
“Instead of simply reaching people in a traditional one-to-many approach, you now can reach customers through a one-to-one-to-many model. And if your strategies are personalised to match behaviour and expectations and are engaging in design, you can rouse and activate not just an audience, but a connected audience with an audience of audiences.”
Let me provide a simple example of this in action: A Generation X shopper enters a home furnishing store. All she sees is the merchandise. A Generation C shopper enters the same store, and she uses Twitter and Facebook to ask for opinions on which sofa she should purchase, consumer bulletin boards or Facebook to research the blenders on offer, QR codes to confirm prices, Pinterest to add to the board she’s building on her ideal kitchen and so on.
Crucially, these two shoppers could be exactly the same age, or they could have been born 30 years apart.
Let’s add Jerry Adler’s observations in a recent issue of Wired magazine to the mix. He claimed that the first 20 years of his life spanned a disruptive era when there was much political and cultural upheaval. By contrast, millennials (of which 80% are Generation C-ers) have experienced a technological revolution, while those born in 1993 or after were born into a world that has never not known digital life, and so have never had to adjust to it.
These 20-year-olds “understand the new world in ways their parents never will and speak its language with far more fluency. Technology has shaped not just how they navigate the world but how they see themselves.
“Each generation imagines itself as rebellious and iconoclastic. But none before has felt as free to call bullshit on conventional wisdom, backed by a trillion pages of information on the web and with the power of the Internet to broadcast their opinions. They have thrown off the shackles of received culture — compiling their own playlists, getting news from Twitter, decorating web pages with their own art.”
Generation C in South Africa
Well firstly, Generation C isn’t just a first world phenomenon. It’s very real in the South African context. As the following list of statistics shows, South African consumers are connected, albeit mobile phones are providing access even more so than computers:
- There are 100 million mobile phone users in Africa, 35 million of which are in South Africa plus it is predicted that 80% of phones in South Africa will be smartphones by 2014 enabling broad internet access (Source: Quirk)
- 9.4 million active Facebook users (+64% growth)
- 6 million Mxit users (albeit under some pressure from the likes of WhatsApp)
- 5.5 million Twitter users (more than doubling in 12 months with growth of 129%)
- Instagram has increased more than 6-fold over a year, now at 680 000 (Source: World Wide Worx, September 2013)
- 90% increase in people using their mobile phones to access internet between June 2012 and June 2013 (Source: DMMA and Effective Measure, June 2013)
- At least 87% of Facebook users and 85% of Twitter users are accessing social networks via their mobile phones (Source: World Wide Worx, September 2013)
According to DMMA (now IAB) and Effective Measure research (June 2013), South African consumers are connecting for a broad array of reasons including booking shows and movies, purchasing books and music, researching travel and job opportunities, sourcing news update, social networking (more than 50% of internet users do social networking), banking (70% of internet users doing digital banking) and email.
They’re looking for information and advice, convenience and instant gratification, virtual connection with family, friends and new ‘tribes’ with shared interests, self-expression and creativity, and a voice or an outlet to publicise their experiences with brands (products and services).
South African brands, marketers must get up to speed
Secondly, while South African brands are embracing the digital world, they are still learning and not necessarily leveraging the opportunity effectively.
They need to get faster at responding to digital exposure of their brands. Currently, the average time taken to respond to consumer issues on Twitter is over 4½ hours (World Wide Worx, September 2013) and much damage can be done in an immediate environment.
Then, despite being a mindset, rather than an age, Generation C in South Africa has a very high proportion of young consumers. It’s critical to stay in tune with these consumers and to understand what and how they’re consuming digital. Experienced, senior marketers in South Africa didn’t grow up in a digital world. They could benefit from undertaking ‘digital consumer immersions’. And their brands could benefit by empowering young marketers to explore and invent around digital, as they will be the ones to unlock the opportunity.
Like in other countries, Generation C-ers are influential and cannot be ignored. There’s the opportunity for brands to connect directly in a highly personal and impactful way, often cost competitive too. They can be outspoken, breaking brands in the process. The threat lies in the fact that, given consumers are the content creators for brands in the digital world, any negative experiences – as well as the positive ones – will be featured. Managing this threat is the tightrope we will all have to walk.
Thabang Leshilo is Added Value project manager for brands