5 Ways To Connect With Generation C

If you assume one of these days things will return to normal, you’re going to be disappointed. The future ain’t what it used to be.

Gen X and Gen Y have changed the workplace, and just wait until alphabetically challenged Generation C, the Digital Natives, take over the workforce. By 2020, Gen C will make up 40 percent of the population in the U.S., Europe, Brazil, Russia, India, and China — and by then they will constitute the largest group of consumers worldwide.

Born after 1990, they’re connected, computerized, community-oriented, and always clicking. According to a Booz & Company report,

“They are realists, they are materialists. They are culturally liberal, if not politically progressive. They are upwardly mobile, yet they live with their parents longer than others ever did. Many of their social interactions take place on the Internet, where they feel free to express their opinions and attitudes. They’ve grown up under the influence of Harry Potter, Barack Obama, and iEverything — iPods, iTunes, iPhones. Technology is so intimately woven into their lives that the concept of early adopter is essentially meaningless.”

If that doesn’t suggest where we’re headed, consider a recent survey by Intel of kids 8-12. One-third said they’d rather go without a summer vacation from school than give up their mobile devices. Not a surprising result, perhaps, considering that 50% of them have two or more iPods, laptops, netbooks, tablets, and smartphones and 20% have three or more.

So what does Generation C look like and what can you infer that will help you prosper in the new reality they bring?

Think "Next Practices" not "Best Practices"

If you run a business, you’re probably already hiring and selling to Generation C. If you think business as usual will get the job done, think again. "Next practices" not "best practices" will define success because it’s going to take innovation to succeed in the face of an explosion of new problems and opportunities.

Business innovation is all about imagining what the future will look like, identifying the opportunities the future presents, and building capabilities that will allow you to capitalize on them. Make no mistake, a decision to maintain the status quo is a decision to fall behind. If change is accelerating, just maintaining a steady pace of change will soon put you behind.

On the Grid 24/7

Nine to five is a thing of the past. The Booz&Co. 2010 study referred to above, estimated 50% of workers would be mobile by 2014. Too late, a year after the study was done it’s already happened in the US. Personal and business activities now are stirred together, and believe it or not, "off grid" time will become valuable. Already people are griping about mobile devices in bathrooms — can’t we at least do that alone? — people seem to be saying.

What’s more, increased consumption of digital information will also mean more exposure to unverified and often incorrect information. An over-abundance of irrelevant information, not a lack of relevant information, is driving out our focus on reality, promoting wacky ideas, and dangerous behavior.

Always-on communication is assumed, but opportunities still exist to make availability more ubiquitous. Any place "civilized" is assumed to have electricity, hot and cold running data is close behind. Make sure you’re part of the connectivity. Not having a website or social networking presence really isn’t an option anymore.

There’s No One Size Fits All Approach

Gen C prefer shallow membership in many communities over identification with one culture. In the 60’s, young people experimented with how they felt, often via drugs and free love. Today young people experiment with who they are via reflected messages in brands, online cultures, events, and celebrities.

So you don’t "target" Gen C with your "message," you treat them as an active, changing community who can embrace (or reject) your ideas. And that means you can’t play a one note song; you have to respond to their multiple passions and be willing to improvise to match changing social rhythms.

Look at Online Gaming for Inspiration

The success of electronic games, now outselling movies and music, is evidence of the escapism and role playing young people crave today. They don’t want to be passive viewers. They want to participate and co-create, building on what others have done.

Give them real and virtual realities that foster their creative identities with a consistent message across platforms. Sell them tools, widgets and plugins and apps,that reflect your ideas.

Share, don’t Sell

One-way messages will be lost in the noise. Spark conversations, offer ideas that cultures and communities can nurture and spread. But be flexible, stick to core values, and allow — even encourage — different manifestations to keep the perpetually stimulation-seeking Gen C-ers interested.

Times They are a Changin’

You have to decide if you’re going to watch change happen, help make it happen, or just hold your head and wonder what the hell is going on. And maybe all three.

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