The definition of today's urban lifestyle consumer has clearly evolved, outgrowing many of the preconceived notions of what urban is. No longer confined to a demographic living in inner-city zip codes, these urban consumers have come to represent a specific mindset born out of the unique energy, creativity and diversity of America's urban centers.
Still closely connected to hip-hop, ethnically diverse with a shared set of passions and strong aspirations to succeed, these young consumers are seeking to redefine the urban lifestyle. Inspired by the work of my Consumer Insights team and the deep dive we are doing for our multicultural-focused clients, we've uncovered a notable and important shift among African American teens, who, along with Latino teens, are at the core of what has morphed into a diverse urban mindset (a/k/a mash-up culture).
Both of these groups have begun to shift from being exclusively trendsetters and mega-consumers into creators of social change. At this moment in time, the idea of coming from nothing and rising to the top of ones' game has taken on new meaning.
For this group, role models and paradigms of success are shifting dramatically. Just a few years ago, rappers or athletes topped the list of role models for the majority of urban teens. Fame plus money equaled success. That's changing, with a number of factors contributing to a reassessment of what and who success represents, as well as how to ultimately achieve success.
The "Obama effect" has clearly made an impact. Urban youth are increasingly expressing a "sky's the limit" attitude, rooted in the ascendency of a man of color to the highest position in the land. Sociologically and psychologically, their sense of self-worth and symbolic capital has increased exponentially.
Now added to an "if he can do it, so can we" attitude is the state of the economy. The harsh economic climate is not as much of shock to this group as it is a motivating catalyst towards change (for many urban youth have disproportionately felt the brunt of harsh economic realities for quite some time).
African-American and urban youth have aspirations that are similar to those of most young people -- to be the best they can be. What's coming to light now is that their dreams are becoming more inclusive of others; they are actively -- and proactively -- thinking about others. It's not just "about me"; it's about how they can better the situation for their families, their communities and, ultimately, better the world they perceive adults have made a mess of.
They now see service as a means to fame, power and greatness, not just wealth that will take you there. It's the emergence of a new mindset and an inspiring evolution from the more self-centered and materialistic mindset that seemed to drive this group previously.
Combining the foundations of hip-hop culture (creativity, self-expression) with community building-and entrepreneurship (a "give back" mentality,) these consumers are exploring a host of social entrepreneurial endeavors and using service as a means to achieve greatness. And they are leveraging technology and their significant social currency to connect with like minded teens, spread their causes and to make things happen.
In the midst of the times we are in, we as marketers need to challenge ourselves to use our power to empower these young people. Support their causes, provide platforms -- both online and offline -- that allow their voices to be heard and arm them with the necessary tools and resources to see their dreams realized and realize a powerful connection that can be forged with this large group of influentials.