Most people reading this article will spend more money in 2010 for pet food, baby food, cereal, and detergents, and less on wines and vitamins. What if I said that you, reading this, had on average 150 or more LinkedIn connections, at least 100 followers on Twitter, follow at least 200 others on Twitter, have one or more Facebook accounts, and upload at least 50 photos a year to some social network site?
What if I knew that you shopped at Target and were a member of Costco and preferred mass supercenters and mass merchandisers over traditional grocery stores or drug stores? What if I told you that you spent more on average at these supercenters than any other generation ever did? That you have redeemed at least one coupon in the last month (that includes the 25% off at Macy's)? And that most will have emailed your spouse about this weekend's plans instead of calling them to confirm? (The source of this research data is a Nielsen study excerpted in a recent MediaPost article, "Generational Mix Reveals Shopping Similarities and Differences.")
What would having this amount of consumer knowledge mean for a brand that sells luxury automobiles? What about a publisher? Or a merchandiser of children's toys, exercise equipment, macaroni and cheese, Fruity Pebbles, or someone who sells customized tchotchkes? What about the business selling back-office software solutions or outsourcing HR services to small businesses?
This is what we will be grappling with in the future. I gaze into my crystal ball and see a very significant spread in how behaviors and brands will interact, use the Internet and engage the generations in the coming years. The aging Greatest Generation (older than 64), Boomers (45-63), Gen X (33-44) and Millennials (15-32) all trend differently in so many ways. Over 50% of these active generations are Boomers and Gen X -- but you'll likely be surprised to know that the Boomer generation isn't the biggest any longer.
We will be challenged with assimilating these data points and behavioral conditions, and providing some context to engagement. Does this mean we shift how we market to the young, active generation (Millennials) because they spend less time shopping, and are more efficient at researching, comparing and finding the best deal? Do we use less Internet marketing to engage the Greatest Generation and Boomers, since they love to shop and have a tendency to engage in lifestyle activities on the Internet more than buying/comparison tasks?
We talk about building experiences and understanding channels of engagement; we talk about a complete view of the customer and emerging channels. But I believe we should really be talking about the shift in how these generations react, how they engage, how they form and break buying habits, and how life stages and economic situations influence consumer experiences. Our ability to obtain granular behavioral and attitudinal data on individual consumers and segments (i.e., generational) is outpacing our ability to proportionately extend or intensify engagement with those same individuals and groups.
Customer relationships are fickle things that shift according to factors both in and out of our control. I sense we react to the upcoming generations as they embrace all the new social channels, while we also struggle to shift our thinking about the "other" 75% of the world that is shifting just as rapidly, albeit from less sexy channels.
We love riding the Wave; it's singular, dramatic and volatile. It can be risky, though, and is difficult to measure, as it's so variable. As a CRM person, I believe we aspire to the Waves, but live in the Tide, which is more mundane, yet measurable, predictable and practical.