Is Generation Y on your advisory board?

What makes Generation Y so special? To start, it’s sheer size. They’re a huge consumer segment, and only growing. You wouldn’t know them by how they dress, since they wear mainstream brands. They don’t stand out as obviously different from Boomers or Generation X consumers. But don’t be fooled: Generation Y, or “Millennial” consumers are nothing like any other customer segments. They’re everywhere. At 79 million, Generation Y consumers between the ages of 16 and 34, already outnumber the current largest spending power segment, Baby Boomers. While their buying power still trails that of their elders, but the math is simple: as they advance in their careers and lives, so will their importance to the commerce landscape. By 2030, their numbers will exceed all other consumer groups combined. In many democracies around the world they will be a major vote before the end of the decade. Could they start to shape national norms?

generation-y-it-s-a-generational-thing-demotivational-poster-1262635958Their attitudes and influences are the new normal. Understanding this consumer segment isn’t just about the numbers. As the first generation to grow up utterly immersed in technology, it’s sure beat that they won’t be the last. Their attributes, such as constituting the majority of online bloggers, will be reflected in the predispositions of the consumers who follow them. The qualities of Generation Y will indeed become the new normal, and that will require a deeper understanding of why and how they behave, interact and conduct commerce. Let's not forget they have the unique talent to get 'causal scale' at such rapid rates through the tools they've grown up with; mobile computing, social media, cloud technology, and instant messaging.

A knee jerk reaction for older generations to bemoan “kids these days.” Texting with emoticons is the only acceptable form of communication, but I think a lot of Generation Y behaviour is misunderstood. One of the best examples, is them being seen as flakey and non-committal because they switch jobs, a lot. But isn't that a necessity in this economy? As we are all taught you have to be nimble and keep moving. Also, there’s been a lot of talk (and research) about how Gen Y are more narcissistic. Which for anyone that has watched 'reality TV' or seen the millions of 'selfies' on YouTube would appear to be true. But the modern ethos drills into us all s to “brand ourselves” and life and status is measured in Twitter followers and Facebook friends. So is Generation Y a product of their own making, or society's?funny-hire-me-tee-gen-y-women_design

But with many of the world's decision makers are executives above the age of 50 years. The very generation complains the most about Gen Y. How are companies expecting to understand, let alone respond to this new generation of consumers.

So who is informing today's decision makers on what trends to pay attention to? And how can executives keep their finger on the pulse as trends accelerate, shift or crash.

One thing that the success of Silicon Valley has taught us is the value of engaging the consumer in a direct dialogue. Steve Blank coined the term, Customer Development in his The Four Steps to the Epiphany. An iterative process of working with the crowd to shape products and services with the changes in demand, to solve problems, or to create new ecosystems.

Today Gary Vaynerchck threw up one of his spontaneous video blogs sharing an insight he learnt by engaging the market. Marketing to Teenagers ? Forget Facebook and Twitter. It's all about SnapChat and Instagram.... get that? Hope you did, cause it's an insight into how teenagers (tomorrow's consumers) interact. Here is Gary's video:

Which begs the question... who do you listen to when trying to understand the modern consumer? Do you outsource it to a research company? Do you just entrust your senior management? Or are you like most Silicon Valley CEO's that actually get out of their chair, out onto the street, and talk directly to consumers.

Personally, I am always talking to various groups that represent Generation Y... whether it's my teenage nieces, senior school kids in Apps for Good, or through various discussion groups or youth forums, I take every opportunity possible to understand a generation that I'm not too far removed from. And trust me, you'll be amazed at the insights you gain in almost every interaction.

I encourage you to do that same. So I ask you, which Generation is on your advisory board?

Some of you may have met my advisor... Isaac :)