grass roots

9th Colombian Congress of Advertising, October 1996, Bogata, Colombia.

Carol Samms, Managing Director of Through the Loop spoke about the First Digital Generation.

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for giving me an opportunity to talk to you about the First Digital Generation. This was an international research programme to look at the way in which the 18-29 years group were changing mostly in the more developed industrial countries.

My new company, called Through the Loop, of which I am Managing Director, specialises in the integration of consumer, market-place and brand research. We believe that this is a very unusual group of 18-29 years which it will pay to understand as we move towards the millennium. Quite simply, unless we understand how our consumers think and feel and what motivates them, we cannot expect to communicate with them effectively. Nor will we understand what lies ahead because this generation represent and hold the shape of the future.

There are now some fascinating changes ahead, very different from what we have seen in the past. Let me describe some of these to you........

Marketing to this group is very different with new opportunities, ways to experiment and with a unique set of challenges. They have grown up in a digital world, very different from you and I. This is creating a structural change in their values, attitudes, behaviour and lifestyles. They have a closer relationship with technology and they are early adopters of new forms and new products because of the freedom, flexibility and personalisation offered. This early adoption will impact on their current and future relationships with the market-place and on developing marketing channels. These are the reasons why they are so important to you. As Nicholas Negroponte from MIT wrote " computing is not about computers anymore, it is about living." This sets the scale of the change we are about to see.

My presentation will cover the following six topics: briefly, the research framework, secondly the composition of The Digital Generation and the key factors which have helped to shape this group, thirdly what values do they hold. We will then compare our research conducted in Colombia by McCann-Erickson to see what might be the pattern for emerging markets. Next we look at the leading edge themes for establishing a dialogue with this group and finally marketing implications. In this last section, we will look at brands which are successfully communicating with this audience and what lessons can be learnt about how to talk to them.

The research framework that we used had four separate phases. Firstly, we analysed international social commentary on this group from the US, Australia, Western Europe and Japan. We could then create a series of concepts or hypotheses to understand the nature of these similarities and differences between countries. Secondly, we were able to draw from a number of quantitative research sources such as Yankelovich to measure how important some of these changes were. Thirdly, we examined in great depth the media community of The Digital Generation which is such an important barometer. We used both traditional and non-traditional media channels to do this. Finally, qualitative research was undertaken in the US, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain, UK, Australia, Japan and most recently in Colombia. This enables us to show you the language and the tone of this group, which quantitative research cannot possibly reveal.

This part of the presentation looks at the composition of the Digital Generation and the driving forces which have helped to shape this group. It is important to note that in emerging markets, we find early signals of the Digital Generation- you should remember that this group will jump stages of technology, they will not experience evolutionary, but revolutionary stages.

So, who are the Digital Generation?

As this slide shows, they are not one single group, but many. The age range of 18-29 encompasses several life-stages including students in further education as well as those forming their own families. The core linkage between them from country to country are shared attitudes and motivations rather than demographics. On the whole, they are elusive and they do not like being labeled or put in a box by marketers. They are not a neat target audience which can be precisely and tightly defined.

The most fundamental defining force for this group is their relationship with technology. For them, technology is neither special or unique. Indeed, this group is the first to have grown up in an information society which makes them knowledgeable and sophisticated consumers. Just let me set a timeline for you. It is important to do this because many of us have experienced the timeframe differently....we're older!

A 25 year old today was born at the beginning of the 1970s. They missed the 1960s, but think for how many of us that was a formative decade. They were two when Nixon resigned, five when video recorders were introduced. They were six when Stallone starred in Rocky and fourteen when Rambo 2 came out. They were ten when Lennon was shot. They were eleven when the first IBM PC was marketed. They were fourteen at the height of the Yuppie.

They were sixteen when Chernobyl blew and nineteen at the Tiananmen Square uprising and when the Berlin Wall came down. They were twenty-one when the Gulf War started. And they were twenty-two when Madonna produced her book, Sex. Just think of how that timeline is so very different for many marketers. One of our Japanese respondents summed up "learning about the man on the moon is just history." Now let us turn to the next topic of driving forces.

We have identified seven driving forces which produced The Digital Generation in mature countries. The significance of the driving forces may vary from country to country. You will recognise some of these in their early stages in Latin America.

If we start at the top of this flowchart, we see a political climate which has yielded a series of governments in which there is no trust. Just look at the pervasive cynicism surrounding the elections in the US.

The next element is the economic system which is resulting in significant levels of unemployment such as 30-40% in some countries. The impact in Spain and Italy is substantial. As a UK respondent commented:

"It is a struggle just to survive."

Our qualitative research indicates how desperate this is for young people.

It is also true, that as we move towards the millennium, there is a level of social uncertainty. Ask this group, what they will be doing in 5 years time, and not unnaturally, there is much reflection.

The media environment is a very important driving force. The Digital Generation have created their own media community which has its own texture and vocabulary. Within this media community, there is an increasing role for non-traditional, street media and also techno-based media. As a group, they will pick and chose, deconstruct and decode. My generation does not.

Technology feeds into this media community and helps develop channels of communication such as the Internet. The issue of access to technology is fundamental, because it is very clear that with the prospective high levels of unemployment, we are in danger of creating a society where there are those who are technologically literate and those who tragically, will not be. In some countries, ethnic populations may be less able to participate.

A respondent in France remarked "new technology, computers. My house is full of that. It is one of our priorities."

Soft drugs are part of the fabric, too. As one social forecasting agency in the UK succinctly put it, " this is the generation which swapped Double D (a beer which was a benchmark for anyone in the 1960s in the UK) for Double E". Double E is Ecstasy and Evian. We've also had some terrible deaths of youngsters...there are severe dangers of ecstasy misuse.

The final element on this flow chart is social structure. This is the generation where divorce and the breakdown of the family has had significant impact. There is no single right way to live anymore. Also, the confrontation between the generations is less acute than it used to be. Clearly, this change is less advanced in Italy and Spain where the family still has considerable cohesion.

When this checklist of seven driving forces is applied, it is very clear that the strongest intensity and saliency of The Digital Generation is felt in the US. Here the context is generational, attitudinal and motivational. The leading edge of structural changes will ripple outwards to other countries in different ways and forms.

The intensity and saliency is different in Europe, North and South, where there is a different expression. Here, it is less about being a precise generation or cohort, but rather an attitude of mind. Some of the feelings are just as raw as in the US, though, about such issues as unemployment. Technology too is at a different level of access.

There are even weaker attitudinal echoes in Japan, where most of society seems to be in a process of social change, though decreasing employment for graduates may start to yield increasing parallels with the Digital Generation seen in other countries. Kenichi Ohmae talks about Nintendo kids.

In other emerging regions/ countries such as Latin America, relatively early signals are seen.

Let me just show you a video which demonstrates why brand communications are uncomfortable in the Digital Generation's media environment.

As we will see, their attitudes and values are rarely one-way or uni-dimensional. This aspect reinforces the complexity of appealing to this group. Which mind-set or mood will you have caught them in? We will look at four specific values in this part of the presentation: cynicism vs. romanticism, responsiveness to technology, individualism vs. collectivism, and a need for control vs. freneticism.

Cynicism is dominant. It is clear that when you speak to them they feel powerless to affect major changes in the future. As a US respondent remarked:

"I feel my voice mute in a world increasingly target marketed for people who need spray on hair."

Here, they are acutely aware that prospects will not be so good as the previous generation. The American dream is something that the boomer generation experienced and also screwed up.

"I have it worse than my parents. They got married young, they bought a house at twenty-five. I doubt I'll even have a new car by then."

There are few current role models. They are looking for new moral tutors. They will admire people who go their own way and make it on their own.

In Europe, too, they are deeply cynical. There is also a strong streak of pessimism about the future- "it's such a mess".

When you ask them who do they admire, the universal answer is "nobody". Other than Mother Teresa and Bill Gates.

In spite of this, and you may find this curious, they are very romantic, but in a straight-forward rather than heroic way.

Romance is a way they can escape the everyday routine, just look at the viewing figures for films like Sleepless in Seattle. If played authentically, this can be a powerful way to reach this group.

They are highly responsive to all forms of technology, because they see this as a force for good. They hunger for new items of technology which they find deeply personal. Equally it has given them the means to extend their immediate community into a social network.

A Japanese respondent said "a computer is something to feel close to. It is an exterior of ones' brain."

The issue of access is important as this chart shows the PCs per 100 population. There are some surprises. Perhaps the biggest surprise for many Europeans is the position of Japan. This is because of the relatively high cost of PCs in the Japanese market. I've often been asked during the last year, surely this does not apply to Southern Europe. In Italy, 18% of teenagers claim to use a PC personally. In Spain, household ownership of computers has reached 17%. Many of these new computers will be more powerful than before and some will be multimedia. We would also expect to see some of the Latin American countries move onto this chart following the young tigers. The speed of change is very rapid.

There are some who may feel threatened by the encroachment of technology into their lives, but overwhelmingly most feel positive particularly about new opportunities such as distance learning and teleworking, even libraries in the sky. There are still some differences between the sexes: for example, women believe that computers would be vastly improved if they had a hand in the design, especially the appearance. Women also more readily understand the social contact possible with e-mail, some even talking about romance by e-mail. All of these influences or factors help to generate a common vocabulary. Sometimes, the way in which they talk to each other is not understood outside of this community. The language on the Internet being a classic example.

There is no doubt that access to PCs as well as a diverse and non-traditional media environment changes the perception and visual literacy of this group. This clearly has an impact in terms of the shape of all your communications options in the future etc.

It is claimed now that there may be 50 million people on the Internet. The population of the Internet is growing at 10% per month. If this rate of growth were to continue (although this is impossible), the total number of Internet users would exceed the population of the world by the year 2003. It is a lively exchange for product and brand comment, even a form of distribution.

Just in case it is said that this is not happening in Latin America, there were notable increases in web use from Mexico, Central and South America in the fifth GVU WWW User Survey. Non-US traffic is growing at more than twice the US rate.

The Digital Generation are confident consumers and know where to get the buyers knowledge they need. In fact, with channels like the Internet, we are moving to a world of perfect information. So, their frame of reference for any buying decision may be partly set before they ever walk into the store.

As Rushkoff writes in Cyberia:

"It is like tapping into the global brain. Information becomes a texture.......almost an experience".

Douglas Rushkoff revealed the extent of the Digital Generation's consumer knowledge and power when he wrote " exposed to consumerism since we could open our eyes, we see through the clunky attempts to manipulate our opinions and assets, however, shrinking. When we watch commercials, we ignore the product and instead deconstruct the marketing techniques. This is what we love about TV."

Let us now turn to the next value of individualism vs. collectivism.

The Digital Generation want to be strong individuals within a group. As the M-People song says you have got to "search for the hero inside yourself, until you find the key to your life." However, there is a recognition that group culture acts as a kind of security blanket because of the demise of fabrics and structures. They yearn for social structures that they can identify with. This is why the digital domain has become so important. It has added a layer of social structure for the Digital Generation.

Because of the uncertainty in their lives, they are looking for products, brands and services which offer them greater control. However, it is important to understand that while they may be searching for control, they will also look for routes which allow them to break out of the fabric of everyday life. They seek variety in everything. Freneticism becomes a form of escape.

Now let us turn to this very new Generation here in Latin America. If we pick up the template of the seven driving forces, what early signals are there for Colombia?

I should at first comment that many of these driving forces are more positive than those seen in the mature markets. However, let us briefly look at each element in turn. The dynamics of the political situation do not inspire tremendous respect among the young, but remember that is not very different even among more mature countries.

In terms of their economic situation, the Colombian young project themselves into a future where they see themselves as successful people. Again this is a view which is very different from some of their prospects in say ...Europe where there remains a high level of unemployment.

Their view of the millennium is overwhelmingly positive deriving from the energy of a growing country.

Their media community is far less developed but this will change rapidly. One of the fastest changes in the net audience is from the region of Latin America.

The relationship to technology is closer in the same way that we have seen in some of these other countries that we've been talking about today. However, their access is demonstrably lower. They are also scathing about those who are not technologically literate..... "my parents can't even turn on a computer." So again we see a new generational divide opening.....

The use of soft drugs was not specifically probed.

Finally, the social framework remains very different. They have a feeling of affection and gratitude towards the family. They consider it to be a foundation or a base which has formed their critical and ethical values. We do not see the family structure under significant tension as we've seen in other countries.

We find the same transitory fleeting values that marketers are going to have to get to know and empathise with. Unlike the Digital Generation in mature countries, they are not as cynical, indeed cynicism is replaced with optimism and energy. However, just like their counterparts elsewhere, they do show responsiveness to technology. TV is their immediate reference, computers follow. As one commented.... "we are the mouse generation."

Computers have become a familiar tool, an extension of oneself. They are experienced in a deeply personal way. However, men are more associated with this value than women. As one female respondent said, "a computer cannot hug you when you are blue." Technology implies advance, futurism and significant change.

My thanks to McCann-Erickson Colombia for undertaking this research and showing the shape of the early stages of the Digital Generation in Colombia. Our research shows that there are four leading themes which it pays to understand when marketing to the first Digital Generation. These themes are mandates, they are fundamental requirements of this target audience from any manufacturer or retailer.

The mandates are: choice, convenience, control and most importantly dialogue. Let us look at each of these in turn.

The Digital Generation seek constant variety. They do not care how you as marketers have to flex to provide them with this, even if you have to overhaul your production line to cater to their ever changing needs. Their mood may dictate their choice to suit the occasion and maybe, even to suit the venue. As a direct consequence of their marketing literacy, they expect to dictate their choice on their terms. They may choose to go both ways on different occasions. If you cannot meet this requirement, do not expect to engage them. You may even have to review your channels of distribution to reach them at their point of actual consumption. You should also consider your media at that point of consumption from in-store marketing through to consumption marketing. The net of this mandate is that it requires a new mind-set for product offering, availability, media planning and immediacy marketing.

For this group, convenience has many forms. There is convenience of consumption, speed of consumption, instant availability through a wide range of distribution channels including vending, the Internet, etc. Time does not have the same meaning for the Digital Generation. Fast gratification is essential. For this reason, the concept of value will take on additional connotations of saving time and stress. For them, technology adds to convenience particularly if it removes everyday chore shopping. But rest assured they still want to shop for special things, to experience the sight, sound and smell of the retailing experience.

To show you the difference in the interpretation of what time means, this chart indicates some of the differences that the Digital Generation express about time. Note some of the differences such as managed time rather than leisure time, multiplicity rather than simplicity. Have any of you found them difficult to employ because they do not fit into a standard organisational hierarchy.

The third leading theme is control. The Digital Generation's consumer power is about being in control of all phases of the buying process. They should be sharing and participating in the shaping of product and brand information. Your ability to make them feel in control is very important through a wide variety of channels of communication. The context is no longer important- but content is very important as we will come on to see shortly.

We are often asked how consumers are applying control to their media choice and behaviour. These Digital Generation consumers spend less time with each piece of media. If they are spending time browsing on computers, they will spend less time watching television. They are becoming powerful information seekers.

The Digital Generation expect to have a dialogue and the tone of this dialogue is critical. They see overt attempts to talk to them as clumsy and will not enter into the game. Companies with the ability to maintain a successful dialogue treat their brands, while not, repeat not undermining core values, with an element of irreverence. How many of you would say, this stuff we're making, as Microsoft do? Or have the simplicity of Nike, Just do It. Too often, brands take themselves too seriously. Rational claims play to the sophistication of the Digital Generation. Respect has to be earned from them. So how does your brand measure against these four mandates?

At this point, I would just like to show a video which encapsulates each of these critical themes. The video starts with the retailing of yesterday and ends with a glimpse of tomorrow. It also shows how dynamic in-store marketing will become to meet this diversified retail environment.

Let us draw the implications for marketing in general. We will also consider some of the communications which to be working well to reach The Digital Generation.

Because of the complexity of the set of driving forces which have combined to produce The Digital Generation in certain markets, you cannot consider them to be a global group. The greatest intensity and saliency is undoubtedly in the US, followed by Northern (Western) Europe and Australia. Other countries will move into this mind-set as they mature, and we are already detecting early signals in the economies of Latin America and the young tigers. The structural change in this generation as we move into a digital age will be significant. This will affect their relationship with the market-place, and the communications that they choose to interact with. We've also seen in the mature countries that they understand consumer power. Expect them to do the same in the future.

There is a need to understand their language in their language. For this reason, a constant process of listening, monitoring and reassessment is needed.

In the same way, that we have seen The Digital Generation develop its own media community, there are also signals that they may not like the marketing status quo. They are not automatically consumers of your brands without renewing your relevance constantly to reach this group. Indeed, they are finding brands which appear to be challenging the norm. For this reason, they may choose Diesel Jeans rather than Levi's. They may choose Snapple rather than Coca-Cola, They may choose Death cigarettes rather than Marlboro. Their market-place decisions may be more practical and less emotional.

While marketing is global, all communications are received locally. All of our work among consumers all over the world shows that most consumers react both to global trends and also to local trends. The Digital Generation receive communications very personally, which gives you the advantage of being able to form a more direct relationship and have a genuine dialogue. This was not possible in the days of monolithic marketing. This gives you a tremendous advantage.

While there is a clear need to market personally, there is also a clear differentiation of marketing techniques which they find acceptable and unacceptable. While they like appeals to their responsiveness to technology such as the Absolut Museum, they do not appreciate clumsy personalised direct marketing. They view that as an invasion of their privacy, another recognition that the marketer has tried to classify them rather than invite them to consume.

These are brands with a clear point of view, with an attitude. They simplify the purchase decision for this highly sophisticated and knowledgeable group. Indeed, just tell me why to buy it should become a personal call to action. These brands include: Nike, Microsoft, Irn Bru, CK1 and Sega Saturn. Let me show you their commercials.

Absolut Vodka uses technology innovatively to reach this group with its introduction of the Absolut Museum and its series of eye-catching print executions.

What do these brands have in common? Every fragment of their communication must count to make an impact in this marketing environment. This fragment of communication must be highly textural to engage them. You need to build empathy with this digital generation, gain intrusiveness and generate enjoyment and excitement. This can be done with great simplicity as Irn Bru showed. It is vital that marketers experiment with these new channels to create new brand myths, for we are moving away from monolithic marketing. We will have to tailor the brand message for the environment of the Infomercial, the CD-ROM and the on-line service.

The message is now more important than the medium. You should be aware that variation will blow apart a brand that does not know what it is.

What happens when you get them in-store? As we've mentioned there may have been a degree of pre-disposition before they enter, because of the way in which they seek information. But just as main brand communications have to make every fragment count, so does point-of-sale marketing. You must excite and intrigue them and build the fragments to help create communications synergy for the brand.

Technology can add to the effectiveness of this scenario when it works effectively. It cannot be slow, because as a respondent said to us "that's completely boring". The more user friendly in appearance and style the better. Some of our consumers spoke about the possibility of using their voices to be able to give instructions to electronic pos. Innovation in this area is needed to meet the requirements of not only being present at the point of sale, but also increasingly at the point of consumption. You will need to work this way with both marketers and retailers in this area.

The Digital Generation seek at point of sale the following elements at point of sale. In many cases you will find that these reinforce the mandates of choice, convenience, control and dialogue that we saw before. The characteristics can be divided into functionality and contact. Under functionality, we have simplicity, works fast, interesting shape, big screens, touch screens. The look of these is very important to involve them in sharing and participating in the brand flow of information. Colour plays a critical role to meet their level of visual literacy. Under contact, there is interactivity, invite them to have a dialogue. As we've seen the tone of voice can be critical to invite them to consume. Look to entertain them. The point of sale should be able to do nice things. Music may play a fundamental role as well. Finally, there is a concern that they may be made to feel self-conscious if they cannot get the display to work correctly.

New marketing channels will become feasible and grant the opportunity of greater experimentation at lower cost. This can be an easier way of launching new products and getting more rapid feedback. This is the advantage of 1:1 marketing as Don Peppers calls it, where the need will be paramount to manage customer relations rather than a whole portfolio of products.

There are many other ways to reach the Digital Generation such as: sponsorship of small business start-ups, access to various training schemes, expanding corporate presence in non-traditional media, increasing street visibility, acting as their guide to new marketing channels, and even possibly, the introduction of value lines to sit alongside brands. The effectiveness of all forms of communications in the new personal environment will also become more quantifiable than some of the forms of mass marketing. They will be more easily tracked, measured and monitored.

We have given you many indications about how marketing to the first Digital Generation will affect your business. It is also true that it fundamentally affects advertising agencies and the way in which they choose to operate. Advertising agencies will need to react and work in a very different way in the future.

Finally, the future is not what older people think about, but what younger people do. Have you talked to them lately? More importantly, have you listened to them lately? We should recognise that the only constant is change. Thank you for the opportunity of allowing me to share our international perspective on the first digital generation with you. I would be happy to take any questions.

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