Meet Generation C: The Connected Customer

By Brian Solis , written on March 6, 2012

From The News Desk

Marketers, educators, parents… Everyone in the Generation X or Boomer demographic seems to be scratching their heads, trying to figure out Generation Y, aka the Millennials. After all, they are the first generation to seemingly possess digital prowess as part of their DNA. And they are the first generation to receive both a birth certificate and a social networking profile upon delivery into this world.

A study, published in 2011 by security company AVG and Research Now,  surveyed  2,200 mothers from around the world and found that 81% of children under the age of two currently have some type of digital footprint. 92% of US children have an online presence, created for them by the time they were 2 years old. In many cases, a digital presence is born before the child, with sonograms (23%) actively published and shared on social networks and blogs.

With every day that passes, Gen Y becomes far more important to the economy than we can realize. Yet the gap between how Gen Y communicates and connects and how businesses, educators, governments, et al. approach them is only widening. I often wonder whether or not we are simply trying to talk to ourselves in our approach to Millennials. This is important, since without gaining an understanding about what is important to them and why, without learning their behavior and decision making cycles, without developing empathy for their perspective, we cannot connect meaningfully with them.

How well do you know Gen Y?

Here are some interesting points for discovery that get us thinking beyond what we think we know today:

  • 59% update their social status in class.
  • 29% find love through Facebook while 33% are dumped via TXT or Wall posts.
  • Millennials watch TV with two or more electronic devices.
  • Only 11% define having a lot of money as a definition of success
  • Gen-Y will form 75% of the workforce by 2025 and are actively shaping corporate culture and expectations.
  • Only 7% of Gen-Y works for a Fortune 500 company, while startups dominate the workforce for this demographic. Gen-Y expects larger organizations to hear their voice and recognize their contributions, increasing the need for an intrapreneurial culture.
  • Millennials trust strangers over friends and family. They lean on UGC for purchases.
  • They are 3x as likely to follow a brand over a family member in social networks.
  • 66% will look up a store if they see a friend check-in.
  • 73% have earned and used virtual currency.
  • Gen-Y believes that other consumers care more about their opinions than companies do, which is why they share their opinions online.
  • Gen-Y'ers are more connected on Facebook than average users, managing a social graph of 696 Facebook friends versus 140.

If knowledge is the key to enlightenment, then perception and imagination are windows to engagement and relevance. We can learn all we want about Millennials, but if we can't translate that into meaning or substance, we will continue to miss opportunities to build lasting relationships.

The gap isn't just widening because of the growing pervasiveness of Millennials in our economy. As I introduced in "The End of Business as Usual," for people who place increasing emphasis on technology as part of their daily routine, their behavior mimics that of Millennials and, as a result, they prove elusive or immune to traditional marketing and service. In the book, I refer to this class of consumer as "the Connected Customer" and their behavior is noticeably dissimilar to that of their traditional counterparts. The Connected Customer is the stranger you must get to know. As compared to the customers of the past, this group is only growing, as well as traversing demographics. As such, the Connected Customer becomes what we can or should now refer to as Generation C, where the "C" represents connectedness.

Introducing Gen-C

No longer can we blame it on the youth. We must blame, if anything, the disruption of technology. Nowadays, age ain't nothing but a number. It is how people embrace technology, from social networks to smartphones to intelligent appliances, that contributes to the digital lifestyle now synonymous with Gen-C.

A recent study published by Nielsen, the "US Digital Consumer Report", brings Generation C into light. In just one image, we can begin to comprehend the disruption of digital revolution on society. Call it the social economy. Call it the mobile or the app economy. Call it the connected economy. Whatever we call it, this incredible transformation that we're witnessing, is indeed nothing short of a digital revolution.

The Last Ten years

  • 274 million American have Internet Access, which is more than double that of 2000.
  • 81 billion minutes spent on social networks and blogs.
  • 64% of all mobile phone time is spent on apps.
  • 42% of tablet owners use them daily while watching TV.
  • For the first time, the numbers of laptops have surpassed desktops within TV homes.

Women Rule Gen-C

In 2009, I discovered that in social media, women rule. As you can see in Nielsen's report, women too rule Gen-C. Specifically, they rule social media, online video, and TV viewership. With smart phones, men and women are tied in adoption. With tablets however, men rule.

Gen-C, By the Numbers

If you compare Nielsen's graphic with that of IBM's research on Social CRM, you can appreciate the full dimension of Gen-C, as every demographic, in their own way, is adopting disruptive technology. And, this trend is only becoming greater.

Platforms for Digital Access

Every digital experience has its springboard. Whether it's a PC, tablet, smartphone, and soon, a connected TV, our ability to every platform unifies the 5 C's of engagement: Create, Connect, Consume, Communicate, and Contribute.

  • 274.2 million Americans have Internet access
  • 169.6 million visit social networks and blogs
  • 165.9 million people watch video on a PC
  • 70% of time using tablets is spent while at home versus 30% on the go
  • Content accessed on tablets is: News at 39%, Sports at 34%, and Books at 31%
  • On smart phones, 117.6 million visit the Internet
  • App usage peaks at 5 p.m. among adults
  • Smart phones are used by 44% of all mobile subscribers in the U.S.
  • Nielsen found that consumers increased their online video consumption by 7% from Q3 2010 to Q3 2011. As you can see in the image to the left, online and mobile video consumption is significant.
  • Younger demographics watch less TV and watch video more online and on mobile devices.
  • With each generation, TV viewership rises with age.
Nielsen also shared the engagement habits and online activity of connected customers. As consumers watch a program, they are online with: 57% checking email, 44% surfing the web, and another 44% using social networking.

When asked what they were doing while online during TV, some very interesting answers emerged. 29% looked up programming information related to the show; 19% looked up product information related to an ad; and 16% looked up coupons or deals related to the ad. The Top 5 Sites Visited While Watching TV were: Facebook, Youtube, Zynga, and Google.

How Gen-C Spends their Connected Time

On PC's and mobile devices, Gen-C is always on. Nielsen found that during October 2011, Youtube was the top destination for all online video content, accounting for nearly half (45%) of American's total streaming time.

  • Social networking represents 21.3% of all time spent online using PCs.
  • Online gaming accounts for 7.7%
  • Email, in many ways still the largest social network in the world, represents 6.5%
  • 55.8% of mobile phone time is spent in miscellaneous apps, with Angry Birds most likely accounting for a notable share of that time (just kidding).
  • Text messaging continues to test the limits of thumb dexterity and the ability to find new ways to abbreviate our vocabulary at 13.4%
  • Browser usage represents 11.1%
  • Social networking equals 5.5%
  • Interesting that email and IM are among the bottom of all mobile functions at 5.3%.
From Ecommerce to Mobile Commerce

As Nielsen and so many other research reports herald, mobile commerce is influencing transactions and decisions. Mobile is just one of the many channels for emerging commerce including social, F-commerce, and more importantly, syndicated commerce. 29% of of mobile consumers use their phone for shopping-related activities and more than 50% visit daily deal sites on a daily basis.

Mobile shopping activities include:

  • 38% compare prices online while in shopping in a store.
  • 38% browse products through websites or apps.
  • 32% read online reviews of products.
  • 24% search for or use online coupons.
  • 22% have purchased a product.
  • 22% scan barcodes for product or price information.
  • 18% use location-based services to find retail locations.
Finally, my favorite statistic isn't related to what people are doing, but what they would do if businesses innovated in their approach to commerce: 27% of male and 22% of female consumers would use their mobile phone to make payments in restaurants and shops if they could.

This is an EmerGen-C

Connected customers or Gen-C is only becoming more pervasive in society and ultimately your economy. If you look back at the Gen-Y behavior list and replace the words "Millennial" or "Gen-Y" with "Connected Customer" or "Gen-C," the similarities are uncanny. Now is the time to recognize how your customer landscape is shifting and to what extent traditional and connected consumers discover and make decisions differently.

With connected customers, decision making is no longer signified by a simple funnel, nor can business models support decision making before, during, and post transaction across these distributed, connected platforms. This is a time for augmented engagement strategies to cater to different types of customers differently, not only based on behavior but on their expectations, needs, and also the platform they use to connect and communicate.

Image Credit: Shutterstock, Nielsen's "US Digital Consumer Report"