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Worldcom Wednesdays: Does Your Brand Know How to Speak iGen?

Brands interested in communicating with today’s young audiences face unprecedented challenges and opportunities. Ward sat down with Worldcom Partner Pollack PR Marketing Group President and author of Disrupted, Stefan Pollack, to hear more about makes iGen tick and how B2C and B2B brands can engage and connect with them.

Q. Who makes up the iGen demographic?

A. Generally speaking, iGen is the generation after Gen Y. There are different methodologies on determining their specific ages, but we point specifically to those born between 1994 and 2004 and are also dubbed “Generation Z.” It is the first truly digital generation and at present, the eldest are entering the workforce, college and the consumer marketplace. In a broader sense, more than half the world’s population is under 30. The astonishing rate at which iGen entered the world has awarded them the “next Baby Boom” title. They don’t know a world without smartphones, permanent and mobile connections to the Internet, or instant access to the sum total of all human knowledge. By 2020 the entire generation will be adult consumers.

Q. What inspired you to write a book about them?

A. It was born out of an impromptu discussion with colleagues. One colleague was talking about how his 3-year-old son tried to change the channel on the TV by swiping his finger across the screen. It suddenly dawned on me how fundamentally different this generation is and how they are entering a world that has been completely transformed after the largest communications disruption since the printing press. Then I realized how entirely ill-prepared companies, marketers and communications professionals are for this. So I went to work on uncovering what makes iGen tick and how best to communicate with them. They represent the future of our industry…and of all industries…and that future is essentially a complete 180 degree turn from the world we are accustomed to operating in. The book was less a road map and more of a bullhorn. Brands need to wake up and make systemic changes because iGen will leave them behind if they don’t.

Q. What are three examples of how iGen communicates differently than GenY?

A. iGen and Gen Y are similar in many ways. They are both digitally-prone, idealistic and collaborative. However, there are distinct differences that will certainly create a gap down the road.First, iGen is pragmatic, not self-focused. Gen Y consists of self-made individuals each with their own entrepreneurial spirit. iGen, having grown up permanently connected to a world without borders or boundaries will work for the good of both themselves and those in their “tribe”—or specifically, those within their circle of trust. In other words, it is not every-person-for-themselves. Altruism is grounded by pragmatism, so that they work together to protect those that they trust from those that they don’t.Second, iGen is intuitively better at connecting dots. Gen Y was raised in a world where information was simply handed to them and education systems insisted on collaborative approaches so that they are accustomed to support systems and processes to guide them. iGen, on the other hand, with such ready access to all information has no need for personal collaboration and, instead, relies upon their circle of trust to filter through the things they need to know. Because of this, iGen is better (than any generation) at drawing conclusions from seemingly separate and disconnected pieces of information. They have incredibly effective filters and have necessarily been trained to excel at critical thinking. The result is that they tend to know things before being taught things. This point is tremendously important for communications professionals—how does one convey a brand message if iGen already knows about the brand and formed an independent opinion of it?Finally, a key difference between iGen and Gen Y is their willingness to advocate for brands. Gen Y, perhaps jaded by the prior generation that did a nice job ruining the economy around them, inherently does not trust brands or the establishment in general. Brand advocacy is very hard to earn with them. In contrast, iGen uses brands (and many other things) as a personal identifier—a way of branding themselves. Advocating for brands is a key way they have to publicly demonstrate who they are and what they believe in. Obviously, giving them more things to connect with and be proud about are important—such as social responsibility, lifestyle positioning, etc.

Q. How do you recommend brands effectively reach and bond with iGen…and why is it important?

A. The secret is in authenticity. iGen, even more so than other generations, can smell a fake from miles away. They don’t mind being marketed to, but they do mind being misled or lied to. To reach them, brands must cultivate meaningful, relevant and authentic messages that resonate with them. A good way to break through the clutter is to partner with those that already influence iGen and get into their circle of trust. Once in, brands can benefit from public and active advocacy, but only if they are authentic and relevant. The task is finding out what is important to the audience and fulfilling a promise to address that.

Q. Can you give us an example/case study of how a brand successfully engaged with iGen?

A. I like to point to TOMS Shoes as a great example.However more and more brands are already starting to get the picture. The reason TOMS works so well is because there are altruistic—but also pragmatic. They have woven social responsibility into the very fabric of what they do and so emote strong authenticity and trustworthiness among iGen. It’s more than having a good social media presence, or the right lifestyle branding, a brand needs to be relevant and significant to iGen’s personal identity. Social responsibility is a great way to do that—as long as it is authentic and makes a practical/feasible impact.

Q. How do your client campaigns and programs reflect what you’ve taught clients about this generation?

A. Clients are still wrestling with the “millennial problem.” Few, if any are looking down the road to see what iGen will bring—which is largely why I wrote the book. In reality, solving the “iGen problem” will also solve the “millennial problem,” however solving for millennial doesn’t necessarily solve for iGen. We work to aim at the iGen model, not the millennial one. This involves transitioning focus from established media outlets toward influencers, bringing authenticity to a brand’s voice and counseling on the realistic nature of how information can be so easily ignored. This has driven programs to activities like influencer marketing, paid social, brand journalism, social media marketing and other not-so-traditional-media focused tactics.

Q. Do only B2C clients care about reaching this group? Why should B2B companies?

A. The need to understand iGen is not related to communication silo. B2B will have just as much a need as B2C in understanding how to reach the next audience, just as they have the need for Gen Y now. The entire communications landscape has been disrupted and iGen is the only one native to it. Businesses are just as democratized as consumers and reaching businesses comes with the same constraints as reaching iGen. Once they start entering the marketplace en masse then B2B industries will need to know how to navigate the customers of their clients.

Q. Where can our readers find your book for purchase?

A. It can be found via Amazon.com or on the book's website.

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