A demographic and psychographic shift has occurred, and it’s bigger than categorization or semantics. For the past few decades, organizations and individuals alike have been swept up into a sticky technology web that connects us all, shapes our environment and even – as a web will do – sustains many of our most basic needs.
Many traditional businesses still think and talk about their audiences in terms of demographics. Predominantly, the conversation has centered on understanding, anticipating and meeting the needs of aging, wealthy Baby Boomers, as well as the experience-driven desires of the massive Millennial generation.
It would be wise to take our eyes off the Census database for a moment and examine at the fact that the web has caught and connected every demographic. If we look at the consumer environment less as an age-differentiated audience, we see a different group of influencers emerge and a very different sense of priorities.
Generation (Gen) C was labeled in 2010, initially to describe hyper-connected Millennials. Since that time, however, that moniker has evolved from a demographic category to more of a mindset that spans ages, economics and genders. It’s been described as perhaps the most influential psychographic of our time. These individuals care about and pursue community and connectivity across every experience, both personal and professional. They create and curate stories, images and experiences specifically for the purpose of engaging others. And they’re using technology to do it.
While, globally, early adopters of new (consumer) technologies still tend to be on the younger end of the age spectrum, Gen C is not delineated by age, gender or even economics. As life expectancy continues to increase and technologies become ever cheaper and more widespread, the web of connectivity is widening. (Case in point, according to a 2015 Pew Internet report, the majority 56% of internet users ages 65 and older use Facebook, making it one of the largest and most influential user bases for the commercial juggernaut.)
Virtually the only thing shaping the boundaries of Gen C is the level to which individuals seamlessly engage with technology. This truly is the Sharing Economy, driven by connected technologies, and welcoming to all who are willing to engage. For large global organizations seeking to integrate within this connected mindset, relinquishing the strict Millennial strategy in lieu of a more inclusive Gen C focus may be critical to succeeding down the line.
On a monthly basis, Toffler Associates Strategic Insights looks at change and its impact on the way enterprise works to understand, plan and adapt their strategies in various segments. In recent work with clients in the hospitality, security, chemical industries, we have studied some of the ways in which the Millennial segmentation approach tends to be flawed in light of the characteristics of the Sharing Economy. What we see is that the current era is more about how people adopt and adapt to technology – which is less and less about age.
Across more than a decade in the connected era, we have witnessed evidence that Millennials are technology native. They absolutely know how to use it in every facet of their existence. In many ways, they are early adopters. And yet, they are more likely to be users, not makers, of those technologies. By that measure, we’re all the technology generation.
It’s time for organizations to focus on connectivity and information sharing, rather than technology tools or user profiles. The problems we’re solving and the solutions we’re offering are human based. Comfort, shelter, community – basic human needs have not changed since the beginning of time.
As we consider the science of design thinking, we need to remember that there is a person inside the larger environment. Rather than thinking of ourselves as banks, hotels, video platforms and the like, we need to step back and think of the human experience at the center of our efforts – the ability to fund a dream, a place to rest, a way to share, and the like. Technology merely enables the end goal.
I think increasingly, over the last couple of years, (guests are) saying, 'We want that genuine, authentic service, we want to do business with a company we think is good, but let us also have something that turns us on when we travel.’
We're thinking more a mindset than age but it's a mindset that often the younger, tech-enabled traveler can personify. More prominent design in the product, more food and beverage, a somewhat livelier scene, probably a bias toward being in the public space than the guest room, more integrated use of technology.
Arne Sorenson, CEO, Marriott
When companies ask people what they want, the answers reflect the question. A question of how elicits an answer focused on the tool. A question of why gets to the purpose. With that knowledge, we are more able to redirect and remember that the human is the purpose and the technology is the tool.
Even as Millennials engage with information and connectivity in unique ways, they’re doing so to satisfy fundamental needs and desires. Understanding Gen C can help us recognize that technology is our best way to help our most important audiences to connect with us, form community and satisfy timeless, ageless desires.
It’s time for businesses to recognize the person at the other end of the technology.
 Pew Internet Social Media Study, http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/01/09/demographics-of-key-social-networking-platforms-2/
Deborah Westphal is a passionate humanist who has guided our era’s top minds and leaders to challenge biases, ignite ideas, and build connections and resilience for a secure and sound future. Her career spans more than 30 years in government agencies and Fortune 100 companies, and on virtually every continent. In 1999, Alvin Toffler tapped her as one of the founding members of his eponymous consulting firm, Toffler Associates. From 2007 through 2018, she served as the firm’s CEO and has since contributed her experience and knowledge as a member of the board. Through her work, she has guided notable organizations including Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Marriott, U.S. Air Force, Baxter International, Bayer, Heinz, Microsoft, Koppers, PPG, DARPA, National Security Agency, Loral Space Systems, NASA, Qwest, Verizon, and Westinghouse. Deborah’s empathetic and thought-provoking style helps readers spot patterns that signify future risks and opportunities. She’s a sought-after speaker and writer who provided the Foreword to After Shock. Her book, Convergence: Technology, Business, and the Human-Centric Future, was published in May 2021 by Unnamed Press. Find her at deborahwestphal.com.
Toffler Associates is a future-focused strategic advisory firm. Our Future Proof® business consulting approach helps global leaders understand how future shifts impact current decisions so they can take advantage of opportunity, manage risk, and create future value.
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