Yes, I’m guilty of using the M-word.
I’ve thought and written a lot about Millennials. As the head of a social media management company, I know that they make up a big chunk of our own employees and our millions of users. And it’s clear that they bring real assets and expectations to the table: from digital savvy to a desire for collaboration and transparency.
But here’s the thing. These traits aren’t unique to Millennials and never have been. You don’t have to be born from 1980-2000 to live on your iPhone or embrace social media. And young people aren’t the only ones who seek out purpose in your career, not just a paycheck, or who want to make a difference.
I’ve come to realize that, in many ways, the concept of Millennials is just too limiting. Businesses have been encouraged to pour resources into marketing to this narrow demographic. HR teams have set their sights on recruiting Millennials and catering to Millennial tastes. But they’re missing the bigger picture.
Fortunately, there is an alternative. This concept isn’t new, exactly. But it hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves - in fact, there’s doesn’t even seem to be a Wikipedia entry. For businesses, it’s time to take notice of a new wave of consumers. I’m talking about Generation C.
Here are five key facts to know about Gen C and ways that companies can better reach and understand this key group:
What is Generation C? Back in 2012, digital analyst Brian Solis defined Generation C as the “Connected Consumer.” He pointed out that anyone who integrates technology into their daily routine, regardless of age, shares certain qualities. “It is how people embrace technology, from social networks to smartphones to intelligent appliances, that contributes to the digital lifestyle that is now synonymous with Gen C,” he said.
Solis wasn’t the first to talk about Gen C. As early as 2004, researchers were noting a new cross-generational cohort made up of digitally savvy folks who create and curate content, build online communities and find and consume products in distinct ways. Depending on whom you talk to, the “C” in Gen C can refer to everything from “collaboration” to “community,” “computerized,” and “content.”At the most fundamental level, however, I like to think that Gen C stands for connectivity.
What age groups make up Gen C? Here’s the critical fact: Gen C isn’t an age group at all; it’s a mindset. There’s no cut-off date. You can be 15 years old or 85 years old and still be a full-fledged member. Nor is it defined by socioeconomic status, ethnicity, geography or any of the classic demographic markers. Gen C isn’t necessarily rich or poor, urban or suburban. What sets Gen C apart is connectivity, in its fullest sense.
Members are not merely online - they’re active and engaged in online communities, from the familiar social networks to product review sites. They’re not just consuming content, they’re creating and curating it. Gen C doesn’t sit back and watch from the sidelines; they seek interaction and collaboration - eagerly giving and seeking input with an ever-expanding network of friends and followers, virtual and real.
I’d like to emphasize that these trends are neither new or revolutionary. They’ve been explored and theorized about for years now. But all too often, we ascribe these traits just to Millennials. The Gen C concept is useful because it does away with these arbitrary age brackets.
How does Gen C interact with the world? Generation C lives on digital media. Television, print, radio … it’s all an afterthought, if that. They move seamlessly from laptop to tablet to smartphone, connected every waking minute, often on multiple platforms. More important than what devices Gen C are using, however, is how they’re using them - as tools for participation, not passive consumption.
Streaming video and social media dominate their time spent online. Rather than relying on traditional news sources, they get their information from social media feeds - algorithmic streams on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other networks that aggregate preferences from their friends and followers. Responding and interacting - through comments, emojis, texts and Tweets - is as important as reading or watching. Creating is as critical as consuming. Everything is curated, customized, personalized and optimized.
What’s the key to reaching Gen C? Accessing Gen C (and I definitely consider myself a member) depends on reaching us where we live … and on our terms. Traditional media don’t cut it. Even conventional digital ads and marketing fall flat for this savvy, ad-blocking audience. We trust, above all, content shared on our personal networks. For businesses, this is the Holy Grail and the highest stamp of approval: a word-of-mouth recommendation on Facebook, a creative meme that goes viral on Twitter, a thumbs up from a trusted Influencer.
Reaching Gen C means having a keen understanding of click-worthy - the art of creating shareable, entertaining, useful and highly visual content. In an era when information and entertainment sources are unlimited, hijacking attention spans with something as mundane as an ad isn’t going to happen. Above all, connecting with Gen C rests on a deep investment in social media (both philosophically and financially). Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn … this is the neural network through which Gen C gauges and engages the world, both close to home and across the globe. Any effort to connect with Gen C starts with social media.
How big is Gen C? A little more than a decade ago, its ranks were likely small - just a dedicated wave of early adopters plunging into the world of social media and digital content creation. Today, however, I’d argue that the numbers are vast. Mobile technology and high-speed Internet have changed the landscape completely.
The reality is that Gen C is everywhere. Plenty of Millennials belong to this group, but so do lots of Gen Xers and Yers, not to mention lots of Boomers. The digital transformation - and all the cultural changes that have accompanied this upswing in connectivity - has cut across traditional demographics. For companies, looking at consumers and employees in terms of strict age parameters simply no longer makes sense.
Yes, we are in the midst of a unique cultural shift. Yes, the Internet and digital media have changed the rules of the game. Yes, connection and community have surged to the forefront in terms of priorities. But these changes are absolutely not confined to a single cohort of craft-beer drinking twenty-somethings. We’ve tortured this Millennial concept enough. Let’s give it a rest. For marketing, for hiring, for connecting: age is increasingly arbitrary. The Millennial era is ending (and not a moment too soon). Long live Generation C.
About Ryan Holmes