More than half the world's population is under 30. That means 50% of the world's population was born after the year 1982.
Nearly one in five of the world's population was born after 1994, and they were born at such an astonishing rate that USA Today called it the next “Baby Boom.” The oldest member of this generation has, as of last year, voted in their first presidential election and many are on their way to college. They don't know a world without smart phones, have never used a card catalog, consider email antiquated, and have no use for printed books.
This year, and every year thereafter, digital natives will be entering the marketplace in droves. By 2020, this next entire generation will be adult consumers. We are past the age of Gen Y. It's time to take a close look at the next generation—one that most have been calling, Generation Z. I call them iGen.
Sure, that's a nod to Apple, but why not? Whether or not Apple is the poster child for completely turning our world mobile and ushering in mainstream social media, or whether it just took advantage of a wave that was already cresting, the great communications disruption of the past decade is symbolized by the iPhone and iPad.
There is no question that another disruption is here and we need to consider what this disruption means for brands and, in particular, how we are going to communicate to a generation of consumers that have known no other world.
In my 25-plus years in public relations I've witnessed tremendous change. The website arrived; the Internet rose; the dotcom busted; 24-hour cable news was born; and the information age dawned.
I saw how mobile phones and email impacted the immediacy of communication and tore down geographical borders. But, in all that time, I have never witnessed such an enormous disruption that fundamentally changed how brands and consumers communicate and, more importantly, the media's role in this process.
The iGen generation was born with consumer-driven capitalism at its core and altruism at its heart. Never before has there been a generation so globally plugged in and so informed. We need to recognize that their patterns and behaviors are opposed to anything that came before them, and that they basically ignore messages from brands - unless those brands have earned admittance to their infinite touch points. It is simply in their DNA to listen to their trusted network, rather than controlled messages from brands.
And iGen literally has digital appendages that give them, in real time, anything they want. It no longer takes time to earn knowledge. Entertainment is no longer confined to particular times or places. Perhaps most importantly to us, consumers no longer have to listen to brands. Consumers only listen to other consumers. This is the new normal - our age after the communication disruption.
The challenge is how to be relevant in this new environment; how to leverage influencers; and how to become a brand that iGen loves. We need to brace ourselves and be very, very smart.
Stefan Pollack is president of The Pollack PR Marketing Group. Since 2001, he has taught as an adjunct professor at USC's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. Pollack is the author of Disrupted, From Gen Y to iGen: Communicating with the Next Generation.