Q&A with Author Stefan Pollack on iGen & Communicating with the Next Generation

image-1You may be wondering about iGen, also known as Generation Z, and how they interact and communicate.  Stefan Pollack, President of The Pollack PR Marketing Group and the Author of the book, Disrupted, knows just  how to reach iGen and the best ways to become a relevant part of their world.  I read Stefan’s book and wanted to share his insights with you.  Below is our Q&A interview to give you a glimpse into the youth culture of today.

1. Who is iGen and what inspired you to write about the youth of this generation?

iGen, also called Generation Z, is the generation after Gen Y and it occurred to us in the summer of 2012 that they started turning 18. In other words, a whole new generation of consumers entered the marketplace and workforce and this struck me for two reasons: firstly, the communication industry has largely not been preparing for this important disruption and secondly, iGen is quite possibly the most informed and fiercely independent generation we’ve ever seen. We are all looking at this incredible transformation from traditional media to globally-connected digital and mobile communication from the outside in. For iGen it’s in their DNA. It’s become abundantly clear to me that, as marketers, we need to wake up and figure out how to make this generation tick; a generation that will soon join Gen Y as a digitally native majority in our consumer population.

2. How is communicating to iGen different than other generations, such as GenY?

It’s important to note that Gen Y was raised with traditional media and, while was an activator and a force behind the digital disruption over the past ten years, knows and understands a world apart from it. For iGen, they are being raised with the sum total of human knowledge at their fingertips and with instant and global access to anything, anywhere. This is a generation that has absolutely no need for traditional media and, being so informed, can instead rely upon peers and other consumers to make consumer decisions. The biggest change in communications with iGen is that they will only listen to trusted sources and only when it is relevant to them. As leaders of a consumer-driven marketplace, iGen will ignore messages from brands, unless those brands have earned admittance to their infinite touch points, earned through trust, authenticity and relevance. The largest challenge for brands is to create and curate important content that iGen needs in order to make decisions, and to earn their attention through authentic relationships with people and influencers that iGen trusts. Certainly this approach can be successful with other generations, but the difference with iGen is that no other approach will really work with them. Therefore, it’s not a strategic choice to adapt to a consumer-driven marketplace; it’s a necessity.

3. You mention in your book that iGen has its own language. Can you discuss this language a little more?

iGen’s language is really a product of an entirely new and different way of thinking. When all other generations grew up, they had to memorize, remember, or otherwise store information in their brains in order to understand their world and therefore communicate. Now, we don’t have to remember addresses or phone numbers, arithmetic, or even domain names. iGen is being raised in an environment where they have a “mobile appendage” that remembers everything for them, effectively freeing up their brains to process instead of remember. Studies have shown that iGen is a very effective multi-tasker and they learn best not through traditional methods such as memorization, but by critical thinking exercises. iGen is very good at knowing where to find information and creating strong correlations between different pieces of information. Studies have shown that because of their ability to “connect the dots,” they are in many ways smarter than those of us that rely upon traditional learning and communication. The largest impact of this different way of thinking is that iGen’s native language is largely referential and so, they often know something before it is communicated to them. As marketers, this means that instead of only trying to communicate to iGen, what we need to do is curate and create content that iGen needs to reference, thereby becoming one of the dots they use to connect with in order to make their own conclusions.

4. Can you name a couple of good examples of how brands are poised to engage with iGen?

Many brands have been smart about navigating the waters of a disrupted generation and, in almost every case, they follow the core tenets of iGen receptivity: that is to be authentic and transparent, earn trust by connecting with existing influencers, and curate as well as create content that iGen is looking for. Brands that are going down the path of brand journalism, such as Cisco and Coca-Cola are well positioned for access to iGen because they are curating authentic content from existing influencers that audiences already listen to. Brands that weave social responsibility as part of their fabric, such as TOMS Shoes and Starbucks, appeal to iGen’s altruistic nature and provide meaningful alternatives to brands that are not plugged into that. In short, there need not be a major overhaul of strategies and tactics per se, but rather an overhaul in how brands think about consumers and subsequently connect with them on their terms, and not necessarily on the brand’s.

5. What is your advice to brands and their communications professionals who want to reach iGen through social media?

It is important that communication professionals understand that social media is not a golden ticket. It is one of many ways that iGen communicates, but even with the most connected generation in history, word of mouth still reigns. Social media is a communication channel and should be viewed operationally. At minimum, it is a reactive customer service channel that responds in real-time to consumer needs,. Even better it is one of many arenas where important and relevant content is curated and shared and, at best, it is a platform on which influencers of target audiences naturally congregate and share information where  targeted programming can be developed. It is easy to fall into an “if you build it, they will come” trap, using social media, but the best thing brands can do is to understand how their audience uses social media and build a holistic environment that fosters audience needs.