One of the best things about being a dead-center GenXer is that I’ve witnessed and engaged with the most disruptive period of digital transformation in our society. It’s taken on so many forms, due to the ruthless efficiency of innovation in the tech sector. Think about it just from the hardware perspective: we’ve gone from computers the size of large rooms (or even entire floors of buildings) to desktops, laptops, tablets, and even mobile phone and watch-sized devices.
What that hardware revolution has done is open up an ever-changing array of channels–websites, apps, OTT broadcasting–that we all engage with each day. The power of digital has influenced so much, and I’m grateful for playing a leading role at times in an area that’s transformed society in a lot of good ways.
Tech: The Gift That Keeps on Giving
Back in my chief marketing officer days, I was part of several major digital initiatives, including building the first e-commerce sites, apps, and CRMs at big box retailers. The great thing about technology is that it’s the gift that keeps on giving. Just when we thought we’d hit the peak of the mountain, such as with a customer loyalty program that tracked customer shopping patterns, we’d see something else that would at first interest us and then help us become more profitable once we figured out how.
As I’ve mentioned in this space previously, tech begins to really work wonders when you see where a customer-centric mindset can take you. When I was working with the great team at Michaels Stores, the arts & crafts retailer, we liked to focus much of our work on understanding our key customer demographics. Chief among these was working moms.
We were able to get into the mindset of this important group (not only to Michaels, but to society itself!). A typical working mom would be commuting to work, putting in a long day at the office, and then returning home. But upon their return, they would be working again, feeding their families and overseeing the bedtime routine. For those of you who’ve raised children, this is no small feat, and it’s like tacking on two to three hours of overtime to your already stressful workday.
Using Tech to Engage in Profound Ways
As a team, we had a lot of empathy and sympathy for these working moms. We liked to think of Michaels as one of their guilty pleasures. After finally settling down a bit at 7:30-8 o’clock, they might be turning on the TV and logging in to their laptops, phones, or tablets to go to our website and social channels. We thought of ourselves as a place of refuge almost, where working moms could come to us for ideas to make their lives brighter and better.
Another key element to understanding the relentless march of technology is that even when you land on something cool like building Pinterest and Instagram experiences for working moms, generational behaviors will take you to different places. And you need to get packed and ready to go, at a moment’s notice–when the data tells you that your key customers are migrating to different channels.
We’re experiencing this right now as a new group, Generation Z, has firmly entered the workforce and in some cases begun to build families. Gen Z may be our biggest challenge to date in understanding digital behaviors and preferences. Every generation can be a reaction to the previous one.
Heading in New Directions with GenZ
Behaviorally, GenZers are already taking us in some new directions. They’ve largely abandoned the remaining first-wave social networks like Facebook and Twitter, in favor of Instagram and TikTok. They are more visually oriented, as these channel preferences indicate, and innovation is mirroring their preferences to make content even more bite-sized than before (think: Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts, and of course, TikTok).
As a result of these preferences and behaviors, some revealing data is coming to light. They are accelerating and amplifying the importance of content–and LOTS of it. I read a fascinating article recently, one that contrasted the roles that TikTok and Google play in GenZ search activity. The article was diving into the reported phenomenon that TikTok was now Gen Z’s number one preferred search engine. Yet, their research showed that TikTok’s main purposes for Gen Z reflected the top-of-funnel and bottom-of-funnel content that’s effective on that platform. Think about how influencers expose their audiences to products and then often offer discount codes to buy them yourself.
So if you’re looking to increase your business with Gen Zers, some of whom are now in their mid-20s and have quite a bit of purchasing power. This TikTok and Instagram-led phenomenon isn’t just dictating purchases. It’s affecting how we’re reaching this generation for other purposes, including job recruiting. You’ve got to go where your targets are, whether you’re trying to sell products or fill jobs.
If the other eras of digital transformation are any indication, it’s going to be a heck of ride in the next 10-15 years, as Xers like me venture into retirement and both the workplace and the coveted 18-49 demographic is comprised completely of Millennials and Gen Z.