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The widening generation gap–and what it means for communicators

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Two generations. Living very different lives.

One generation still watches the evening news. They read the newspaper. They trust and admire the media. They go to sporting events. They may even visit the library! (remember those?!?!). This generation also uses its cell phones to call people voice-to-voice. They may even leave a voice mail from time to time.

The other generation gets news from all over–friends, social media, online. They rarely (if ever) watch the news or read a newspaper. They’re gamers. They turn to influencers for advice on all sorts of purchases. They text vs. call. And, they can do almost anything on their phones.

A tale of two generations–living very different lives right now. I would call the former generation above the Boomers + Xers. And the latter generation the Millennials + Zers. 

Now, I realize this is a generalization. And certainly, there are many exceptions to these rules. But, two articles and many anecdotal situations have brought it to light for me recently.

First, this article I read talking about a 7-year-old who makes $22 a year as an “influencer.” It’s not so much the fact that a 7-year-old is making that kind of money, but rather, the fact that influencers themselves are making that kind of money. One generation (mine) scoffs at that. The other has wholly embraced it and sees it as a huge opportunity.

Second, this article from the Star Tribune this weekend. It talks about the quickly proliferating gaming culture and how NBA franchises are now employing gamers to fill roster spots for new esports teams. These gamers are earning as much money as players in the NBA’s G-League (and that is NOT going over well with some of those players!). Again, one generation sees this and says “I can’t believe people watch other people play video games on TV!”. The other has not only embraced this philosophy, they’re launching entire careers around the gaming industry.

These two articles–and the subsequent outlooks by each generation–sum up the differences of these two generations quite well. And, I feel like I’m seeing more of it every day.

The olds (sadly, I’m a part of the “olds” now!) are caught up in structure and paradigms from 1995. Meanwhile today’s Millennials and Zers are off making millions playing video games and being content creators on Instagram and YouTube.

Do you see the two different worlds?

This gap has existed for a number of years now–but lately, I’ve noticed that it’s not getting any closer. If anything, it’s widening. And, that can be a challenge for communicators.

Why? Primarily because Boomers and Xers control most communications budgets. They’re the people in charge. They are CMOs, VPs and directors. And, they will be for a good while longer.

But, the Millennials are moving in. They’re assuming leadership positions and influencing budget decisions. Opportunity for improvement in digital marketing and communication abounds. But, Xers and Boomers will have to adjust their thinking.

What am I talking about?

I see a few key mindset shifts that could take place in the years ahead:

  • Less reliance on traditional marketing tactics like TV ads and newspaper ads  — and more experimentation with reaching younger generations spending hours upon hours on gaming consoles and at real-life gaming events. 
  • Less reliance on developing relationships with mainstream media — and more experimentation with how to reach younger generations by developing long-term relationships with a mix of macro, micro and (now) nano-influencers.
  • Less reliance on tactics like trade show marketing and staffing – and more experimentation with virtual reality, AR and other more experiential marketing.
  • Less reliance on traditional internal communications channels – and more much more work to create comms channels and tools that are in line with tools and experiences employees use and experience in their day-to-day lives.

How do you see these two distinct worlds impacting our work as marketers and communicators?

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The widening generation gap–and what it means for communicators

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