Driving my 4-year-old daughter home from school one day, it crystallized: Innovating for her generation will have to be faster, more personalized, more hyperconnected, more integrated, and more diverse. She couldn't understand why she couldn't make the radio replay a song at will. "Where's the remote, mama? Skip the commercials." I lament that she and her classmates won't know the freedom of wandering home from school on their own, discovering all those things you only discover when adults aren't around. She also won't be screamingly frustrated with computer technology (the way I can be). She won't even know a time when the world wasn't at her fingertips through the Internet.
As marketers and innovators, we don't yet have an effective lens on this youngest generation. Many of us are just now turning our attention to the tween and teen market, but take a younger look. These kids have an estimated $18 billion in buying power also waiting to be tapped, tossed around in cash, gift cards, allowances, and even credit and debit cards. (Here's a shocker: Turns out that some of those Hilary Duff gift cards and Hello Kitty credit cards, originally designed for teens, are ending up in much younger hands.) Most of us haven't grasped the size of this opportunity or the growing divide between the youngest and oldest Millennials. After all, Millennials are now giving birth to Millennials.
To get a handle on who these kids are, Iconoculture's calling the 0-10 age group as "Generation We." We see them as tech-native, media-smart, artistically inclined, spiritual, pancultural, and culturally identified. With these kids, diversity is a reality, not a goal. They live in a global village where, in spite of world events, they know safety's built in (think of Amber Alerts, nanny cams, GPS bracelets, and even implanted RFID microchips). They're growing up in cars that cater to their every safety and entertainment need and whim. Bike helmets and sport safety gear are an "of course!" What used to be woowoo New Age trends like yoga, vegetarianism, and alternative medical approaches are a natural part of Gen We's world. Traditional? Alternative? Aren't they all just options?
Innovators and marketers have an opportunity to be proactive and get ahead of competitors by being smarter about reaching Generation We and their parents. (How young does brand loyalty begin?) Turn your mind to this group, and untapped opportunities emerge in every industry. Some people are already recognizing the possibilities and tapping into major areas of influence in Gen We life:
- Videogames: The Star Wars franchise finally goes E-rated with LEGO Star Wars.
- Panculturalism: Graphic designer Sanjay Patel's Little India is a kiddie guide to the Hindu gods. Culturally inspired kidswear lines like Latina-style Baby Talavera Clothing Co. and Asian-style Meili & Me help parents and kids show off in contemporary style.
- Edutainment: Brainy Baby developmental toys are targeted to enhance both right- and left-brain thinking.
- Safety: Kid chips too Big Brother? GuardianLion's Amber Alarm is a GPS-enabled panic button kids wear and press if they are lost or in danger.
- Creativity: Build-A-Bear Workshop is taking their powerhouse retail formula on the road; My First Music Maker enables little ones to make their first classical music mash before they can even say "Amadeus."
- Health and fitness: Childhood obesity and diabetes have moved companies like Kraft and PepsiCo to limit their kid-targeted advertising to pushing better nutrition and smaller servings. That scores at home and at school.
- Travel: Disney's togethering vacations put the family on the road together, putting equal emphasis on quantity and quality time. Going to camp with a grandparent adds a multi-generational spin.
- Personal technology: Cell phones are a rite of passage, and Firefly's kidcentric designs are cool and easy enough for even preschoolers to use.
Whatever you do, remember that the members of Generation We are savvy, conscious, and already a prolific group of opinionated consumers. (Their parents are Millennials and Gen Xers, after all.) They know how to influence their parents' purchases and how to spend their own disposable income. They've been pitched, prodded, and studied since they were in diapers. They're changing the way producers look at product and markets look at consumers.
When I looked in the rearview mirror to check my daughter in her carseat, what I saw was the future. As a parent, innovator, and marketer, I had to ask myself: Am I ready?
Are we ready?
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