Generation See: Four ways to think about a marketing revolution

Four ways to think about a marketing revolution

Vincent Heeringa


We were surprised. The overwhelming question from people who came to our Generation C events in July and joined the subsequent online discussions has not been ‘what?’ but ‘how?’ We wondered at first if we’d get a few sceptics casting doubt on yet another Gen-based marketing idea. Especially since it’s currently the fashion for academics to deny there’s such thing as Gen Y or Gen X.

The evidence for a change in marketing theory and practice is not in the academic press. It’s in the business press: the rise and rise of blogs; the ongoing success of user-generated sites such as Trade Me, Flickr, YouTube, Wikipedia and MySpace; a host of examples of consumers creating (and sometimes subverting) corporate communications and brand extensions.

There’s a revolution in progress that goes by a variety of names—peer production, co-creation, crowd sourcing, Web 2.0 and Generation C. Unlike Gen X and Y, this phenomenon is not restricted to age, although at Idealog we think it is captured best by 12-to-25-year-olds. It’s a behaviour spawned by the explosion of digital technology and reality television. It’s an attitude that says, “Hey, my opinion/idea/ creativity has global significance.”

We’re not here to convince you that Gen C is real. It’s to figure out the ‘how’ question. Here are some shots from the hip.

Trade Me everything. Someone at the Gen C events asked how the TAB might do Gen C marketing. A Trade Me approach would be to throw the problem of what to gamble on back to the punters. Instead of offering a limited number of events such as a Super 14 game or a horse race, why not ask customers to put up their own dares, games and scenarios? Imagine taking online what happens every Friday down at your local tavern between drinking buddies.

Trade Me aggressively removes all middlemen (except itself!). What middlemen and middle processes can you remove? For another emerging example of extraordinary middleman removal check out cycle e-tailer, a Kiwi upstart that’s putting Aussie bike shops out of business.

Create a stage. Another person at the events asked how to use Gen C techniques for selling the idea of environmental management. How about providing a website for green campaigners to post their digital films and reports about local environmental problems? Think about it as reality TV: real green disasters in your neighbourhood! You can just imagine how the name-andshame approach would generate responses. Alternatively, give people a place to report on their local green initiatives, such as a tree-planting project or a creek clean-up. And don’t be all journalistic and authoritative about it. Just host these things and let the fans do the work.

Monetise what you love. The Arctic Monkeys can’t be wrong. The rock band that went global started on MySpace. In Wellington last month I met the founder of the most visited drum and bass site in the country, Bass Drop. What started as a free listing service for event managers has turned into a huge D&B fan site that pays for itself and some. Fans keep the site updated with content and the founder is now looking for brand extensions.

Empower enthusiasts. If Boeing can get a worldwide team of customers to help design its next aircraft (the 787 Dreamliner) and Procter & Gamble can get backyard engineers to solve its R&D problems, then what can your customers do to help solve your problems? 3M has a programme to find and engage with ‘lead practitioners’—enthusiasts who have already built or adapted products because they couldn’t wait for companies to formally do it.

Faced with ever-decreasing returns through traditional marketing, it’s time to turn on the last remaining part of the supply chain—the customer. Says Wired magazine editor Chris Anderson: “The engine for growth is the spare cycles, talent, and capacity of regular folks, who are, in aggregate, creating a labour force of unprecedented scale.”

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