Gen K – The Shared Experience Generation
There’s a common phobia amongst conference speakers: the fear that you're going to be outgunned by more interesting people on the bill. Speaking last week at Eurobest, in Rome’s Palazzo Barberini, I discovered a new anxiety: fear of being overshadowed by a more interesting ceiling.
Beneath the ceiling and very much in the first category was Noreena Hertz, interviewed by Weber Shandwick’s Colin Byrne. Prof. Hertz is - fittingly for Rome - a true Renaissance character: academic, author, economics editor of ITN News and TED speaker (of course). Her recent work has focused on Generation K, the Millennial’s younger siblings, born 1995-2002. A product of recession, (perceived) existential threat and technological immersion and named after the Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen. Quick question: how old were you when the iPhone came out? The youngest Gen Ks were 5. That’s not ’the latest technology', that’s just 'stuff that exists', barely worthy of comment. They truly are the smartphone generation.
Two insights stood out in her talk: the importance of ‘unique’ in the face of global sameness, and their approach to sharing (and shared) experiences.*
They see themselves as global citizens, perhaps because they are the children of globalisation. The super-national mega-brands - Nike, Apple, Starbucks, Google and countless others - have been a constant presence. Ubiquitous products that taste, feel and look the same in Bangalore, Bangor and Bangkok (the new ‘Paris, New York, London’?).
Perhaps this is why, when she surveyed 2000 British Gen K-ers, she found that ‘unique’ was the most important word to them. Which is difficult surrounded by unchanging, unchangeable products. And one of the ways this need for ‘unique’ manifests is Secret Menus.
Did you know you can order a Virgin Mojito in Starbucks? It’s part of the Secret Menu phenomenon: going off-menu in places where the available choice feels like it’s come down off the mountain on stone tablets. But by hacking the menu and finding their own secret product (and then sharing it on Instagram), our GKs are demonstrating their individuality to themselves and their peers. This is one of the reasons why these guys are Starbucks’ fastest-growing segment…and yet they don’t even drink coffee.
The other interesting insight is shared experience. Despite what the parents of Gen K fear, this generation wants more than Facebook friends and Snapchat followers: 80% believe F2F experiences are more important than networking and interacting online.
And this has an effect on their online behaviour. Look at Felix Kjellberg aka PewDiePie - the sickeningly nice, rich, successful king of YouTube (49m subscribers and counting). As Noreena pointed out, his videos are the opposite of photoshopped, faux-perfect celebrity. He sits, just a screen away, in beanie and hoodie. He chats, jokes and plays computer games. It’s more like hanging out than a piece of ‘content’.
The need for shared experience is shown in their love of unboxing videos, especially of things they are hoping to buy: sharing the moment that a new product is lovingly removed from its packaging. Relishing the shared experience, even when separated by time and space. Using other people’s reactions to enhance their own enjoyment of when it’s their turn to unbox (and perhaps share).
This final insight is a key pillar of brand experience: the effect of fellow participants on your own perception. The reaction of others which amplifies and enhances your own. My favourite example, which admittedly is more in the world of Gen X and Millennials, is this: a fan-shot video of the moment JJ Abrams unexpectedly dropped the second 'Force Awakens' trailer at a Star Wars fan convention. You’ve almost certainly seen the trailer before. I guarantee you won’t have enjoyed it as much as you do when overlayed with this audience’s utter, unbridled joy at every detail.
So enjoy, and Merry Christmas. Have a rogue one.
*oh and the fact that only 6% of them trust global corporations to do the right thing. But let’s worry about that in 2017.
Caspar Mason is Senior Creative Strategist at Jack Morton