What comes after Generation Y? The Age of the Community

Some call them the I-generation, others call them pluralists, post-gen and even generation Wii. To put it simply, they are Generation Z, the kids, tweens and teens of today who therefore represent our aspirations and near future. Here at InSites Consulting we want to bring our clients to that future first – and the future is Generation Z.
GenZers are one generation which, born with a smartphone in the one hand and an iPad in the other, may well cause a paradigmatic change in the days to come. This is the first generation that from the cradle gets full access to world news, cultural goods and scientific knowledge. They will be the first generation studying, travelling and working abroad as a rule rather than an exception. And they are the first actors born on the globalized stage we dub Web 2.0 – one where they can reinvent themselves into several different roles. Generation Z is the first full-fledged Internet-author generation – not only searching for and using web content, but interacting and co-creating online and, at the same time, making a difference in the offline world.
GenZers are growing up surrounded by such powerful collaborative tools such as peer-to-peer file sharing, wikis and open source. With crowd-funding, where artists, charities and start-ups raise money for projects such as making movies, manufacturing iPod watches and testing out new medicines. With crowd-sourcing, where companies solve corporate dilemmas online, reaching out to a vast number of individuals across the world, sparkling debates, testing concepts, generating ideas and awarding and implementing their best collective solutions. These represent various facets of the emergent economy which is shaping the minds and hearts of the next generation.
French philosopher Bernard Stiegler, guru of social and political group Ars Industrialis, dubbed it the Economy of Contribution.
Economy of Contribution is the kind of economic system where there are no producers on the one end and consumers on the other, but solely contributors. These are self-empowered agents who build and share knowledge and value in an open, public and all-inclusive way. Their social relations lie in positive reciprocities, embedded in interactive online systems, intertwined for a common good.
As contributors are active co-creators, they are committed and invested in final outcomes. Because they rely on each other so as to achieve those outcomes, they are emphatic and altruistic towards each other. And as they rely on each other so as to achieve those common outcomes, they grow attached to the abstract representation of themselves as one social group working towards one common good which is the community.
We predict that, while Generation Z is growing up in the Age of the Community, their thoughts, feelings and actions will rely more and more on community-based identification – to think, to feel and to act as a member of a community.

What does this mean to how brands will be crafted and how market research methods will evolve? First off, it no longer is about consumers, but rather about contributors. It is essential for brands to see people as active contributors of their actions. As the first step towards this, they need to start regarding their brands as a true community, which people can connect with and which they can interact in. Feeding this logic of contribution into brands should go beyond online conversations and occasional interactions. Contributors need to feel that the brand is actually theirs; that their motivations, desires, goals… have power in defining the brand’s direction.
If Gen Y already feels the need to co-create their brands, Gen Z will want to define them. Brands should then facilitate Gen Z’s willingness to contribute. Many innovative companies are already on this path, searching for contributors among their brand fans and thus enabling consumer crowdsourcing. One fine example is Heineken’s Ideas Brewery, where selected consumers provide insights and ideas to new activations, solutions, products etc. This is already the logic of contribution flowing, albeit in a limited manner.

The key challenge for the market research industry is then to adapt its classic methods so as to elevate the consumer position and allow them to guide our brand. At InSites Consulting we are already close to this. Our Consumer Consulting Boards have the purpose of positioning the consumer in the board room, through longitudinal structural collaboration with brand fans. Similarly, our Digital Surveys experience has been redesigned, integrating a respondent-friendly modularity with rooms which allow social interaction between participants and fusion tools that ease the creation of new ideas and provide inspiration for marketers. But already looking ahead to Gen Z, we need to anticipate that, in the future, research methods will have to leverage consumer co-creation into structured crowd-creation. Knowing that Gen Z perceives social relations as a path for contribution towards a common good, we need to generalize that same logic to brands. In the near future, brands will become communities, in which people can contribute and where people can connect. Not as consumers, but as contributors. And our job is to facilitate that evolution.

Eager for more? Get your free download of Gen Zurveys: Taking the research time machine to a Gen Z-dominated world. 

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