August 16, 2010
As we continue to learn throughout history, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all panacea -- and technological "connecting" is not likely to do everything. The opportunity for all of us is to find the best times to use virtual and technology, and the best times to deliver real "real."
Technology, for all its power and benefit, is creating a gap -- and particularly with kids, it is important to find those gaps, and deliver the needed solutions. We are, without doubt, living through some of the most rapidly evolving times ever. While the Parisians might have thought the same during La Revolution, our generation has only to recall the past couple of decades and compare, with a genuine degree of awe, how we used to work, communicate and relate to how we now do this in this current day and age. Staying in touch today bears little resemblance to that relatively short time ago, and perhaps oddly, the changes seem to have crept up on us. I hear myself and others say, "What did we do before e-mail, mobile phones, Google, Facebook?"
For our children, it is a totally different picture. They have known no different set of constructs, and as such they are growing into a new generation of people who have quite different expectations and relationships. Though this is fascinating in itself, the interesting aspect for brands and marketers is how both consumers and industry now require us to unleash what we see as the power of genuine consumer connectivity in branding activities and new product development.
As the world becomes more electronically connected, there emerges an expectation of all consumers that brands and products will do the same. Even though at times the "connectivity" may be artificial and contrived, this doesn't matter. Consumer expectations drive their choice, and as in so many aspects, truth is all about perception and expectation, even more than rational and "reality."
As the generation who has grown up with this connectivity at their very core, today's young people are at the forefront of this evolution. At the same time, though, something unexpected is happening; something no one could have easily predicted. This sense of connectivity that children are gaining via technology has, to a certain degree, left them craving for "real" connections. There is a strong sense of them not having enough "genuine" connection -- teaching us that technology can't replace a proper face-to-face relationship. This is an ideal opportunity for brands to build (or re-build) some real and genuine connections, in an ethical and responsible way.
During some recent research we worked with teachers on a number of diverse projects, they were offered many examples relating to how the technological connections are actually driving kids to be disconnected: disconnected from accurate information; from deeper information; from deep and abiding relationships. Technology, they taught us, gives young people a false sense of being connected, it is superficial and does not give kids the needed relationship experience. They hypothesized that it was, for the long term, damaging their ability to think and in the end, their confidence.
Where do kids find real and genuine connections now? Perhaps unsurprisingly, in the same places as previous generations: family, teachers, coaches, and of course friends. What is fascinating, though, is that over the past few years, we have seen the intensity of desire for those connections increase. We heard recently some teen boys talking about avoiding texting and Facebook of their own volition, merely to spend "real time" with their friends.
Some teen girls explained that of course Facebook had a place, but they only were using it for specific things -- quick bits of "catch-up" information, and the odd voyeuristic moments to see what was going on in their wider circle of friends. What replaced that time were situations in which they could be with their closest friends and family so they can "do real things" together.
"Connectivity" in branding young people's products, and even in innovation and product development, has never been more important. There is an expectation of the ability to share, be part of, and connect to the brand experience -- and an expectation of immediate response and gratification.
This converges with the growing value of hyper-personalization. With kids, it started with creating their personal avatar on Club Penguin, and then evolved to intensely personalizing (many parents would say, "over-personalizing") their home pages on MySpace and Facebook.
Personalization has given children, tweens and teens the vehicle to express their individuality, giving them a taste of contemporary independence. This taste makes them hungry for further personalization in other categories as well. Jones Soda in North America captured this insight many years ago in the beverage segment and now has built further the authentic connectivity with a brand.
This is not to say that technology and electronically "connecting" is going to go away -- rather we see it evolving to find its place of best use, and other non-virtual experiences are likely to flourish to fill the need for "real." We need to forgo the urge to hop onto the bandwagon for all things, and find the best way to listen and respond to our young consumers.
As we continue to learn throughout history, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all panacea -- and technological "connecting" is not likely to do everything. The opportunity for all of us is to find the best times to use virtual and technology, and the best times to deliver real "real." Technology, for all its power and benefit, is creating a gap -- and particularly with kids, it is important to find those gaps, and deliver the needed solutions.