Sounding Board: What’s in a name?

Figuring out what to call the next generation may turn out to be easier than marketing to them.

There is a new game in town—it is called “Name the Post-Millennial.” Just when you were Len Lewisgetting comfortable dipping your toe in the demographic gene pool, along comes yet another generation of shoppers who, by all accounts, will be different from anything we have seen before.

Of course, the oldest ones in this group are now 13 or 14 and have a way to go before taking their rightful place as Masters of the Universe. So, we still have time to dissect the likes and dislikes of aging “Baby Boomers” and “Millennials” both of which have given more careers to consultants—and journalists— then the Federal Government.

If we are going to discuss yet another generation, let’s focus first on the most important thing—what to call them. A lot of suggestions are being made and naming contests
are actually springing up. There is no short list yet, but the frontrunners include:

•Generation Z—which most observers say sounds more post-apocalyptic then post-Millennial.

•Homelanders—Born around the September 11 terrorist attacks who reportedly feel safer staying home.

•2K’s or TwoKays—referring to those born after the year 2000 or Y2K

•The Rainbow Generation—for their diversity.

Then there is the iGeneration (guess why), the Swipe Generation, Tweenials and Screeners, Generation Like, the Selfie Generation or just “Posts.” The Pew Research Center is one of those sponsoring a naming contest, but has thus far declined to put a nickname on a generation whose identities are still being formed.

However, attitudes and behaviors are usually imprinted early on and it is never too soon to discuss things that will have an impact on your business, since they usually arrive before you are ready for them.

So, who is this generation and what do they want? And is it radically different from today’s Millennials?

First, this will not just be a generation that grew up around communication technology. They have never known a world without it. They will also be the most diverse generation in history. They will be more positive than their predecessors about ethnic diversity and are more likely to be part of a social circle that includes people from different ethnic, religious and racial backgrounds. In fact, they will expect diversity, according to research by the marketing firm of Frank Magid Associates.

This alone indicates a generation more open to new foods and cooking styles—as long as they do not have to do it. They are also expected to be more disloyal to brands. However, companies will be able to pick up points by aligning themselves with the group’s values and putting those values center stage in commercials and promotions.

Scott Hess, vice president of human intelligence for Spark, a media agency owned by the Publicis Groupe, believes that “Posts” will not be a generation defined by wealth but by their technological and social connections. As he noted recently: “They don’t think money matters much and they’re not interested in taking on debt.”

They will also have a near-migrant lifestyle, according to Hess, noting that extreme weather patterns will drive them to warmer climates and areas in the Rust Belt that offer inexpensive housing. “They’ll move constantly in an attempt to find better work and a better life balance,” he said. This will make them tougher for advertisers to reach.

In general, they will have a more realistic outlook on life since they will be used to living with post-recession, post-terrorist insecurities, according to Anne Boysen, a Texas-based consultant who works with companies trying to connect with this group.

All this is fine, but you are wondering at this point what they are going to eat. Looking ahead to 2018, the NPD Group—which is using the Gen Z designation—said salads, quick meal kits, sandwiches, savory snacks, warm side dishes and breakfasts that involve preparation will be on the rise. Based on attitudinal and behavioral studies, ready-to-eat and microwaveable meals will not be flying off the shelves.

Clearly, nothing is set in stone. Yet one should never underestimate the power of youth, who will be more sophisticated and less naive than any previous generation. The best thing to do is to try and shape their attitudes as they grow up.

Incidentally, teaching them to cook would not be a bad thing either.

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