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Get under the skin of Generation K

Colin Byrne and Professor Noreena Hertz take an in-depth look at post-Millenial generation.

Aged 14-21, with a distinct mind-set that sets them starkly apart from first-era Millennials, Generation K (K is for Katniss Everdeen, heroine of the Hunger Games) is the greatest challenge – and the greatest opportunity – brands face today.

Generation k
Generation K thinks and behaves very differently to the older millennials. I think it’s important that brands understand that they can’t just make gut assumptions about this next generation of consumers
Colin Byrne, EMEA CEO, Weber Shandwick

Unlike Millennials, who grew up alongside the evolution of consumer technology, Generation K has always been switched on, multi-screening and multi-tasking. Generation K is coming of age in the shadow of economic decline, job insecurity, increasing inequality and a lack of financial optimism and also increased perceived existential threat.

“I really wanted to try understand who this new generation were”, explains economist and author Professor Noreena Hertz. “There’s been all this talk about millennials, but the post-millennial was still very under researched. So for two and a half years I’ve been surveying them, interviewing them, running focus groups, speaking to them and engaging with them all to figure out who they are. And they are really different to older millennial.”

Unlike the “Yes we can” generation, who grew up believing the world was their oyster, for this generation, the world they inhabit seems more unequal and harsher. When asked whether they think their lives are likely to be more of a struggle than those of their parents’, they answer in the affirmative. 79% of Generation K worry about getting a job while 72% are concerned about debt.

There’s been all this talk about millennials, but the post-millennial was still very under researched
Professor Noreena Hertz

According to Weber Shandwick EMEA CEO Colin Byrne, Generation K is a considerable challenge for brands, but also a powerful opportunity. Generation K is distrustful of traditional institutions; only 6% trust big corporations to do the right thing, as opposed to 60% of adults. Their unique values, beliefs and behaviours place new pressure on brands to be more socially conscious, fulfilling and value-aware.

“I think it’s important that brands understand that they can’t just make gut assumptions about the next generation of consumers – Generation K thinks and behaves very differently to the older millennials”, says Byrne.

For brands this means understanding the social nature that underpins their every move. Generation K are inherently generous; they volunteer, campaign and donate like never before and deeply care about the environment and climate change.

Above all else Generation K is concerned about inequality, with 70% citing it as an issue they worry about. Brands can tap into this social conscience by embodying its values and showing that they share its concerns authentically. This means taking a stance on the social, political, environmental and ethical issues, while being sure to do this in a meaningful and credible way.

Authenticity is key for this generation. This is about walking the talk. Anything else will not be credible.
Professor Noreena Hertz

Surprisingly despite their constant texting, Facebooking, Tumblering, Snapchatting, video gaming, and almost surgical attachment to their smartphones - or perhaps because of it - this generation is profoundly lonely and craves connection. For brands this means providing the human touch. Even in the online world, Generation K want to deal with ‘human’ companies; only 1% of Generation K prefer to contact a brand on social media for customer service purposes.

In 2014, Weber Shandwick and Droga5 won a Silver Lion in PR for a campaign that seems tailor made to appeal to Generation K

Creating face-to-face visceral experiences is key. Generation K is unique; not only in their attitudes, but also in how they see themselves. If brands are to successfully engage them, on their own terms, it is essential they speak to their need to be unique, and embrace and facilitate their desire to participate and co-create.

Colin Byrne is Weber Shandwick EMEA CEO, and in the past has served on the PR Lions jury. Professor Noreena Hertz was a guest speaker at eurobest 2016.

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