I had a busy day that day and the idea of driving to and from York University to speak for an hour almost dissuaded me from doing it but boy am I ever glad I took the invitation. Speaking at this class was an eye-opening experience for me on how much university has changed since I attended and, maybe more importantly, what this change means for those of us marketing to this generation.
It’s probably important to start by admitting that I’m 40, which means that I was going to university 20 years ago. Now 20 years ago doesn’t seem that long ago when you are 40 and trying to pretend that you are still young, but things have changed significantly.
When I went to University, you did research in a library, you sorted endlessly through microfiche for old newspaper content, you stood in lines for hours to photocopy books and you wrote your essays by hand at least a day in advance of them being due so that you could give them to a “typist” who would type your final copy (on a typewriter).
So let’s fast forward to how this generation learns.
Here are some observations:
- While I was speaking with this class, there were three screens behind me projecting content from multiple sources including two live feeds to relevant web sites.
- Every student in that class had a laptop and a cell device and was connected through high speed WiFi from their seat.
- While I was speaking, students were looking up my references in real time, occasionally correcting them, and asking specific informed questions about my industry and competitors.
- Every question I asked of them was answered correctly in about 5 seconds as they all had the wealth of the world of facts at their finger tips. No more “Bueller … Bueller” moments.
- As I was speaking, there was an online “back channel” going on in the class of students speaking to each other, to other students and even to the professor asking questions about questions to ask me. All, without anyone speaking a word out loud.
- When asked, every one of those students stated that they participate in social networking and blogging (either as a content provider, commenter or an observer).
So, what are my conclusions about this small, albeit select, sampling of this generation?
- They are empowered. They don’t stand in lines for information at the library because the library comes to them. They don’t believe what you tell them just because you are at the front of the class because they can look up 10 counter-opinions before you are even done talking. And they don’t have the patience for a “you talk and we listen” mentality because they have access to more methods of “always on” communication than you can count.
- They are informed. Because information isn’t trapped by location, language, time of day or publication costs. They have access to everything, now. The toughest thing this generation will have to learn (or more likely, to solve) is how to sort the crap from the good stuff quickly.
- They are fast. And I mean “fast”. They can get anything, anytime, fast, and they know it. They have information and communication networks that are always on and always serving. What I wouldn’t have given for a 24 hour library the night before my papers were due and access to 20 other papers on the exact same topic plus video clips of the author of the book discussing its nuanced conclusions.
- They will call bullshit faster than you are finished speaking. They will because they can. They understand that information is power and they have access to it. And they get that you can’t tell them to be quiet because they can scream in 40 ways that you just can’t hear. Our job as marketers is not to sell to this generation but to recruit them. And you can start by recognizing how they learn and communicate. Speak to them as equals, in a truthful way that they can validate and, if you are lucky, that they can share widely and quickly with their network.
Photo credit: How many non-Mac are there by Quang Minh (YILKA)