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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Close to the Edge

After the Millennials comes Generation Edge. Ian Pierpoint and Caroline Fletcher consider what this unique group of consumers might mean for brand managers and researchers.

Research methodologies come from many sources: academia, other industries and technological advances. However, the approaches that tend to gather momentum — and actionable insights — are those that align with cultural change and generational values.

For the last few years many dominant research approaches and philosophies have been in response to the cultural juggernaut that is the Millennials.

Millennials were born between 1981 and 1994, largely to Boomer parents who worked hard to boost self-esteem and provide endless opportunity. Coming of age in an era of global crisis mirrored with a booming economy and digital revolution, Millennials are empowered, engaged and want to change the world.  

A researcher’s dream, Millennials are keen to be part of the process, collaborate, embrace technology, express opinions and share personal information.

But we’re on the cusp of generational change, with an emerging group of consumers who have grown up very differently. The research and consumer landscape is changing. 

Meet Generation Edge

Born from 1995 to present, with a growing population of 75m-plus, Generation Edge are poised to be the most influential generation yet. Forced to carve an identity out of a hyper-connected, media saturated, and at times frightening world, the result is a generation unlike any before.

What makes this generation unique and what might this mean for research? To understand, we have to look at four big factors that have shaped Gen-Edge’s values. 

  1. Generation X inspired
    While optimistic Boomers raised Millennials, Generation Edge have been raised by the cynical and rebellious Generation X. Compared to the ever-present, hovering parenting style of Boomers, Gen-X parents appear to prefer to give their Generation Edge kids the tools to survive in a tough world independently. This results in a generation that is individual, resourceful, values critical thinking and questioning the norm.
  2. Doomsday survivors
    Generation Edge has developed their identity in a world of economic collapse, political turmoil and institutional failure. Opportunity can feel in short supply and as a result, this generation is more realistic about the world and their place in it. The parental safety net provided to the Millennials is gone, as is the guarantee that higher education equals a career, or any job for that matter.
  3. Digital doubters
    Unlike Millennials, Gen-Edge was born into a digital world. Revealing a unique relationship with technology that is both highly intuitive yet questioning, Gen-Edge appears to be thinking about the benefits and drawbacks of technology. Gen-Edge view technology as a tool, one that allows them to keep in contact with friends and family and remain in the information loop, but it shouldn’t replace face-to-face interaction. As parents and schools teach the perils of over-sharing online, we find Generation Edge is keen to keep some things private.
  4. Alternative renaissance
    If you ask a Millennial about ‘alternative culture’ they may struggle to define what alternative means, let alone express a desire to rebel. In contrast, Generation Edge has grown up where mainstream institutions have been exposed as flawed. From bailouts to horsemeat in food, Generation Edge is experiencing a world where trust is being eroded. As a result they mock, challenge and question.

So what might this mean for research?

Co-creators beware. Unlike Millennials, Generation Edge seem less keen to get involved and help brands. In fact, they seem more likely to want to hijack the process. Mountain Dew found this out recently with a crowd sourcing exercise to name their new variant; the top name generated was ‘Diabeetus’, followed by ‘Moist Nugget’.

Where Millennials were perfect for co-creation, Generation Edge is perhaps less likely to get on board unless they feel genuine ownership of the process.

Humanising online research. Millennials embraced online research, revealing much when asked. Generation Edge is much more demanding of online qualitative tools, and less enthralled with all things digital.

As a result we expect successful qualitative online tools to be increasingly intuitive and have improved face-to-face interactivity. The more human the tool feels, the more likely Generation Edge will engage with it.

Trust and transparency. Far less trusting, Generation Edge is less likely to share their secrets. This is likely to mean that engaging Generation Edge in the research process will require greater transparency and honesty. This will particularly impact ongoing community-based methodologies for which engagement and trust is key.

The story of Generation Edge, and the impact it will have, is still being written. As their cultural influence and spending power increase, so too will the value of research methodologies that genuinely engage this generation. It is there you will find actionable consumer insight. Just don’t expect it to be easy.

Ian Pierpoint is president and Caroline Fletcher is senior research manager of The Sound Research

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Brilliant analysis. Looking forward to the next round of new research methods, etc...

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  • Thanks for this article. Love the insight into my kids' generation. Wasn't even aware it had been so well defined yet.

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