One of the first ways marketers segmented consumers is based on generational age groups.  The idea is that shared experiences throughout life, especially in the coming of age years, create bonds in values, beliefs and attitudes (and sometimes music) that are shared by the group throughout life.  This basis for segmentation has held up well for decades with many marketers today targeting the 53 to 69 crowd not as seniors, but rather with an understanding of the mindset of Baby Boomers.  (Some are getting it right and some are way off.)

A new market segment is emerging to compare and contrast with the Baby Boomers, GenX and Millennials.  The segment is made up of teens 15-21 and becoming known as the iGeneration (also known as Generation Z and iGeners.)  The “i” signifies the media devices they are using, iPhone, iPad, etc., and that these technologies are very individualized.  Until recently, this group was lumped in with the Millennials and expected to share that generation’s characteristics.  This is no longer the case.

Compared to the tech-savvy Millennials, iGeners are becoming tech-dependent as they were born into a digital world.  They are growing up with mobile devices while their Millennial counterparts grew up primarily with clumsy laptops and PCs.  With the internet and phones available to them at any time and any place, these teens show a level of texting, multi-tasking and digital media consumption that far exceeds that of any other cohort segment.

We are getting to know how to reach this generation through media, but is there a consistent mindset we can tap into?  What values do they or will they share because of their unprecedented relationship with each other and the world through technology?  In what ways will they be different from the Baby Boomers, GenX and Millennials?  Each of these segments share characteristics that have not changed much over time.

By experiencing important social changes, prosperous times and a youth-oriented culture while coming of age, the Baby Boomers are idealistic, “forever young” and prone to reject authority.

Through their experience with Watergate, increasing divorce rates and a faltering economy, GenX is characterized as being independent, pragmatic and mistrusting of institutions.

While cutting their teeth on computer keyboards and being raised by doting, child-centric parents forcing all forms of lessons and group activities, the Millennials are confident, optimistic, tech-savvy and tech-oriented.

As an emerging consumer segment, can we describe the iGeneration as accurately and succinctly as we can for the previous generations?  What will be the lifelong impact of a generation coming of age that is most frequently described as:

  • Speed Demons
  • Open books (except for money matters)
  • Shortcutting the language
  • Seeking instant gratification
  • Unengaged by traditional schooling
  • Into creating their own content
  • Early adapters who expect innovation
  • Multitaskers
  • Always present in a social way
  • More in touch will global issues and cultures

Do any of these characteristics, all driven to some degree by technology, matter that much?  Do any of these characteristics help us shape messages targeted to this audience?  What about the tough economic times, climate change and terrorism they are growing up with that has little to do with technology?

It seems to me that researchers and “experts” are more intrigued with naming this generation than really trying to understand it.  They are putting far too much weight on technology with little consideration of real life experiences.  Being tech-savvy or tech-dependent does not define what is important to people.  If we really want to “get” these teens, we should take the time to understand their dreams and challenges, offline.  I agree that they will not be the same as the Millennials, but we are a long way from knowing how they will be different.  As one iGener put it in a recent thread:

“We can’t really define our generation yet because the oldest of us (that’s me) are still defining ourselves.  Plus, we’ve had little impact on the world yet.  As a generation, we basically are unimportant so far.”