It appears that we are no longer defined only by our age when it comes to marketing. Gartner has brought forth a new generation category to determine how we are to be engaged -- Generation Virtual (Generation V).
Gartner has coined the term Generation V to describe the blending of behavior, attitudes and interests in an online environment. Which of the four types of Generation V levels are you?
The Four Levels of Engagement
There are four levels of engagement in this new Generation V. Each level is related to the extent to which a customer engages with other customers and the level of engagement a business must have to enable them:
* Creators: Up to 3% of individuals act as creators -- providing content and actively promoting products and services
* Contributors: 3-10% are followers -- they don't create the conversation, just add to it and will recommend products and services to people looking for advice
* Opportunists: 10-20% are opportunists who can add value to a conversation while they are moving through the purchase decision process
* Lurkers: Most people are lurkers (80%) -- we all start that way apparently -- reaping the rewards of online community input, but not actively contributing. There is some implicit contribution and validation possible.
Gartner says we don't just automatically fall within one specific engagement level within Generation V. In an article on Forbes.com, Gartner analyst Adam Sarner says, "... Generation V recognizes that general behavior, attitudes and interests start to blend in an online environment. As more baby boomers (who are living longer) and young people go online and participate in a flat virtual environment, the generational distinctions break down. Customers will hop across segments at various times for various reasons and are likely to act like several generations at any given time."
Why Generation Virtual?
Sarner indicates that Web 2.0 has resulted in a shift in control from the company to the customer due to the increasing influence of virtual environments and social networking communities. Because we generally belong to more than one social network and contribute online in a variety of ways, we tend to have multiple persona that businesses need to consider when talking to us.
He notes three key behavioral attitudes that contribute to this new generation:
* We use technology as a day-to-day tool to facilitate communication that is not bounded by the previous limits of geography
* We demonstrate an overwhelming desire to participate through involvement in global communities and that this participation is enabled through self-created online personae
* We value collaboration and that "we" is more powerful and valuable than "me" believing that sharing increases the value of something rather than diminishes or erodes it
Jeremiah Owyang, a Senior Analyst at Forrester focused on social computing, had some interesting thoughts on this new Generation from Gartner. His main point being that we can't just do away with demographics -- that they overlay this new generation. This is because brands are based on demographics and demographics tend to influence the tools used online.
Owyang also suggests the term "lurker" be replaced with "spectator" -- who really wants to be called a lurker anyway? -- and that there are also several other levels that should be added: creators, critics, collectors, joiners, spectators and inactives. He also goes on to suggest that a person is a different level depending on what site he's contributing on -- meaning a person may be a lurker on one site and a creator on another.
Marketing to Generation V
Marketers should expect to segment all levels in this generation -- as each one has value to the business. Gartner says that differentiation does occur across sectors and industries and as such some levels may be targeted more strongly than others.
It's always interesting to see how we as individuals are categorized for marketing purposes. Looking at our engagement makes absolute sense as our level of contribution does demonstrate our desire to be "unofficial spokesmen" for a brand. Jeremiah Owyang is also correct in that the layering of demographics over this new generation is necessary to know how online communities should effectively used in marketing plans.
The job of a marketer is becoming more and more complicated in this online world. But it's also becoming much more interesting.