Lifestage Versus Generation

13 Mar 2007|Leigh Marinner

Teens and young adults are leaders in almost all uses of consumer technology. Looking at the technology behavior of Gen Y (those age 6-26 born between 1980 and 2000), you can tell a lot about what will be mainstream in a few years. The big unknown is which of those behaviors are a function of lifestage (teens and young adults) and which are behaviors that the whole generation will carry with them as they age. Will Gen Y still IM relentlessly when they are 40? Will they use social networking sites? Will their primary use of digital photos be to have fun with an image in the moment as opposed to documenting an occasion the way Boomers do?

Consumer technology companies looking for innovative product and service ideas often ask Cheskin these questions since we have looked at this issue for a number of years across many different product categories. The key to the answer is – what meaningful experience is the consumer seeking? Meaningful experiences are those that evoke our sense of the value and significance of our lives – the types of experiences people value most.

At Cheskin, we listen to the stories that people tell with an ear for the underlying meaningful experience. Gen Y uses IM heavily because social life is the center of most teenagers’ world, they want to be constantly in touch with a whole group, and they use IM to make social plans. IM’s ability to indicate “presence”, or who else is available on the network is key because Gen Y invests heavily in maintaining a robust network of friends.

So is IM behavior only a function of lifestage, since participating in a wide social life doesn’t rank as high on Gen X or Boomer priorities? Certainly Gen Y will IM less as they age (or use whatever technology replaces IM in the future). But they will take this learned behavior into the areas of their life where it meets a similar need – e.g. staying in touch with a work group during a meeting.

We predict that IM use will rise in older age groups as the current Gen Y ages, but teens and young adults will continue to be the heaviest users. We would advise a client to look for ways to tap into the meaningful experience of Connection in those over age 25 to increase IM-type usage.

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