frAGILE: Is NextGen marketing more chemistry than science?

by Joeri Van den Bergh

While the clicking and whooshing sound of a modem connecting to the internet feels like a nostalgic tune for older Millennials, NextGen does not know a world without googling things.

It’s a generation whose online social presence surpasses their offline identity and the act of lifecasting or live broadcasting (with or without a playful Snapchat filter) is part of their daily routine. Being their core device, smartphones function as their arm’s extension, allowing them to be always on, always connected, making PCs, music players and even wallets obsolete.

These youngsters, capturing both Generation Z and their young Millennial counterparts, grew up in a world where information reaches them at a blink of an eye, where they instantly get notified if something happens, good or bad, far or near.

The (fr)agile reality of the Next Generation

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Through this boundless connectedness, they have seen a fragile image of the world as well as the consequences of natural disasters, poverty, global health problems and the war on terror. And this distorted perfect picture is also visible inside the home, as they are the offspring of the divorce generation. They have experienced the rise of the family 2.0, where single-parent, multi-generational, newly-composed and same-sex households are shaping the new home. More and more Millennials are having (involuntary) childless lives because of fractured relationships or delayed settling. This phenomenon is expected to hit NextGen even more, with forms of Otherhood® (coined by Melanie Notkin @SavvyAuntie)… emerging to fill the gap of delayed or non-motherhood.

Although today’s youth is growing up in an agile world with boundless (technological) possibilities, the level of fragility is high because of the unstable environment surrounding them. While their older Millennial counterparts grew up with an “Is the world ready for you” mindset, these youngsters grew up with the cautious motto “Are you ready for the world”, with a realistic take on what they (can) expect from life, their future career and even relationships. And even though the overall quality of life is increasing every year, they are expected to be the first generation worse off than their parents, with only 29% saying not to be worried about their future.

The Agile NextGen Mindset

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This fragility has affected their take on life, the world and also how they see brands. It has made them adopt an agile mindset.

With everything being accessible anytime, anywhere NextGen grew up discovering a multitude of interests and got a taste of a broad variety of experiences. Unlike their parents who grew up with a single (or at max a few) core passion(s) or interest(s) in mind, these youngsters are tasting their way through life by trying out and experiencing a wide variety of things. And it’s the unique mix of exploring micro-interests that ultimately defines their peculiar selves.

Whilst exploring these multitude of micro-passions, NextGen is always on the look-out for having things done as easy and hassle-free as possible. “Smart is the new cool”. They are a real short-cut generation who have developed a form of agility by finding and implementing life hacks. This explains the rise and success of fresh food delivery services (e.g. Hello Fresh), fashion subscription boxes (e.g. Trunk Club), selfie payment systems (e.g. Mastercard), no-cashier store check-outs (e.g. Amazon GO) and even audiobooks (e.g. Audible) amongst this generation. While the older generations would consider these hacks as a cheat, these youngsters, being born multi-taskers, don’t put a value judgement on how one get information and see these as an optimization.

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The hunt for a multi-mixture of micro-things is also visible when consuming brands, where NextGen is in search for products that satisfy their individual micro-needs. They are unpredictable switchers who care for products that accentuate their individuality. They want agile products tailored to their needs, they look for customization and linger for micro-craftsmanship. This explains the success of personalized products, where brands (like e.g. Jeanuine) allow to tune a product to their unique selves.

But this agility is also reflected in their definition of ownership. Whilst their parents would proudly showcase their interest in music by means of a large CD shelf or vinyl collection, these youngsters feel less the need to physically manifest ownership. Rather than owning they value the flexibility of the collective. For them, it is not about the product, but rather what you can do with it.

Yet in all this microness, NextGen are purpose seekers. While their parents were so focused on achieving on a professional level and building status, these youngsters are aiming for so-called life careerism: they want to make a career in every aspect of their lives. They want to be happy and feel accomplished in all aspects of life and are looking for macro-meaning. Brands need to add up to this meaningfulness and give back to the world they are taking from. To them sustainability is the new norm. While their parents valued massive consumption, these youngsters define a product’s value not only based on what it can do today but also what basis it has for the future.

NextGen’s agile mindset is definitely an effect of the surrounding fragile reality. Today’s youth is more informed than ever and they expect of brands to be on par with market trends. To be relevant for this generation, brands need to embrace organizational agility while at the same time contributing a bigger meaning. Yet this agility comes with a counter effect… more on that in our frAGILE: Is NextGen marketing more chemistry than science bookzine or during my talk at YMS.


Joeri Van den Bergh, Managing Partner at InSites Consulting will take you through the agile mindset of next gen consumers in further detail at YMS BLN.

Make sure you catch him and the InSites team there!