My colleagues and I have defined an observation that we have made while conducting a significant amount of consumer research over the past decade. We have been calling it "Generational Expectations." It existed long before we named it and will continue, probably forever. Basically, it is the reason we adults fail to understand kids behaviors and lament that they don't appreciate what they have. We are all a product of when we were born. Two factors have changed dramatically and make it more important to understand the effects at this point in time, especially for consumer product and service companies. First, the speed of change around us has accelerated significantly. And second, technology has become pervasive and influences most areas of our lives. Consumer product and service companies must now launch and maintain offerings in a far more challenging market place.
We identified three stages of life that consumers past through. The first is when a generation moves through their formative years from toddler through teenager. We call these experiences ‘innate’ as they establish each generation’s technology baseline. In their early twenties their personal baseline has been created. This baseline sets what each generation expects as a minimum or expected experience. For Boomers it was TV and phone service however for Millennials it is cell phones and the Internet.
Generations beyond this formative period, early twenties through late forties, must adapt to the new technology, often relearning or changing a familiar behavior. We call these experiences ‘adaptive.’ During the adaptive period, consumers are looking for the connection between what they do today and how a new technology could help. They then adapt their old behavior or habit to the new technology. As you would expect, the adaptation process is much slower than the uptake during the innate phase. Boomers learning to use email instead of snail mail or texting in place of a phone call are examples.
From early fifties to death, consumers begin to resist change, especially from technology, often being suspicious of the changes. To the extent they can, this age group will try to prevent new technologies from impacting their lives. We call these experiences ‘resistive.’ To the degree possible, this age group is comfortable with what they have and how they do things. They have been through many adaptations and are ready to enjoy life as it is with less disruption.
The reason we separate the three experiences, innate, adaptive, and resistive is that they shape how consumers view and adopt products and services. Much of the often hyped coverage of the differences between seniors and Baby Boomers, Gen X’ers and Millennials is actually a result of the timing of technological influences on their respective lives.
Consumer facing companies must shape their research very differently to understand how generations in each phase perceive the offering. Most of the research today falls in the adaptive phase which for many companies is their core segment. It is important however, to understand for younger segments not the willingness to adapt but how it could fit in defining their baseline. Similarly, for older segments it is important to measure the strength of their resistance.