The ABCs of Generation N

There’s a new consumer mind-set due to the pandemic

by David Ralls

Just when you thought you knew all the generations — from the Silent Generation to Gen Z, and all of them in-between — a new one pops up.

This one’s called Generation N, representing our new “novel economy” all thanks to the novel coronavirus. This concept was first coined just a few months ago, at the beginning of the global COVID-19 pandemic, by well-known digital futurist Brian Solis. Novel, in this sense, represents new and unusual — which we all know couldn’t be a more perfect description of our new reality.

Unlike previous generations that represented individuals in specific age ranges, Generation N is an evolution — a continuation — of Generation C (or Generation Connected), which is a state of mind rather than a particular age group. 

If we take that attitude or mindset of Generation C and combine it with a global pandemic that has been disruptive to our everyday lives, we have the recipe for our “new and unusual” novel economy. For the past several months, marketers have been scrambling to understand these new habits and behaviors — and discovering new ways to reach their target audience. 

While there’s a lot to unpack about this cross-generational Generation N, there are some key takeaways — the ABCs, if you will — that marketers should consider. 

Accelerated Digital Usage and e-Commerce 

Think of all the ways our day-to-day has changed over the past nine months or so. From Zoom calls to ordering dinner to helping our kids navigate online learning, our habits have changed in ways we never anticipated. 

It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, then, that our digital usage has skyrocketed as we adapted to new ways of doing just about everything. According to Comscore, mobile and desktop digital traffic in 10 key categories is about 30% higher today than before the pandemic hit.

This explains the dramatic increase we’re seeing in e-commerce activity, which had been increasing steadily over the past 10 years but then skyrocketed to reach a staggering penetration rate in just three months’ time that had previously taken 10 years to achieve.

And because we don’t know how long these new norms will stick around, marketers will need to continue being flexible with their marketing channel allocation and embracing different ways to reach their audience.

Brand Loyalty Is Not as Important to Consumers These Days

Remember those early days of the coronavirus, when all the toilet paper disappeared from store shelves almost overnight? You really couldn’t care less if you scored the last package of your favorite brand or not—just as long as you had some.

You weren’t alone. As the coronavirus progressed and it became harder (or impossible) for people to stick to their favorite brands due to availability, cost or another issue entirely, it became apparent that consumers weren’t as brand loyal as they used to be. And as consumers became more comfortable shopping online, they were presented with more options than what they could typically find at a brick-and-mortar store.

Those behaviors from those early shelter-in-place days aren’t expected to change all that much, either. In fact, a study by McKinsey shows that of the 75% of consumers who have embraced other stores and brands because of COVID-19, 60% will continue to do so post-pandemic.

It will be imperative for marketers to acknowledge this behavioral shift in their target audience and develop more meaningful messaging that resonates with their new way of life.

Connecting with Consumers on a Deeper Level 

It’s more than just understanding their digital habits, though. It’s also about understanding their mindset and emotions as we all try to navigate these uncharted waters.

Think about all the news headlines we see on a daily basis, about the rising coronavirus cases (and deaths) across the country, unemployment rates, business closures and a host of other societal issues. This layer of stress and anxiety has played a large role in our daily lives, according to a recent Accenture survey that shows 64% of respondents are concerned about their health, 82% are worried about others’ health, 64% worry about their job security and 88% fret over the economy.

While digital natives could somewhat easily adapt to this new way of life during the pandemic, it has been more difficult for others who have had to quickly get up to speed on how to use digital and social platforms to do things they used to do physically — like ordering grocery delivery rather than going to the store or jumping on a Zoom call with co-workers in lieu of gathering around the conference table at work.

It is inevitable that consumers’ anxiety and stress levels will continue to fluctuate throughout the pandemic as new information is shared — which will continue to impact their online behaviors. Marketers will need to build in that flexibility, too, to account for this unpredictability for the foreseeable future.  

David Ralls is the president of Commit Agency, a brand definition, consumer experience and influence agency that believes moments make brands. When brands deliver memorable experiences that truly connect with consumers, conversations take place that in turn amplify brands’ influence.

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