Historian Theodore Zeldin’s An Intimate History of Humanity pioneered the thesis that we must understand ourselves as composites of peoples we have never met nor even understood before. Our thoughts, emotions, expressions, behaviors and creativity are all drawn from a common soup of diverse ingredients mixed together since the beginning of humanity. This process has continued despite natural and artificial barriers that limit our capacity to exchange and synthesize new information. Today those barriers are falling and a new generation, less inhibited by outmoded political and cultural walls, is ready to create a new kind of world.
America’s First Globals (born between 1979 and 1994) want to be engaged and want to build a better world; they are truly global citizens. And mobile and social media make that all possible.
This group grew up in a world of 24-hour news that is available to them in seconds. Answers have always been at their fingertips, and they have little patience with outmoded structures. If a story breaks on CNN at noon, it is a full-blown crisis by 5 PM if it hasn’t been resolved. First Globals respond to these situations—large and small—profoundly differently than the ways older cohorts do.
Task forces to come back with “actionable items” in 72 hours? Delegations to take the problem one step up the chain until it dies? Our First Globals find solutions in a hurry and to bypass vertical channels. They eschew bureaucracy and seek solutions using social networks, often through crowdsourcing—horizontal is more efficient than vertical. Somewhere out there is a solution, it can be presented in short order, and further responses can be used to build on a core idea or for validation.
There are newer models that exist that both enable and benefit from the special skills that First Globals bring to the table. Public intellectual Parag Khanna describes a “next renaissance,” a rejection of current practices of global problem-solving that lead to either entropy or dysfunction. Khanna compares the current epoch to the decline of feudalism and to the Renaissance-Protestant Reformation-Enlightenment where new structures arose to replace outmoded institutions. Today, he says, problem-solving must be transnational and involve many more organizations than governments alone. Alliances of cities, civic groups, religious charities, corporations, “Super-NGOs,” and celebrities come together to provide solutions. Just like the world of the First Globals, these actors are beyond borders, nimble, speedy, and broadly participatory.
Politically, a small cadre of young people based in New York has formed a network called AVAAZ that reaches 22 million activists (and growing) conversing in 15 languages and spread across five continents. The AVAAZ network launches worldwide petition drives to fight against anti-gay laws in Uganda, the treatment and near-extinction of elephants, the rape of young women in countries like India and Somalia, and the still-extensive use of pesticides. AVAAZ could not have existed even 10 years ago.
Commercially, it is the new wave of “murketing” with its focus on new media, viral videos, chat rooms, and the establishment of promotional blogs or mysterious treasure hunts across the Internet. Murketing markets lifestyles, rather than a specific product. Consider laundry soap: murketing for the soap would emphasize the fact that people who washed their clothes with that soap got better partners, enjoyed more popularity, or lived adventurous, action-packed lifestyles.
Artistically, First Globals have learned to access the feelings, sensibilities, values, and creativity of peoples all over the world to develop a composite of themes, emotions, arts and language from a myriad of cultures developed over thousands of years. America’s First Globals are far more likely to identify themselves as citizens of the planet Earth and see the importance of being fluent in a foreign language than any other age cohort. They are the least likely to see American culture as inherently superior to other world cultures. Their social networks of friends are just that: friends and not “the other.” Now a new generation can draw from people worldwide at the speed of light. Imagine the burst of creativity when information and exchange are so available.
So what is my message to marketers? After ten years of studying survey responses of Americans born after 1979, here is what anyone eager to communicate to this market should keep in mind:
- Plenty of Multi-Cultural Images and Themes—it is not about quotas or cuteness, it’s about who First Globals really are. Presently, two in five are non-white and they are heading toward half and half.
- Peer Endorsements—ditch the Kardashians and other neo-celebrities. First Globals want to know what their friends think.
- Mobility—both in terms of geography and work experience. Today’s twenty-somethings will have had four different gigs by the age of 30 and ten by the age of 40. A majority plan to visit at least three continents in their lives, more than any other age cohort.
- Technology and Problem-Solving—they know they have an edge over everyone else when it comes to facility with new technologies. They want to put it to good use.
- Multinational—they really don’t care where the product is made. Patriotic images don’t work among First Globals. Neither does bashing China.
- Making a Difference—they have been raised to care about “people just like me” who are down on their luck. They may not know where Darfur is on the map, but they know there is a Darfur.
First Globals are not simply changing the world as we know it. They are creating the new world that they will know and navigate.