Targeting the E-Generation

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Here's a quick question to get you thinking: What major customer base will your company have to capture to succeed in the 21st century?

Are you thinking affluent, aging baby boomers heading into retirement? Thirty-something Generation Xers coming into their first wealth? Or maybe you've been seduced by the incredible buying power of the bumper crop of Generation Y teenagers who have taken over the media.

If you've chosen any one of the above or even all of the above, you are only partially correct. A new force is revolutionizing commerce, and it has blown apart the neat demographic divisions in which we have traditionally categorized our markets. This force, if you haven't guessed already, is the Internet, and it has spawned a new breed of consumer is not bound together by the easily quantifiable denominators as age, gender or race.

We call this new group Generation E, the electronic generation. Members come in all ages, sharing only their use of technology to communicate, gather information, and most importantly, purchase products and services. Generation E includes the boomers, teens, senior citizens and young professionals, and the rapid innovations being made in the availability, accessibility and simplicity of technology is swelling their ranks exponentially.

Communicating with Generation E is first and foremost about understanding why they are surfing the Net instead of browsing your store. You already know about the pioneers for whom e-mail, the Internet, cellular phones, faxes, pagers and palm pilots have become necessities. These are the innovators who are not only eager to try new products and brands, but actively seek them out.

Your opportunity is not with these trailblazers but with the much broader, diverse consumer market whose adoption of the Internet is highly varied. For some of your Generation E customers, technology is a lifestyle. For others, the Internet is a tool for convenience, an appliance like a micro-wave oven or coffee maker. When this broad consumer cross-section that is your Generation E customer connects with the Internet, they are really looking to develop an online rapport. The opportunity for you is to capture their attention through and begin the process of building a personal relationship.

The one common trait of Generation E members is that they are not a captive audience. With the click of a mouse they can pass by information that does not interest them and create a highly customized experience. They are online to save time, to compare prices more efficiently, to quickly and efficiently have access to a more diverse range of goods and services or to experiment and explore. This can make them a slippery group, but also a fiercely loyal group to those companies who make the effort to build these personal relationships. The members of Generation E are willing to respond to customer-centric marketers who are genuinely interested in gaining their respect and trust through personalized dialogue.

The key to the personal relationship Generation E expects is value exchange for value exchange. If a consumer is going to give you valuable information they want something of equal value. Your message has to be relevant to them based on the information that they have provided to you. Through e-mail, we can create communication channels through which we can not only provide relevant information to our customers, but also learn what we need to make our communications with them personal and customized on an ongoing basis.

This is a circular dialogue through which we have the permission of our customers to continuously learn about them and, in turn, use e-mail to provide them with relevant, personalized messages. Because our customers are continuously providing us with this fresh insight, we can continually enhance the personalization and customization of our messages to them.

Consider the possibilities available to a pet store who has just sold a puppy to a new customer. A newsletter addressing the issues of new pet ownership, care and training techniques and recommending food and products would be a helpful addition to the customer's in box. As time goes on, the pet store would tailor that information to the puppy's growth cycles, evolving the message to include tips and products geared at a growing, older animal.

While Generation E has presented us with some new challenges, their demands for a personal and valuable relationship with us has actually created enormous opportunity. E-mail is the first opportunity marketers have ever had to build this kind of dialogue with customers, and through this dialogue our marketing efforts are driven by the customer, not the marketer.

You may think that I have just introduced you to a brand new customer base, but Generation E are the same customers you've always had. The point is that it is time for you to re-introduce yourself to your customers on-line and speak to them in a highly personal style.

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