Friday, September 4, 2009

The Next Generation of Marketers

The Next Generation of Marketers

Recently I lectured to a marketing class about customer loyalty at the University of Cincinnati College of Business. It was an interesting class composition because the cross-fertilization of students from so many different majors (Design, Communications, Engineering, Social Work, Nursing, and of course Business). What were all these non business majors doing there? The answer: universities and students today understand that marketing is not just a "business" activity--it's an activity that pervades every field and industry. This may not seem like a revelation to some in 2009 but I can assure you this was not the case when I went to school back in the day...nor were marketing classes filled with such a diverse group of students.

Old curmudgeons (business types over 40) that claim young people aren't as smart or engaged as WE were in college obviously haven't been around students lately. They are SMART and they are ENGAGED. They made interesting comments and asked insightful questions. What impressed me most was their natural grasp of customer loyalty marketing and their understanding that establishing loyalty is one of the central activities and challenges of every enterprise. Why does this truism come so naturally to these students when many of the largest brands and organizations on the planet still don't get it? Is it because these students are smarter than their corporate counterparts? I'm not sure about that but what IS clear is this generation of future marketers grew up in a culture of ubiquitous media (MTV, Internet, Facebook, Twitter), 24/7 promotions and customer centricity that is so different than what the Baby Boomers experienced in their formative years. Where do I begin...?

WE had less than a half dozen TV channels--THEY have hundreds

WE had mostly AM radio and some FM--THEY have satellite and internet radio

WE had a typewriter and calculator--THEY have a laptop

WE had a telephone with a cord--THEY have mobile phones, Blackberries and texting

WE had a transistor radio--THEY have wireless music, entertainment and internet

WE scribbled gossip on scraps of paper and passed them to friends in class--THEY have MySpace and Facebook

OUR PARENTS had credit cards--THEY have credit cards

I could go on and on but you get the point...

Suffice to say, their world and world-view is VERY different from ours. They were born and raised in the media/consumer society. They know that the customer is king and has an endless array of choices in every conceivable product and service category. They know how fickle consumers can be because THEY themselves are the ultimate fickle consumer--a focus group of one. They know how difficult it is to establish loyalty let alone maintain it. One day the iPod is everything...the next day it's old news.

As many companies struggle with the concept of customer loyalty these young people seemed to instinctively know that engendering loyalty IS (or should be) the objective of ANY organization--in ANY industry. They get it. They grew up in it. They are a product of it. It was interesting and inspiring to interact with the next generation of marketers--and I for one think they will surprise the curmudgeons and make them proud :)

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