Born into a Digital World, the Generation after Gen Z is on the Cusp of Reaching Middle School – and Starting to Ply Their Consumer Power. Here’s what you should know about Alpha Gen.
By Stephen Dupont, APR
Do you know anyone under the age of 9?
If you do, you’re staring at the face of the world’s next generation: Alpha Generation, the generation that comes after Generation Z.
Born between 2010 and 2025, Alpha Generation, the children of the Millennials and Generation Z, are beginning to emerge as consumers as the first of their generation enters middle school.
Preceding generations were defined by seminal events. 9/11, for example, defined Millennials. The Great Recession defined Generation Z. Although such an event has yet to define Alpha Generation, it’s plainly clear that, from the moment members of this generation are born, they will be known, at least for now, by their immersion in all things technology.
For marketers and communicators, understanding that immersion is crucial to connecting with Alpha Generation as this next generation begins to flex it’s monetary power in the years to come.
Who Alpha Generation Is
Worldwide, Alpha Generation will be one of the smallest generations, based on birthrate, compared with previous generations. While the world’s population will grow by 1.2 billion from 2010 to 2025 to 8.1 billion, parents worldwide are having fewer children. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the U.S. birthrate in 2018 reached its lowest level in 32 years. This means there will be fewer Alphas to care for, or support, older generations (e.g., healthcare, social security, etc.). In many societies across the globe, Alphas will be entering a world punctuated by graying members of the Baby Boom and Generation X generations.
According to Jonathan Vespa, a demographer with the U.S. Census Bureau, Alpha Generation will be the most racially diverse generation ever in the United States. By 2020, less than one half (49.8%) of children in the U.S. are projected to be non-Hispanic whites. Alphas are also likely to be raised in non-traditional households (single parents, parents not married, same-sex parents, mixed-race parents). By 2035, 35 percent of the U.S. population will not be affiliated with an organized religion, predicts Allen Downey, a professor of computer science with Olin College.
Alpha Generation worldwide will likely consist of immigrants in the decades to come as people flee their homelands due to decaying political situations, climate change (for example, rising sea levels or cities running out of water), or lack of economic opportunity. The United Nations estimates that more than 200 million people will be forced to migrate because of climate change by 2050, alone.
How Alphas Will Be Different
What makes Alphas different from their Millennial or Gen Z parents, or their Gen X and Boomer grandparents, is their immersion, from birth, in the digital world. Alphas are viewing digital media sooner in their lives than previous generations. Just look at the ChuChu TV channel on YouTube, notes writer Alexis C. Madrigal in The Atlantic article, “Raised by YouTube,” with its more than 19 billion views. Alphas are using mobile devices earlier, and they’re fluid in connecting with their peers and family members through a variety of online platforms, such as FaceTime, Fortnite, Skype or Zoom.
As technology advances and smart devices become commonplace in our homes and offices, Alphas will leave the longest trail of data ever collected about a generation. Through technologies ranging from social media to smart sensors, manufacturers and tech companies will be able to see how Alphas interact with their brands, from cradle to grave.
Because of their exposure and interaction with the Internet, Alphas are likely to be the first generation to maintain avatars in virtual worlds where they will go for entertainment as well as school and work (e.g., the Oasis from the sci-fi novel Ready Player One).
They’re also likely to have more influence than previous generations in adult decisions and big family purchases, such as eating out, expensive trips and other entertainment activities, because they will be adept at searching for information and sharing it with their parents.
What the impact of this constant exposure to technology from an early age will be in the years to come is difficult to forecast, however, Sherry Turkle, professor of Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and author of the New York Times bestseller Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, claims mobile technology is already profoundly changing the way people converse with, and interact with, each other in face-to-face situations and large social settings.
Communicating and Marketing to Alpha Generation
So how should public relations professionals and marketers consider connecting with Alpha Generation as they become consumers, voters and donors in the years to come? Here are some suggestions, based on the insight of more than a dozen futurists and experts in politics, real estate, child psychology, and marketing:
- Generation Defining Event(s). Every generation is shaped by a seminal event(s) that defines their generation. It’s not clear yet what that event will be for Alphas, but it could be a significant event most likely within the next 10-15 years. Based on history, such an event will be remembered in strong emotional terms. What could that event be? A major war? A global economic meltdown? The first human to step foot on Mars? A major weather or geological event such as a super storm or an earthquake unlike what we’ve seen before? Marketers and communicators need to be cognizant of major and minor events that will shape this generation and be able to put those event(s) into the context of the messages they’re delivering.
- Adaptability. There may be no generation that will need to adopt to change more than Alphas. As they reach adulthood, they enter a world facing seismic shifts – massive weather events caused by climate change, artificial intelligence, robots in the workplace, driverless vehicles, mainstream digital currencies, China as a world superpower, every- day virtual reality, and much more. Appealing to their mindset of uncertainty and flexibility will be key in generating relevant content and messaging.
- Going Mobile. According to a 2017 Common Sense Media report, 42 percent of children 8 or younger have their own mobile devices and spent an average of two hours and 19 minutes a day with screen media. The delivery of communications and marketing messages via mobile will increasingly take up a larger share of future PR and ad budgets. The time to think in terms of a mobile experience is now.
- Generation YouTubers. Where previous generations dreamed of being astronauts or professional athletes, nearly 30 percent of respondents to a 2019 survey by LEGO of more than 3,000 children, ages 8 to 12, in the United States, the United Kingdome and China said they wanted to be a Vlogger or YouTuber when they grow up. While not all will fulfill that dream, connecting with Alphas with video stories will be critical to your organization’s future success, as well as allowing them to generate content for your brand.
- What’s your brand’s voice? Alpha Generation is growing up asking for information from Siri, Alexa, Echo and other virtual assistants via phones, voice-activated speakers and in-home robot personal assistants. By 2020, according to comScore, 50 percent of all searches will be such voice searches. As this becomes normal and part of the day-to-day routine for Alphas, organizations will need to think about how their brands are experienced in a voice search world.
- Snapchat is for old people. Whether it’s Fortnite, Tik-Tok or some other social media platform, it’s likely that Alpha Generation will gravitate to a new social media platform to avoid their Millennial and Gen Z parents’ prying eyes. That means Instagram and Snapchat will become shunned by Alphas just like how Facebook is avoided by Gen Z today. Be prepared to learn how to communicate through yet another new social media platforms.
- Trust will be more important than ever. In a world where Deep Fakes and Fake News are becoming “normal,” and where virtual and augmented reality are becoming part of day-to-day reality, Alphas will demand more transparency from their institutions, according to Gen Z consultant Tiffany Zhong, “Transparency will become the gold standard when it comes to marketing to future generations.”
Not Just Another Bunch of Millennials or Gen Zers
Don’t make the mistake of thinking of Alpha Gen as an extension of Gen Z or the Millennials. Considering the incredible amount of change they may experience in the years to come, Alpha Gen may have more in common with the Greatest Generation (Great Depression, World War II, introduction of TV, the Cold War) than their parents. Savvy marketers and communicators will watch closely and listen carefully to learn how to offer relevant, authentic messages that emotionally connect with Alphas.
Futurist Mindset: Thinking about Alpha Gen and generations after that, takes a futurist mindset. To learn more about how to develop a futurist mindset, check out this article.
Also, to learn more about Gen Z, check out this previous article I wrote back in 2015.
Stephen Dupont, APR, is VP of Public Relations and Branded Content for Pocket Hercules (www.pockethercules.com), a brand creative firm based in Minneapolis. He blogs at www.stephendupont.co. Contact him at [email protected].