Tay Ling, vice-president of TBA Hong Kong, Pico Group, explores how new generations will force an adjustment in both brand marketing and the MICE sector:
The moment that marketers spent years preparing for is already here: Generation Z’s phase of demographic dominance has begun. So, as the influence of their expectations, habits and needs becomes increasingly embedded in brand marketing and the MICE sector, it makes sense to look forward again to who and what is next.
The ‘who’ Generation Alpha, and they comprise demographic groups born between 2010 and 2025. If you thought Gen Z marked a dramatic shift in how marketing works, brace yourself; more than 2.5 million Gen Alpha members are being born every week, and by 2025, they will number almost two billion. They will comprise the largest generation in world history, bar none.
Keep in mind that the oldest Alpha will be celebrating their 20th birthday in 2030. From a marketing perspective, that means the time to start getting to know them is right now.
What are they like?
From the perspective of 2021, Gen Alpha can be tentatively described as ‘more Gen Z than Gen Z’. Like their predecessors, they are digital natives, but unlike Gen Z, they’re growing up free of even the residue of previous generations’ analogue ways.
To Gen Alpha, virtual and reality are interchangeable – with the former usually being preferable to the latter. While Gen Z expects virtual experiences to be as engaging as ‘real’ experiences, with Alphas it may well be the opposite.
Integrating offline and online for Alphas
For marketing professionals, meeting Alphas’ expectations will require a subtle but important shift. Currently, marketers are focusing on bringing both online and offline audiences into shared experiences. To achieve this, events are becoming increasingly integrated, toward a near-future where online and offline content is equally engaging and valuable and both audiences can cross over seamlessly between them, interact with each other, and see each other’s interactions.
In Gen Alpha’s case, the goalposts may be slightly moved; rather than developing online content that is ‘as good as’ the offline experience, marketers might find themselves challenged by the prospect of creating offline content that is convenient, instantly gratifying and imaginative enough to lure Alphas out of their virtual cocoons.
Example: Midea Escape Room pop-up
A young online audience was effectively enticed to share the live experience of Midea’s recent Escape Room pop-up store in China. Promotion ran on multiple channels, using KOLs and even an online escape room on WeChat to build anticipation for the event as well as a strong community of fans eager to participate. Those unable to physically pit themselves against the Escape Room challenge could follow players’ progress via livestream, and were even able to suggest their next actions to solve the puzzle.
The puzzle itself unfolded the storyline of Midea’s new M Bo promotional character. Clues found in the Escape Room both filled in more details of the character’s ‘lost memory’, and created opportunities for players to learn about various Midea products.
Wanting it their way
Generation Alpha is being born in a virtual world they can tailor to suit their preferences. So, just as they can personalise everything from YouTube to Siri to Instagram, they will expect the same from how they engage with brands.
Video will be one of their primary means of doing so. In fact, the average person in 2021 is already spending 100 minutes a day watching online videos – 19% more time than in 2019. Gen Alpha will likely spend significantly more time than that. Therefore, personalising the video experience will increase its effectiveness for brands – boosting viewer engagement, converting more leads, and ultimately selling more products.
This explains brands’ increasing use of dynamically personalised interactive video. mindstamp, for example, creates interactive video content based on what brands already know about the customer. Interactive features can include buttons, hotspots, multimedia, and even questions which viewers can answer by free response, multiple choice, audio, video or drawing.
Such video content can yield a wealth of data: each video play generates a full report of the viewers’ behaviour and answers. In aggregate, these can provide deep insights into the audience and the content’s performance – and help optimise future content.
The recent Teachers’ Conference and ExCEL Fest gives us some idea of how personalisation can be designed into an event platform. Users could create their profiles and customise them by selecting unique avatar images. Their choice of profile attributes enabled a built-in recommendation feature to suggest webinar sessions of potential interest. A filter feature for all sessions and poster presentations created an even more in-depth level of content personalisation. A gamification feature that unlocked ‘rare’ avatar images once a user had accumulated sufficient ‘stars’ during the event helped to incentivise the experience.
Living in invisible communities
Gen Alpha is no more or less social than any other generation. The difference is, as Alphas’ personal connections are almost invariably made and maintained online, their communities and their relationships and activities within them tend to be virtual and unfettered by considerations of time or geography.
The challenge for marketers will be to entice Alphas to build communities behind brands. As demonstrated by the Midea Escape Room, KOLs pre-built an audience online by building anticipation for what promised to be a highly interactive and entertaining event. Online observers even became participants, with their real-time commentary helping players to solve puzzles in the venue.
The shared online-offline experience not only forged a link between the audience and the brand, but served as a basis for a legitimate new community which is likely to participate in future Midea engagements.
Non-fungible tokens: The currency of Alphas?
Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are digital tokens that store information securely on blockchain. They have the potential of bringing an element of rarity and uniqueness to digital experiences, making them more valuable to even the digital native Alphas. For this reason among others, many marketing professionals are investigating ways of incorporating them into their live, hybrid and virtual brand engagements.
Example: NBA Top Shot
NBA Top Shot is a collectable digital basketball trading card system created by the NBA in partnership with Canada-based Dapper Labs. Consumers can purchase Top Shots as NFTs, with their ties to blockchain giving each a unique and non-hackable certificate of authenticity. So far, this NFT has generated over US$230 million in gross sales.
NFTs are expected to proliferate into other event applications in the near future. They will be available via download, discounts, gift redemptions and gamified activities, creating what will basically be an event cryptocurrency. Messari analyst Mason Nystrom predicts the NFT market will surpass US$1.3 billion by the end of 2021.
The digitalisation of the MICE industry that started some years ago and recently accelerated during the pandemic won’t slow down – and Gen Alpha guarantees it. For marketers, it is important to remember that Alphas are likely to be even more tech-savvy and deeply absorbed in the virtual world than their Gen Z predecessors, while demanding even more personalisation and interactivity in their brand engagements. This applies to in-person events as much as online ones.