Are We Innovating for "Gen M"? (No, this is not just about Millennials)

I believe we are all part of "Gen M".

No, you don't have to be in the 13-31 age range (defined as Millennials) to be in Gen M. And you certainly don't need to overthink what the M stands for! M is for Mobile, of course.

So, is this yet another one of those exhortations on "mobile-first" thinking? Not really.

This is about a "generation" of consumers who share a common bond that transcends language, geography, nationality, even age and income brackets. It's about Generation M. In fact, millennials look like a collection of disparate species across the tree of evolution as compared to Gen M, in which everyone speaks the same dialect of the same language. There is more in common between Gen M-ers aged 5 and 51 than there is between Millennials of ages 15 and 25.

Just look at yourself and those around you. That's exactly what I did, and I didn't have to be one of the wicked smart creative Mad Men (of the advertising world) to see the obvious: that Mobility is the greatest equalizer, ever! And Cloud and Data are willing cohorts (more on that in another post). For the first time, we might be able to look past age-, income- and ethnicity-based segmentation and innovate for a broader, more homogenous "Gen M". In fact, it's not an option; it's a necessity.

May be you are not yet convinced? Allow me.

  • My 71 year old dad was the first person to make me aware of the live calling feature in WhatsApp. He is not a Millennial and he lives in India. In fact, he was also one of the first prolific users of text messaging, much more than I ever was, and I have been a "mobile guy" for a decade!
  • My 59 year old aunt (who has never been to the US) and my 15 year old son (who was born and lives in the US) are equally addicted to Candy Crush Saga!
  • Last week, when I was lost in Paris using Google Maps, a security guard advised me to use Apple Maps instead to accurately find the walking directions to the address I was trying to get to. "Believe me. It works better than Google here", he was trying to tell me in French-accented English. We had nothing in common except that we were both mobile phone users. In fact, when I could not find Apple Maps on my phone quickly, he took charge of my iPhone and literally did it for me. "Just follow the searchlight in the map; don't get turn by turn directions."

I could go on and on to illustrate how Mobility is bringing down barriers and making the world even smaller and flatter, but hopefully I was able to make the point!

Now, what's the difference between "innovating for Gen M" and "mobile-first innovation"? And where do Millennials fit in this picture?

This might appear nuanced, but the difference is fundamental. It might even be comparing Apples and Oranges. But before we discuss Mobile-vs-Mobile, let's just quickly agree that Millennials is an age-based classification with a fairly broad age range, and that is in itself a problem. Even the experts are struggling to put millennials in a box, and while it's easy to understand the definition of Millennials, it is quite challenging to find a set of characteristics that describes the entire group. Suffice it to say that M is not for Millennials in this case. Now on to Mobile-vs-Mobile:

Mobile-first is about designing products and capabilities optimized for mobile use, perhaps even only for mobile use. On the other hand, innovating for Gen M implies designing products and services for this generation of people who are more homogenous in their expectations from their mobile experiences, and in fact from all their product and service experiences when the mobile phone can be involved in any way. This will sound facetious, but there is absolutely no difference between how the CEO of Apple uses text messaging vs. how a politician in Kenya uses text messaging. In fact, the chauffeur driving the Kenyan politician around the country is a more frequent user of cashless mobile payments (m-Pesa) than Tim Cook.

Chase might still have a special customer care number for its high-net-worth private wealth clients while the rest have to call the regular toll-free number to get the same question answered. However, WhatsApp doesn’t have one app version for VIP customers and one for the average user. Everyone uses the same thing! It used to be that new experiences were created for the 1% before they became available to the 99% (think about small bite-sized chunks of chocolate served in small plates at a high end restaurant in the early 1800's vs. mass produced by Hershey's almost a century later). Now, mobile experiences are created for the masses first, and can be ignored by the privileged at their own peril. Why does Hillary Clinton (or her campaign) see the need for an Instagram account? And it seems like Republican Presidential candidates might be the first to deploy SnapChat as a campaign strategy. Is it only to attract millennials?

How about Facebook and iTunes? They are not mobile-first or millennial products; they are Gen M products, which is why they each have a billion users. Uber and Hotel Tonight are successful not (just) because they are mobile-first products but because they attract Gen M.

Is one a subset of the other? Is all mobile-first thinking always applicable to Gen M? May be, but mobile-first seems to have become a reactionary reminder for legacy players to try to effect change in their organizations. Mobile-first design for Millennials sounds cool and makes them feel young. Gen M, on the other hand, is something that is far more pervasive: it needs you to understand how Mobility is causing fundamental shifts in consumer behavior. There are many Gen M traits that anthropologists and sociologists can expound upon, but here are a couple that come to mind.

For example, there seems to be palpable confidence among Gen M-ers for being able to get the information they need, something that the intimacy and connectedness of the mobile phone has nurtured quickly but effectively. It’s sometimes misplaced: We were stuck outside the apartment that we rented in London during our vacation earlier this month because nobody in the family bothered to check whether we had (or printed out) the instructions to open the front door. We assumed that it must be there somewhere in the email or could be accessed by logging into the account…"What’s the big deal? We will figure it out." Well, the apartment owner, who had forgotten to send us the instructions in his otherwise detailed email, was in an airplane on an international flight and had no connectivity for us to reach him and get the access code! There was nothing that mobile-first thinking for millennials could have done to solve this problem. This was about the rental exchange understanding the changing psyche of the Gen M consumer and anticipating this scenario to prevent it from happening.

Another Gen M trait seems to be just an increased need to communicate! Period. Why are people talking/texting/browsing their social media feed all the time? I think just because they can. Again, this behavior is not age-driven. Parents are expecting their kids to call them from college much more frequently than when I was in college. Why? Because they can, not because there is a fundamental change in the parent-child relationship. Clearly, this is a cultural phenomenon best left to experts to address, but it is definitely a Gen M characteristic (that affects both parents and their millennial kids).

What’s the connection of all this with Payments and Commerce, you might ask? Gen M experiences and expectations in this space are no different than in any other. Even at LTP, we don’t need a mobile app to delight our subscribers...we know that what our Gen M audience is expecting from us is curated and authentic content that allows them to be super-productive and exercise discretion over how they spend their time. That's You! You want to stay on top of everything and get underneath what’s important at the same time - this is not about mobile first or millennial thinking. This is about understanding Gen M behavior and being responsive to the higher bar.

Having said all this, I could of course be wrong. As always, I am open to feedback. Reach out @khurjekar - openly and honestly if you agree, disagree or have anything to add - that’s the Gen M thing to do!