Generation C stands for co-creator — or perhaps chaos?

I don’t envy the marketer of the not-so-distant future who faces a world where the really good alphabetic generations are taken. In the meantime, several “Gens” after Generation X, we’ve circled back to the other end of the alphabet. Or so it appears with the emergence of Generation C. I’d frankly ignore the label, and its vague “official” definition, if it didn’t so accurately describe the group I and my team are spending time with. They are a powerful group.

This gen, although it seems to span more than one formal age group, is united by being “digitally native.” They have embraced Web 2.0 as a given — perhaps even a birthright — and are behind much user-generated content. In other words, they participate in the co-creation of products and services.

I see my role as straddling two worlds. One is populated by those who use networked technology only when they must, and who comprehend little of its potential. Perhaps this is only common sense, because the potential for benefit to this group of peers is minimal. After all, if a network consists of other non-networking “nodes,” it is no network at all.

By contrast, the other world is a vital, teeming network. Although it is smaller, it is far more measurable in terms of behavior of its inhabitants.

If you are responsible for a brand, and you aren’t a member of Generation C, you need to realize that it is possible your brand is being manipulated (co-created) at this very moment. This may not be a big deal for your brand. If the majority of your consumers are not Gen C’s, there could be no potential for harm. But if they are, and you aren’t there to observe and comment on the process of co-creation — watch out.

In last year’s Diet Coke + Mentos Experiments, Mentos immediately “got it.” They recognized the value of this product co-creation. Coke was far slower to grasp the opportunity, and in the process looked sadly out of touch in the eyes of their Gen C audience. The Ford Tahoe debacle is even more extreme in its backwash of bad publicity.*

Generation C stands for something neutral, like Content or Co-creator. But it can also be construed as an older generations’ worst nightmare: Chaos.

*Update: A far better example was posted after this. Apple gets it. Oh yes.