Make way for the virtual generation

In a virtual environment, age, gender, class, and income of individuals lose their importance

The customer-empowered virtual environments ushered in with Web 2.0 are about to disrupt B2C marketing, CRM, and BI analytics, according to Gartner.

The sweeping changes include shifting away from traditional marketing practices, such as customer identification, age-based demographic profiling, and one-to-one targeted marketing campaigns. By 2015, more money will be spent marketing and selling to multiple anonymous online "personas" than marketing and selling offline. This transition in customer interaction is being driven by Generation Virtual, also known as Generation V.

Gartner predicted that in 10 years the largest influence on all purchases will be the virtual experience associated with them.

Speaking at this week's Gartner Symposium/ITxpo events, Gartner analysts said Generation V is the recognition that general behaviour, attitudes and interests start to blend together in an online environment. The idea of Generation X (and later Generation Y) was conceived as a way to understand new generations that appeared not to have connections to the culture icons of the baby boomers. Marketers use the categories of baby boomers, Generation X and Generation Y to segment the population for targeting products and services with a focus on age.

However, as more baby boomers (who are living longer) and the younger generations go online and participate and communicate in a flat virtual environment, the generational distinctions break down. Customers will hop across segments at various times of life for various reasons and are likely to act like several generations at any given time.

"For Generation V, the virtual environment provides many aspects of a level playing field, where age, gender, class, and income of individuals are less important and less rewarded than competence, motivation and effort," said Adam Sarner, principal analyst at Gartner. "The opportunity for reputation, prestige, influence and personal growth provides a powerful social draw for the masses to spend more time in a virtual world."

Len Rust is publisher of The Rust Report.

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