Every generation has always been asked that daunting, age-old question, “What do you want to do with the rest of your life?” during the 18-25 years. As I mentioned in my last post, the digital world has granted our generation with infinite opportunities to choose from. The sky is the limit, from becoming yoga instructors to iPhone app developers to starting up our own sustainability companies. But with all these opportunities at our fingertips, we become overwhelmed at the idea of having to choose just one. We become little kids in an ice cream shop; so many wonderful flavors, so hard to pick between them all! Infinite options lead to infinite indecision. So we think to ourselves, instead of selecting just one path, why not experience them all? And that’s exactly what we end up doing.
We are the slash/slash generation – a group of people that define ourselves not by a single occupation, but by the diversity of our experiences, passions and networks. Instead of carving out an upward trajectory life path within one career, we seek to gather as many experiences as possible to contribute to our multi-faceted lifestyle. It’s more about creating a lifestyle than a lifepath. And the more multi-faceted the better. My friend describes himself not just as a “pharmacist” but as a “scientist geek / piano-player / music producer / professional poker player / amateur politician / outdoorsman / foodie”. Like most of our generation, he doesn’t want to be pigeon-holed into one particular “type” of person. He is his own unique individual, with diverse aspects to his identity.
This brings to question our generation’s definition of the word “diversity”. Diversity as marketers speak of it refers to ethnic, racial and cultural differences. But this is nothing new to us. We grew up with a kaleidoscope of different cultures all around us, and are accustomed to being surrounded by people from different ethnic backgrounds. To our generation, the definition of diversity is not just confined to ethnic differences, but applies to all differences that make each one of us unique – each person’s background, characteristics, experiences, passions and thoughts contribute to his or her unique sense of diversity. “Diversity” to us is not the United Colors of Benetton ads promoting equality among races. It’s the American Apparel ads that market things like, “1 sash, 100 different ways to wear it,” – it’s all about how you make it uniquely your own. We are all diverse. We are all slash / slash.
There are so many different tools available in our culture to contribute to our slash/slash identities. Just look at all those college programs today that allow students to “design their own major,” from NYU’s Gallatin to Washington U’s “Individualized Studies” program. These schools advertise it to students as, “A degree program that’s as unique as you!” Students who just can’t pick between the hundreds of majors already available at a university can combine them together or invent new ones to create their own unique niche at the school.
Social networks is another way we contribute to our slash / slash selves. For us, being “cool” no longer means associating with only a certain type of people, like the Animal House’s frat boy mentality. Instead, we all seek to be Van Wilder, the coolest person in the world because he has an inside joke with everyone, from the janitor to the head of the debate team to the star quarterback to the Dean of school. Cool means having an inside joke with everyone, because the more diverse our social networks, the more multi-faceted we are as individuals. Our online social networks reflect this well. We’re uploading our professional selves to LinkedIn, showing off our fun-loving party sides on Facebook, keeping up with the music scene on Myspace, and obsessing over the latest vampire movie on TwilightersAnonymous.com. We experiment with different versions of ourselves through the diversity of our social networks.
Our slash / slash mentality is evident in our presence in the workforce as well. While other people may see us as “entitled” or “arrogant”, we just want to find a place to work that acknowledges and empowers our slash / slash identities. We don’t want to fit into the mold of a corporation, we want the company to support our unique, multi-faceted passions and talents. Take me, for example. I invented my own title here at Saatchi & Saatchi and asked to get it approved – “Strategic Storyteller,” so I could combine all the things I love doing into one job function – psychology, strategy, writing, and graphic design. We also see our early careers as a time for experimentation and adventure; we want to learn as much as possible about as many different aspects of industries as possible. We get bored easily, always on the look-out for the next adventure. We want to try out everything, and we are confident of success. Perhaps that’s why so many of us have an entrepreneurial spirit festering inside of us – today, 18-25 year olds are starting businesses at a faster rate than 35-44 year olds! College entrepreneurial programs have increased 7x in the past 6 years, and half of all recent graduates believe self-employment is more secure than a full time job.
So what does this mean for your brands? Our generation doesn’t want to fit into a one-size-fits-all mold that you’ve created for us. Instead, we want your brand to empower the diverse, slash/slash identity that we’ve crafted for ourselves. Refrain from pigeon-holing us into one label, and instead acknowledge our multi-faceted identities that make each of us unique. Or try to reflect “diversity” through our meaning of the word, instead of the way it’s been used in the industry up till now. There are many brands attempting to connect with our generation through this slash / slash insight, some doing it better than others. Miracle Whip’s hipster campaign, “Don’t Be So Mayo” may have been a little on the extreme side, but still got quite a bit of buzz among our networks. And HP has always been doing it right, especially with their user-generated “You on You” campaign, asking consumers to submit mash-up videos answering the question, “What’s your story?” . So what about your brand? What tools can your brand provide to empower our diverse, unique, awesome slash / slash selves?
Nisha Gupta is a Youth Connection Strategic Storyteller at Saatchi & Saatchi New York.
Homepage image source - Elias Hartvigsson.