2014 was a crazy year for me on the speaker circuit. You know you are travelling too much when you are on first name terms with the security personnel at the airport.  Or when you have no idea what country you are in when you wake up and have to check your travel documents for clues. But of course that is a very small price to pay for the opportunity to speak at such fantastic events.

Generally working on the conference circuit is a pleasure. As a speaker I am always honoured with every invite. Ok the honour comes with my fee too, but nevertheless I am grateful to have been asked. I spent most of this year giving my new speech entitled “The New Shopper DNA: The Digital Native Advance”, a talk outlining the fundamental shifts in the needs and wants of the millennial shopper and consumer. I thought I might write a post about some of the discussions and questions that stand out from 2014 relating to this speech.

“I don’t like the future”

On one occasion at an event after my speech outlining how this future generation live, what they want and what they value, an ‘older’ delegate approached me and claimed that he ‘didn’t want to live in a world like that’. I wondered where he was going to live? Perhaps the 1980’s? It reminded me of that joke where a guy on the phone asks “Can I fax you something there” to which his colleague replies “No, not where I am”. “Why where are you” he asks. “The year 2015”.

Privacy –What’s That?

There was another good discussion at another event after the speech during Q&A on privacy. A delegate wondered aloud that surely this generation were going to fall on their own sword sharing all this information all the time. From all my work with millennials I have to say the only people who bring up ‘privacy issues’ are those aged 45-60. It is not something that the current generation worry about too much. Sure they don’t want to be taken advantage of, but generally they see the personal information they share as public anyway. They have grown up in a far more open society than previous generations, happy to share everything about their lives. Today I discovered that ‘after-sex selfies’ are a thing. Who knew (or cares)?

Sustainability – Do I Care?

One delegate asked about sustainability. Would this generation be the ones to truly drive a sustainability agenda? After all they are the ones who have been exposed to sustainability education from the beginning. I think I might have  scared the guy who asked the question with my answer. In my experience, this generation are very self-obsessed. While they acknowledge the world around them, the see it as theirs as opposed to ‘ours’. The see themselves as ‘king of their own castle’ as opposed to being part of something bigger. When applied to the sustainability agenda this does not bode well for the future. On numerous occasions I have seen millennials ignore their sustainability ‘roots’ for their own advantage. ‘Sustainability is fine, as long as I get what I want’ seems to be the core message. It is sustainability on ‘my’ terms as opposed to ‘for the greater good’ and if there is any pain or hard work involved in achieving a sustainability agenda, then they are less likely to prioritise it. It is EGOLOGY as opposed to ECOLOGY. As I said, it might not bode well.

Give Me Back My Phone Dad

At dinner one night, as the table was discussing the digital generation and their obsession with social media, a 50-year old CEO asked me if taking his daughters phone away from her was a fit punishment for teenage wrongdoings, and more importantly, how long was deemed fair. Most parents at the table had an opinion and the length of punishments varied, depending on the severity of the wrongdoing and the parent I guess (although one guy took his sons phone away for 3 days, delighted with himself that he had followed through so successfully and that his son had taken the punishment well, only to discover his son had been using his own old phone all that time as a substitute!). I think the debate shows how much social media and the resulting hyper-connection has become this generations’ oxygen. To not have access to WhatsApp, Viber, Snapchat or Facebook for a teenager today is like asking a teenager of old to stop listening to music. Taking the phone is akin to locking them in their room and throwing away the key. Think princess locked in the tower. So a few hours might be OK, but anything more than that and their withdrawal symptoms might just be worse than whatever wrongdoing got them there in the first place!

Listen to a Younger Voice

Finally one question came up regularly. It always does no matter what the subject. The WDWD question. “What Do We Do”? If I could answer that for every individual delegate and business interest in the room within a 45 minute keynote speech, I would be writing this blogpost on a large expensive yacht in the Bahamas. I am not. Yet. There are many suggestions for getting organisations ready for the Digital Native Advance, but one is clearer than the others.

Most current organisations are populated at Middle and Senior management levels by those aged 45+. Most boards have an average age of 60+. It is the strategy that senior directors are setting, strategy which needs to be fundamentally aligned with the needs of this new shopper and consumer, that is in danger of becoming irrelevant. My first tip to any business is to start listening to your interns, your young talent. Not only are they the future, they can also be your windows to the now.

Change is always hard. But if you don’t like change you are going to like irrelevance even less.


Further details on the “New Shopper DNA: The Digital Native Advance” talk can be found here.


Ken Hughes, known as The King of Customer Experience on the International Conference Circuit, studies emerging consumer behaviour and helps businesses and brands establish deeper and more relevant connections with their customers.

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