The “Millennial Effect” – and how it’s affecting the Boomer Generation.

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In the world of marketing communications, it seems that confluence is in the air. This point was underscored recently by Eric Trow, a MediaPost columnist who is also vice present of strategic services at Pittsburgh, PA-based marketing communications firm Gatesman+Dave.

Trow’s main point is this:  Despite the big differences that marketers have traditionally noted between members of the Boomer Generation and their younger Millennial counterparts, today the two groups are becoming more similar than they are different.

In particular, Boomers are beginning to act more like Millennials.

Trow identifies a set of fundamental trending characteristics that underscore his belief:

  • Boomers increasingly want instant gratification – and related to that, they want convenience as well.
  • Boomers are embracing technology more every day, including being nearly as dependent on mobile devices as their younger counterparts.
  • Boomers connect online – with adults over the age of 65 now driving social media growth more than any other generation at the moment.
  • Boomers want control – and to that end, they do their research as well.
  • Boomers want to live healthier – with levels of interest in natural, healthy and environmentally responsible products rivaling those of younger age groups.
  • Boomers are more questioning of traditional authority – and not just because of the 2016 U.S. presidential election race, either.

Putting it all together, Trow concludes that he and many other Boomers could, in practice, be classified more accurately as “middle-aged Millennials.”

Speaking as someone who falls inside the Boomer generation age range, I concede many of Trow’s points.

But how about you?  Do they ring true to you as well?

Are wearable devices wearing out their welcome?

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So-called “wearable” interactive devices – products like Fitbit and Apple Watch – aren’t exactly new. In some cases, they’ve been in the market in a pretty big way for several years now.  Plenty of them are being produced and are readily available from popular retailers.

And plenty of consumers have tried them, too. Forrester Research has found that about one in five U.S. consumers (~21%) used some form of wearable product in 2015.

That sounds pretty decent … until you discover that in similar consumer research conducted this year, the percentage of consumers who use wearables has actually declined to ~14%.

The findings are part of Forrester’s annual State of Consumers & Technology Benchmark research. The research involves online surveys of a large group of ~60,000 U.S. adults age 18 and over, as well as an additional 6,000 Canadian respondents.

Not surprisingly, the demographic group most likely to be users of wearables are Gen Y’ers – people ages 28 to 36 years old. Within this group, about three-fourths report that they have ever used a wearable device … but only ~28% report that they are using one or more this year.

Forrester’s research found the same trend in Gen Z (respondents between 18 and 27 years old), where ~26% have used wearable devices in the past, but only ~15% are doing so currently.

The question is … does this mean that wearables are merely a passing fad? Or is it more a situation where the wearable technology isn’t delivering on consumer expectations?

The Forrester research points to the latter explanation. Gina Fleming, leader of Forrester’s marketing data science work team, put it this way:

“Younger consumers tend to have the highest expectations for technology and for companies. They tried these devices, and oftentimes it didn’t meet their expectations in their current use case.  Young consumers tend to be early adopters, but are also fast to move on if they’re not satisfied.”

One interesting finding of the survey is that among the older cohorts – respondents over the age of 36 – their usage has increased in the past year rather than decreased as was found with younger respondents.

Among the respondents who currently use at least one wearable device, there are no real surprises in which ones are the most popular, with Fitbit and Apple Watch heading the list:

  • Fitbit: Used by ~40% of all current wearable device users
  • Apple Watch: ~32%
  • Samsung Galaxy Gear: ~27%
  • Microsoft Band: ~21%
  • Sony SmartBand: ~19%
  • Pebble Smart Watch: ~17%

Looking to the future, although marketers of wearable devices might be happy to see positive trends among older consumers, the usage levels in broad terms tend to be significantly lower than with younger consumers.

It’s within that younger group where the high degree of “churn” appears to offer the biggest opportunities – as well as risks – for wearable device purveyors.

What about your own personal experiences with wearables? Have you found yourself using wearable devices less today than a year ago?  And if so, why?

The Top Ten U.S. Cities for Stretching a Dollar

… They’re pretty nice in other ways, too.

Wausau, Wisconsin
Wausau, Wisconsin

A few months ago, my eldest daughter received her graduate degree in higher education academic counseling, and immediately thereafter started a new career position at a university located in a medium-sized city in the state of Wisconsin.

Of course, the main attraction was the job position itself and the potential it offers for professional growth.

But another important factor was the cost-of-living dynamics in an urban area where real estate and other costs are clearly more “friendly” to a career person just starting out.

Along those lines, the recent publication of CareerCast.com‘s newest “Ten Best Cities for Return on Salary” is revealing.

What it shows is that for young professionals just beginning in their careers – and likely saddled with student loans that are a significant chunk of change – the top cities for “stretching a dollar” aren’t particularly known for being the hippest places around.

By the same token, they aren’t the dregs, either.

Here’s CareerCast’s “Top 10” listing in order of the most budget-friendly cities:

  • #1 most budget-friendly: Wausau, WI
  • #2: Tucson, AZ
  • #3: Pittsburgh, PA
  • #4: Midland, TX
  • #5: Lincoln, NE
  • #6: Houston, TX
  • #7: Fort Worth, TX
  • #8: Durham, NC
  • #9: Columbus, OH
  • #10: Austin, TX

Scanning the roster, you might see a few surprises.

One shows up as #10 on the list; certainly no one is going to accuse Austin of being anything less than trendy.  Houston and Fort Worth (#6 and #7 on the list) are major metropolises.

Affordable, livable housing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Affordable, livable housing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

And more people are falling in love with the charms of Pittsburgh, PA (#3 on the list) – especially when compared to its old, worn-out and unsafe urban counterpart on the other side of the state.

The Midwestern cities on the list might not be the end-all in trendiness, but one can’t complain about quality-of-life factors like friendly neighborhoods and lower crime rates in places like Lincoln, Columbus and Wausau.

And if nothing else, Midland is the city that played host to President George W. Bush in his formative years …

Overall, I think it can be said that these ten cities aren’t a bad set of choices for young working professionals. The fact that they also happen to be the best ones for stretching a dollar is just icing on the cake.

Ad fraud: It’s worse than you think.

It isn’t so much the size of the problem, but rather its implications.

affaA recently published report by White Ops, a digital advertising security and fraud detection company, reveals that the source of most online ad fraud in the United States isn’t large data centers, but rather millions of infected browsers in devices owned by people like you and me.

This is an important finding, because when bots run in browsers, they appear as “real people” to most advertising analytics and many fraud detection systems.

As a result, they are more difficult to detect and much harder to stop.

These fraudulent bots that look like “people” visit publishers, which serve ads to them and collect revenues.

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Of course, once detected, the value of these “bot-bound” ads plummets in the bidding markets.  But is it really a self-correcting problem?   Hardly.

The challenge is that even as those browsers are being detected and rejected as the source of fraudulent traffic, new browsers are being infected and attracting top-dollar ad revenue just as quickly.

It may be that only 3% of all browsers account for well over half of the entire fraud activity by dollar volume … but that 3% is changing all the time.

Even worse, White Ops reports that access to these infected browsers is happening on a “black market” of sorts, where one can buy the right to direct a browser-resident bot to visit a website and generate fraudulent revenues.

… to the tune of billions of dollars every year.  According to ad traffic platform developer eZanga, advertisers are wasting more than $6 billion every year in fraudulent advertising spending.  For some advertisers involved in programmatic buying, fake impressions and clicks represent a majority of their revenue outlay — even as much as 70%.

The solution to this mess in online advertising is hard to see. It isn’t something as “simple and elegant” as blacklisting fake sites, because the fraudsters are dynamically building websites from stolen content, creating (and deleting) hundreds of them every minute.

They’ve taken the very attributes of the worldwide web which make it so easy and useful … and have thrown them back in our faces.

Virus protection software? To these fraudsters, it’s a joke.  Most anti-virus resources cannot even hope to keep pace.  Indeed, some of them have been hacked themselves – their code stolen and made available on the so-called “deep web.”  Is it any wonder that so many Internet-connected devices – from smartphones to home automation systems – contain weaknesses that make them subject to attack?

The problems would go away almost overnight if all infected devices were cut off from the Internet. But we all know that this is an impossibility; no one is going to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

It might help if more people in the ad industry would be willing to admit that there is a big problem, as well as to be more amenable to involve federal law enforcement in attacking it.  But I’m not sure even that would make all that much difference.

There’s no doubt we’ve built a Frankenstein-like monster.  But it’s one we love as well as hate.  Good luck squaring that circle!

Quick-change artistry: Masculinity goes from “alpha-male” to “alta-male” inside of a generation.

Alpha-male: Venezuelan actor Alejandro Nones
Alpha-male: Venezuelan/Mexican actor Alejandro Nones

Many people contend that changes in society are driven by many influences – not least movies and music. Certainly, the popular arts reflect the current culture, but they also drive its evolution.

This view was underscored recently in the results of field research conducted by a British- and Singapore-based survey firm Join the Dots for Dennis Publishing, which has just launched Coach, a magazine in the U.K.

The magazine’s audience consists of men who are committed to lifestyles that make themselves “healthier, fitter and happier.”

The research aimed to figure out what are today’s characteristics of being “male.” An in-depth qualitative focus group session with men aged 22 to 60 helped establish the set of questions that was then administered in a quantitative survey of ~1,000 respondents (including some women as well as men) between the ages of 25 and 54 years old.  the survey sample represented a diverse mix of family status, sexual preferences, incomes, professions and interests.

The survey questions focused on the habits and aspirations of men … and the results showed how far we’ve come from the heydays of the “alpha-male” barely 25 years ago.

The researchers contrasted good and not-go-good alpha-male stereotypes (self-absorbed … unwilling or unable to talk about insecurities or vulnerabilities) with a new persona they dubbed the “alta-male.”

The alta-male is a man who values work/life balance and finds personal fulfillment as much in self-improvement as in material wealth.

Additionally, the alta-male tends to reject male role models from earlier generations, instead opting to establish their own identity based on a myriad of diverse influences.

Of course, it’s one thing to aspire to these goals and quite another to actually attain them. The study found that two-thirds of the respondents are finding it difficult to achieve the satisfactory work/life balance they desire.

On the other hand, alta-males tend to be more adaptable, and they’re willing to embrace uncertainty more than the alpha-males of yore.

Even more strongly, alta-males are seekers of experiences, which they value over “mere money” – despite recognizing that it takes money to partake in many such life experiences.

More of an alta-male: American businessman Phillip Nones

Perhaps most surprising, the study found little difference in perspectives between older and younger male respondents.

It turns out that older men are just as likely to have an “alta-male” attitude towards life.  So clearly, the culture has been rubbing off on them, too.

From my own personal standpoint (as someone whose been around the track quite a few times over the decades), I sense a similar shift in my own personal perspectives as well.

What about the rest of you?

Another for-profit higher educational institution bites the dust …

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Last week, ITT Technical Institute, a for-profit higher educational institution enrolling ~40,000 students on more than 130 campuses across the country, announced that it is shutting down, while also laying off the lion’s share of its more than 8,000 employees.

This development comes hard on the heels of the closure of Corinthian Colleges last year. Together, it raises the question as to whether such “glorified trade schools” are doing any kind of service to students who seek to better themselves but who don’t have the scholastic record – or the money – to attend traditional two-year or four-year colleges.

tlpThere’s no question of the pent-up demand for higher learning. Guidance counselors push continued schooling as the next logical step for high school students, and society in general promotes a college education as the ticket to the good life.

For-profit colleges have benefited greatly from an environment which prizes higher education as the next logical step for high school graduates, and during the Great Recession beginning eight years ago, these schools continued to promote their curricula heavily while churning out more students into what was a very weak job market.

Students graduating from not-for-profit institutions had a hard enough time landing employment in their chosen fields … and for graduates of ITT, Corinthian and other such schools it was even worse.

corinthian_colleges_logoThe U.S. Department of Education had had its eye on both ITT and Corinthian for a number of years. Becoming alarmed at the inability of graduates to pay off their federally funded student loans, the Department ultimately banned both schools from enrolling any new students who rely on federal financial aid – which was nearly all of them, of course.

An angry ITT Technical Institute pronounced the sanctions unwarranted, inappropriate and unconstitutional – amounting to a death sentence.

A news release from the school stated, “These unwarranted actions, taken without proving a single allegation, are a lawless execution.”

As is often the case in such situations, there’s more than meets the eye. At the same time, ITT Technical Institute is also facing fraud charges from the SEC plus a lawsuit from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Not only that, the institution has been under investigation at the state level in 19 different jurisdictions.

Academic accreditation is also an issue, as the ACICS (Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges & Schools) determined that the school was not in compliance with ACICS’ accreditation criteria.  ACICS cited a whole range of questionable practices in admissions, recruitment standards, retention, job placement and institutional integrity.

The school itself, using aggressive and pervasive advertising while pushing its “power packed studies” in fields such as IT, electronics, CAD design and health services, also informed prospective enrollees that credits earned at ITT Technical Institute would be “unlikely to transfer.”

This sorry state of affairs at ITT-TI now makes it that much more difficult for ~40,000 students to pursue their career goals. It’s yet another example of how a laudatory mission can lead to negative consequences for the very people who need help in launching their working lives the most.

Ben Miller, who is a director for post-secondary education at the Center for American Progress, puts the blame nowhere but on the school:

“Years of mismanagement by ITT leadership put it in a position where the Education Department’s action was necessary.”

In the coming years, it will be interesting to see the degree to which other for-profit institutions with far-flung operations – Brightwood/Tesst, Capella, Strayer, the University of Phoenix and others – will fare under the klieg lights of heightened scrutiny.