by Jeff Roach, Sean MacPhedran, and Nick Iannitti
It’s the time of year when we pull together all the papers strewn over both our digital and physical desks and ask ourselves “What have we learned?” It’s a nice time to reflect on our work, the digital youth landscape, and the future of youth engagement. What surprised us? What predictions didn’t quite pan out? Will humanity ever get a Hoverboard?
Curating the myriad facts and trends tossed around in this industry is a task in and of itself, and we’ve sorted through it all to put together the following list of the trends that we feel will impact digital Youth Engagement globally in 2014 and beyond.
1. DIGITAL DIMENSIONALITY
Interactive out-of-home advertising , mobile apps augmented reality that add a contextual layer to physical spaces, and the crowd sharing of an event via social media, are just a few of the elements that contribute to Digital Dimensionality. Youth experiences like concerts or retail in-store events are amplified when technology adds a whole new dimension to the experience. The high costs of experiential marketing start to pay off when the Digital Dimensionality is applied, as a brand impression can become a digital engagement, a social broadcast, and even the start of a long and profitable eCRM relationship. This is the world that youth live in today , who now expect their real-world experiences in any location to be enhanced by the smartphone in their hand.
2. THE CONNECTIVITY CONTAGION
Likely the most-observed trend emerging in 2014, Google’s $3.2 Billion purchase of the connected home technology brand, NEST, opened the year as concrete proof that the Internet is about to take a giant step into connected devices in everything from diapers to your toaster and even your light bulb . Wearable and embedded, the Internet in everything is transforming the world our youth live in. Where Millennials grew up as digital natives and saw the explosion of mobile and Internet on-the-go, it’s absolutely clear that the next generation will see connected devices become mainstream, interacting with them in their daily life. The only question is if the smartphone will still be the console that manages all the connected devices in their lives in the future.
3. CONTENT CONGLOMERATION
As youth continue to move away from the mass media outlets of the past, brands continue to move into the role of content creators. In the past, marketers funded entertainment content through advertising. But the real value was in the content. For youth today, they only know a world where content-is-advertising, and where digital channels either create content to get their attention, or curate the best content and make it easy to absorb and share. This has given rise to a slew of powerful digital “news” outlets for youth likeBuzzFeed and Upworthy , while propelling the advertising free on-demand nature of Netflix and HBO to become youth entertainment brands of choice. To engage youth today is to become a compelling content curator AND creator. Brands who deliver on this are going to own a generation for years to come.
4. PROLIFERATION OF CONNECTED TOYS
With many successes but few hits, connected toys like Skylanders, Disney Infinity and the new generation of Furby will become more and more prevalent in the toy aisle and the everyday lives of youth. While overall toy sales were down slightly in 2013, tablets and mobile devices – and the apps that kids want them for – are screaming with potential for a new wave of toys that interact with them. 2014 will see a new wave of innovations – and our expectation is that more of these will stick with consumers as toy manufacturers learn from missteps and emergent startups step into the limelight . Toy shelves will feel the change to; as we’ll see even traditional toys and games make the leap to digital . From toys that teach kids how to program , to digital experiences requiring traditional toys, to new technologies that bring a toy to life in new ways , no other category is set for total transformation in the lives of youth than toys.
5. MONETIZATION MOVES
In light of Apple’s multi-million dollar refund to the tune of over $32 million US , driven by livid parents whose children were given the ability to rack up credit card bills via games, the freemium model for apps has taken a significant hit. Along with it, the change in COPPA rules that went into effect on July 1, 2013requires clear gates around in-app purchases for mobile apps . These groundswells are changing how apps are monetized. From Star Wars to Disney to Nickelodeon, major content providers are increasinglychallenged in generating revenue from their digital products . So to create compelling digital products and make money, monetization is critical. So what’s a brand to do? Go back to the paid software model with a set price and bring more value to in-app purchases. Although this is the trend, we do see alternative forms of monetization on the horizon, such as tying digital apps or virtual rewards to physical products for a stronger overall consumer value.
6. SOCIAL GETS FOCUSED
A recent focus group of 9-12 year olds revealed a pattern of disinterest in Facebook, something reflected in recent news stories around the decline of Facebook with teens . While crying “the death of” is usually more valuable as a headline than an actionable insight, we are seeing a shift from the single Swiss-army knife-like social platform to more mobile driven, single utility applications. New apps like We Heart It , Jelly ,Thumb , Whisper , and Backchat (created by a 14 year old) , are joining SnapChat, Vine, Instagram, and Twitter to offer social media functionality in a simpler and more streamlined mobile product, perfectly tuned to the next generation. Innovative markets and fickle consumers have a habit of destroying monopolies, and that’s likely what 2014 will see more of as tech upstarts vie to do that one thing much better than Facebook’s everything. As Millennials were the generation of Facebook, the next generation are looking to be…something else.
7. TABLET DEMOCRATIZATION
Tablets just became as cheap as basic eBook readers, and they’re about to get a lot cheaper. In fact, new Android tablets hitting the market in 2014 are set to cost as low as a college textbook. Proliferation of these internet-enabled, do-everything, music-mixing, game-playing, movie-showing personal devices are going to become evident in 2014 as we truly move from a two-screen world to a three-screen one. With e-textbooks and school districts adopting digital classrooms, like LA Unified School District’s recent purchase of iPads for all students , books are going to inch closer to a novelty. For youth today, that means a transformation of textbooks, books and magazines to a platform that global youth own as digital natives . It will propel content creation and publishing from their generation and we expect tweens and teens to become the next global media mogul. The window to every youth consumer is available to those who know it best.
8. REHUMANIZING FAMILY MOMENTS
Screen fatigue from families and a desire for authentic family moments in the home are creating a movement for many towards more traditional experiences. While the new generation of these experiences will likely still include a digital element, the fundamental premise of re-connecting face-to-face is going to grow in 2014. The whoever-grabs-their-phone-first-from-the-stack pays game at restaurants is a good example of this trend becoming popularized as is the appeal of board games . With youth it means growing up in a world where technology can be the center of family connectivity. We are predicting 2014 to be the year of the Smart TV , where an app enabled living room experience begins to provide apps for kids to play together with their families. Brands should take advantage of this insight now with apps that enable real family moments.
9. THE 3D PRINTED HOME
3D printers are getting less expensive . What happens when a toy manufacturer introduces a simple 3D printer for the home that allows kids to make their own toys? What happens when HP enters the home 3D printer market with the same financial model as ink jets (revenue on the cartridge, not the printer)? What happens when consumers flood the market with their 3D printing files – like allowing fans to print Happy Meal toys for themselves ? As more brands continue to experiment with campaigns that use fast-to-market custom products, 3D printers have captured our pop culture consciousness, creating an even greater desire for our own creations. Although we’re not quite expecting mass-market 3D printer adoption in every home in 2014, we expect we’re going to get there soon. And what does that mean for the next generation ?
10. IMMERSIVE GAMING
From the new Oculus Rift Crystal Cove prototype to the freshly-funded Avegant Glyph , new VR technology is giving youth an immersive gaming experience like never before. Rift (as it’s affectionately called) features greatly improved positional-tracking capabilities and a crisp new OLED display that is being hailed as the future . This has game developers excited, with Doom 4 in development and titles such as Minecraft, Battlefield 3, and Half-Life 2 rumored to be on the way. Another VR innovation, the Avegant Glyph looks like a pair of headphones, but it goes way beyond audio, using micro mirror rays to reflect light directly onto your retinas when pulled down over your eyes for an incredible pixel-free viewing experience. Imagine a world where every pair of headphones is like a 4K screen inside your head! If you’re a young gamer, it’s not fantasy, it’s what you want for your birthday this year .
11. THE DIGITAL ARTISAN
While the term artisan may conjure images of a Brooklyn hipster wearing coveralls baking bread in a Pret A Manger, the digital artisan economy represents the millions of youth globally who are making their own products and selling them online. With Etsy, Shopify, Square and Square Market, and Kickstarter providing the tools to help young entrepreneurs easily fund, promote, sell and distribute their products, digital artisans are driving a new way to turn their hobbies into successful careers . At the heart is product creation, and the idea that any young person can create art or products that can find a market. The empowerment needed to think that way, and the technology needed to make it accessible, has merged at this particular point and time. For this generation, it’s not only possible but it’s likely that something they create can attract fans and make money. Millennials grew up understanding that they could take control, for the next generation, control is a given. They are driving their own success.
12. THE ONE DIMENSIONAL 3D TV
While 3D movies continue to bring more money into the studios via increased ticket costs in theaters, at home, 3D television still isn’t in high demand. Back in 2012, only 115,000 U.S. households even watched a 3D broadcast. With experts saying ‘everyone who wanted a 3D TV already has one’, the outlook shifts towards continuing to sell more connected smart screens . Youth behavior patterns aren’t exactly helping the outlook for 3D: shorter attention spans, TVs being used as the second screen to a phone or tablet, and the general willingness to get content on any size screen at any time preclude their interest for a ‘premium’ cinematic experience at home (let alone a static one that requires special glasses). While 3D will continue to tickle curiosity in theaters with blockbuster titles becoming more immersive experiences, home TV sales will continue to lag.
12 Global Trends in Youth Engagement for 2014 | Fuel.