I was a kid back in the dark ages of transistor radios. If a friend told me about a cool new song, I'd tune in to WQAM and wait until they played what I was waiting for. Usually it would take an hour or more if the song was hot. While I waited I'd get my cassette recorder plugged in and loaded so I could tape the song. Invariably, I'd miss the beginning and inadvertently record my mom calling me for dinner over one of the verses.
Sometimes I had a little allowance money burning a hole in my pocket and wanted to order something from the ads on the back of my comic books – sea monkeys, say, or X-ray specs. I'd get my mom to write a check, put it in an envelope and root around for a stamp. Then I'd drop it in the mailbox and wait the four to six weeks the small print warned me about. I'd religiously check the mailbox every day after school but that didn't make the package arrive any sooner.
Things are different today. When my daughter gets a text message about a great new band she has to hear, an MP4 file of the actual song usually accompanies the SMS. If not, she can go to YouTube or the iTunes store, download the song to her phone and listen to it right away.
If my son wants to buy something, he can simply order it online and have it Fed-Ex'd to him in a day or two. And while he waits he can track his package as it wings its way across the country. No one over 45 actually cares where the package is until it arrives in their hot little hands but younger consumers need to know when it's in Tulsa, when it's in Memphis, and when it's on the delivery truck.
These buyers are labeled by a lot of names these days, – Generation X, Generation Y, Echo Boomers, Millennials – demographic titles based on when they were born. But I think it would be more accurate to name them psychographically, based on the trait they all share: their instant gratification addiction. My genius friend David calls them The Instant On Generation – the hordes of people who have grown up with the “what have you done for me next” demands of digital technology and don't know how to function in an analog environment.
Unfortunately for them, world events are conspiring to make things very difficult for Instant-ons. Thanks to the combined effects of a burgeoning world population, expanded financial opportunity in the under-developed world and the democratization of technology, there are more people on airplanes, more people in restaurants, more people consuming natural and man made resources, and more people traveling around the world than ever before. And while Instant-ons are perfectly happy to zoom along in their digital environments, finding their friends on FourSquare, making reservations on OpenTable, and communicating with each other 24/7 across Facebook and Twitter, the sheer number of people expecting immediate service in the carbon universe is an unscalable mess that slows everything down.
Before you start pining for the good old days, remember that things weren't that fast before. It's just that there were far fewer people clamoring for service and those people were way more willing to wait their turn. But older consumers didn't grow up with the instant reward and response of videos games. They didn't grow up with the instant gratification of flash frozen prepared foods heated in a microwave. And they didn't grow up with a 24/7 communication device glowing greedily in their pocket.
Tomorrow's consumer did, and tomorrow's marketer is going to have to figure out how to successfully service people who live the lyrics to the Queen song: “I want it all and I want it now.”
Talking about today's sped up world, Steven Wright said, “If you put instant coffee in a microwave you almost go back in time.” Funny thing is I don't smell coffee. I smell opportunity. Specifically, how to make Instant-ons happy? An improved customer experience is one way: think Disney World's line management techniques or the TSA security experience at Las Vegas' McCarran Airport. Here in Miami, wealthy wannabe American Instant-ons can even hire people to stand in line for them at immigration.
But all of these solutions are just Band-Aids. The true moneymakers will be the ones who figure out how to reconcile Instant-ons' digital expectations with analog reality.