Technology and Software: riding the disruptive wave of Gen Z
Business Chief sits down with Calvin Carter, CEO of Bottle Rocket to discuss how the technology and software industry is being disrupted by Generation Z.
Mckinsey defines Generation Z as people born from 1995 to 2010. This generation is the first truly digital native generation exposed to the internet, social media and technology from an early age unlike Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials who remember a time before the internet was mainstream. Key traits of Generation Z include connectivity, inquisitive, entrepreneurial and brand-consciousness. Currently, Generation Z comprises 32% of the 7.7bn global population (2019).
With this in mind, Business Chief speaks to Calvin Carter, CEO of Bottle Rocket, which provides end-to-end digital transformation services to improve connectivity between businesses and consumers. Carter discusses the changes, challenges and benefits this new generation entering the work environment will bring to the technology and software industry.
What are the key trends and disruptors within your industry at the moment?
Within today’s evolving marketplaces, the brand differentiators that have proved successful in the past are no longer enough to set a company apart. This new era has been dominated by a new type of customer, emerging as a result of the digital literacy that is now fed from Generation Z through to baby boomers and beyond. The connected customer, who interacts with brands through digital means, is a new type of consumer who seeks immediate, frictionless, and personalised experiences. These demands make the connected customer a huge disruptor in any industry, and have spawned a host of trends that companies must pay attention to in order to grow their business in the long-term. Providing a seamless omnichannel experience, investing in digital channels of engagement, and tying such digital transformation strategies to core goals are now the basic expectations for any firm, and those that are achieving harmony between these aspects are becoming disruptors themselves.
How do you feel the industry is changing as a result of Generation Z?
While 40% of baby boomers are considered connected customers, Gen Z stands at 80%, effectively making any brand who wants to work with the generation invest in a brand experience that fits their connected lifestyle. Raised using the internet, Gen Z is placing great pressure on organisations to provide digital experiences that exceed what’s come before. Fundamentally, the way businesses interact with both customers and employees has been transformed in ways that leverage technology. Although deemed a difficult strategy to execute, 67% of consumers say they’ll pay more for a better experience, therefore there are great benefits to be reaped if businesses are willing to adapt.
What challenges do you feel the industry is facing as a result of Generation Z?
If a business is to demonstrate that they are harnessing the changing needs of their customers, they will need to invest in more than simply a digital presence. Yes, today’s Connected Customer wants simple and convenient user experiences but, in order to keep them delighted, businesses need to ensure these experiences are innovative. The resulting challenge is the anticipation of new needs and making them feel that the customer experience was designed just for them. For even the most established or successful businesses, failure to favour change could result in brands joining the 52% of the Fortune 500 that have gone bankrupt since 2000.
What do you feel companies need to do in order to stay ahead of fast evolving trends and new generations such as Generation Z?
Anticipating needs and desires, and bringing them to market before competitors, is the underlying strategy all companies must have in place to maintain momentum and further reach the Generation Z market. With new technologies emerging on a regular basis, digital transformation is racing ahead and, to keep up, businesses need to purposefully blend each experience across digital interfaces to create a holistic journey. In order to provide that seamless customer experience, companies need to acknowledge every touchpoint and link them to flow from one device to another. This ultimately reduces, or even eliminates, the likelihood of Generation Z finding flaws and looking to competitors who fully accommodate their needs.
To better premeditate the next set of needs to emerge, businesses inevitably need contextual data that allows for more personalised features. 53% of consumers are looking forward to artificial intelligence (AI) making brand interactions a better experience, therefore companies need to purposefully harness the technology to achieve meaningful connections with customers. By tracking data analytics and customer pain-points, businesses can build technology-enabled solutions that satisfy customers and in turn produce undeniable value for the company.
Which industries do you see being impacted the most by Generation Z?
In knowing exactly what they want, when they want it, and how, Generation Z do not judge brands against direct competitors in any specific industry. In fact, those who fail to receive a superior experience will not hesitate to switch to any other company that can fill that gap. It is impossible in today’s concentrated business environment to think of a sector that is immune to the ever-evolving demands resulting from digital disruption.
How do you feel work environments will be affected by Generation Z?
Forming the newest wave of young professionals, 40% of the US workforce will be comprised of Generation Z this year, undoubtedly having an impact on company culture and internal processes. As digital disruption takes force, the need for immediacy and connectivity replicates in work settings. This demographic responds by seeking active engagement in conversations around culture and wanting to be a part of an immersive environment – both verbally and spatially. These employees take the time to understand ‘why’ and ask a lot of questions, which may be deemed a challenge for business leaders, but is needed to reduce churn and for the entire business to grow.
Why do you feel it is important for business to focus on this generation?
Positioned as disruptors to the global workforce, it should be a priority for companies to harness the talents and expertise of Generation Z. In the same way that it is crucial to cater to the needs of post-Millennial consumers, business leaders must also focus their resources on maximising the potential of this workforce demographic. Traditionally, team members are delegated tasks and are only deemed successful based on their ability to get as many tasks completed, or boxes ticked, as possible. Nowadays, Generation Z employees define success differently, and view career progression as a team effort. Within this, leaders should understand that what they build internally has an impact on the marketplace. Recognition, awards, and compensation rather than simply clocking-out invites long-term rewards and retention.
How has Bottle Rocket been impacted by Generation Z?
Bottle Rocket’s culture has always been a place where the best and the brightest come together to build amazing things together, regardless of their age, ethnicity, gender, background or belief systems. So you could say we are predisposed to being attractive to the Generation Z workforce.
Gen Z and Millennials demand authenticity, transparency and vulnerability, which are all things most companies struggle with and make executives uncomfortable. We have had to become more and more transparent and vulnerable with our Rocketeers as our workforce continues to be filled more and more by more recent generations of professionals. The good news is that we already had this mindset, but we had to amp it up and get very real with our Rocketeers.
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.