Looking Ahead: Gen Z, Tough Language and Online Take Over

Dramatic new trends are taking us into 2016.

While we all know that nothing really has changed just because the countdown took us past midnight and into the New Year, it's clear that we're looking at some new thinking when it comes to public opinion, market share and the role of the media.

In my view, here are three:

Chopped Junior and Gen Z Take Over - "Chopped," the immensely popular cook-off show on The Food Network, is ahead of its time. It has already opened new opportunities with its episodes that pit pint-sized chefs against one-another. No doubt, the producers have locked in on the appeal of Generation Z and its growing influence on marketing and branding professionals, not to mention the human interest and awe that comes with their talent.

The transition of influence from Generation Y to Generation Z is moving forward at breakneck speed. Millennials, those who have been shaping views and buying habits for the past few years, are seeing their influence transition to an even-younger generation, those born between the mid 1990s and 2010 and known as Generation Z. Now breaking into their teen years, it is these youngsters who are fast driving perceptions since it is they, not their parents or their older siblings, who are out shopping and making their own buying choices.

I've seen it firsthand while taking our teen grandchild to shop. Contemplative. Brand-conscious. But independent and very deliberate in making choices. Clearly not wanting any advice or influence. Yet quality is paramount. While the smartphone certainly is always at hand, it's more of a "reference check," not an endorsement.

Subtle as all this might be, it signals a change.

The Trump Effect Widens - Regardless which candidate emerges as the Republican nominee and who actually wins the Presidential election, Donald Trump has surely tapped into a hunger for straight talk, with little tolerance for political niceties.

Like it or not - and seen as the brashest of business executives - he is bringing his tough approach to the world of politics and diplomacy.

Trump is making sure that any conventional wisdom about the distinction between political and business speak is shattered and with it the expectations of voters and other stakeholders.

While many outright reject his harsh language, his candor may well put even more pressure on both executives and politicians to be more forthcoming. If blunt talk is an emerging trend for the expectations of all those who vote - both in the voting booth and with their pocketbooks in stores and online - marketing and corporate branding professionals are facing a wild ride. Just imagine a new dynamic at the annual company meeting where shareholders gather together in vocal criticism of corporate performance, product and market share or earnings per share. Or what kinds of no-holds-barred questions will we see from local, state and Federal regulators when companies come looking for community and regulatory approval on mergers, acquisitions, plant closings, tax abatement or if they are challenged on pressing environmental issues such as ground water contamination or declining marine life.

Trump has emboldened others with his in-your-face approach.

The Fourth Estate Is Online To Stay - Any previous distinctions among print, broadcast, radio, cable or online simply don't exist. Today, the term "media" refers to all media. No difference. Mainstream editors blog. Bloggers report. In daily segments with well-designed stage sets, morning talk-show hosts feature what is being posted on Twitter, Facebook, BuzzFeed and Instagram. There are ads on LinkedIn, virtually the same as those that run in the conventional media, on television, radio, billboards or in newspapers. Mobile has taken over. Video has engulfed the small screen. Nano technology links cell phones with shoes and clothes on store shelves and online, urging shoppers to buy. Algorithms try to tell us what to buy and where to stay. The Washington Post is resurrected by Jeff Bezos. And the New York Times distributes "virtual reality" Google cardboard viewers.

From their historic origins as the Fourth Estate, the media have changed like never before. The invention of the Marconi wireless changed the world of communications and so has social media. With an increasingly powerful impact through personal and instant social media connections made online with hand-held digital devices of all sizes and shapes, there are no boundaries of time zones or geography. And there are no limitations on fact or fiction ... many times, they mix and overlap.

The year 2016 will be more challenging than the last as the media even more rapidly morph and move in new directions. Social media are relentless.

So, for all of us, the question looms: How to sort through all the changes?

If the past is any indication, we will find a way.