Wednesday, January 6th, 2016 | 11 min read
Marketers (and brands) can’t get enough of Millennials; in fact, they’re the most-researched generation in history. They came of age with the internet, and, since they dominate the workforce and have a ton of buying power, brands, research firms, and trend forecasters have devoted a lot of time and money to learning how to market to Millennials.
Generation Z, on the other hand, is still a bit of a mystery to many brands. They’re kids and teens who’ve never experienced a world without internet, social media, or smartphones. They’re even more skeptical, less brand loyal, and more averse to corporate insincerity than Gen Y. They use social media in a unique way, and they consume content differently.
Marketers would be wise to get a head start on understanding this group. After all, Gen Z already makes up 25% of the population, and by 2020 they’ll grow to 40% of all consumers in the United States.
In this post, we’ll take a closer look at Generation Z, how they differ from Millennials, how they use social platforms, and what marketers can do to win their hearts.
Generation Z is the cohort that comes directly after Millennials. Demographers generally place their birth years between 1995 and 2010, making them between five and 20 years-old today, on the cusp of coming of age.
Millennial expert Ryan Jenkins sums them up like this:
Generation Z is the first truly global generation with limitless interests and avenues for learning. They have been raised in a high-tech, hyper-connected, on-demand, and impatient culture. Some experts expect Generation Z’s mantra to be “good things come to those who act.” This self-directed, entrepreneurial-minded, highly educated, and uber resourceful generation will stop at nothing to make their mark on the world.
Here’s what else you need to know:
Millennials are a generation of innocence lost. Their bright, carefree, often privileged childhoods were suddenly interrupted by a series of sobering events, starting with 9/11. But that reality is all Gen Z has ever known. Their collective conscience is one of a post 9/11, warring, economically-depressed America. It’s reinforced by apocalyptic movies and weighted by the baggage of climate change resting on their shoulders. They’ve been faced with harsh realities from the beginning, and it’s made them a realistic bunch.
Generation Z watched their older siblings take on massive debt from student loans, often having to move home after graduation because the recession made it difficult to find employment. As a result, some characterize Gen Z as having a more pragmatic approach to their careers, with an interest in exploring traditional career paths like teaching and nursing. They’re also said to be more price conscious and to value financial stability over personal fulfillment in their professional lives.
Meanwhile, others say that this is a generation of entrepreneurs set on forging their own path—many forgo typical summer jobs to start their own ventures. Keep in mind that, with the youngest of this generation having barely completed first grade, talk of how they approach the job market is mostly speculation.
Many have fretted that Gen Z has the lowest attention span of all generations thus far, but this viewpoint is overly simplistic. In reality, they’re incredibly adept at quickly filtering out the content they’re not interested in seeing so that they can devote more time to content that’s relevant to them—Jeremy Finch calls this the “eight-second filter.” This means that understanding how to capture consumers’ attention is even more important with this generation.
Members of Gen Z were kids when the world was getting to know the darker side of social media—specifically the consequences that come from careless posting and oversharing. Student teachers were fired, kids were kicked off sports teams for posting photos of underage drinking to Facebook, and teenagers experienced the horrible humiliation of having their private texts exposed to the world. Naturally, they’re a bit more skeptical of social media than their older siblings.
Gen Z has been quick to adopt platforms like Snapchat, which deletes posts after a few seconds, and Whisper, which allows people to anonymously confess their deepest secrets and most private thoughts. Increasingly, embarrassing mishaps on social are becoming a thing of the past.
This generation responds to content that feels honest and real, which is why apps with an ephemeral nature, like Snapchat, are so popular with them. Gen Z has watched the older generation manicure their lives perfectly for the internet, but they’re more inclined to opt for of-the-moment, ad-hoc posts free from heavy editing.
Meanwhile, Gen Z has gravitated towards more visual channels, like Instagram. But they use it to keep up with their friends’ day-to-day activities, whereas Millennials often go for a “greatest hits” version of their lives, primarily posting photos when they’re on vacation or celebrating special occasions. Also, Gen Z is more active on Youtube, loves using Vine for its user friendly video-editing capabilities, and thinks that Pinterest and talking on the phone are for old people.
Now that we’ve laid out what shapes the behavior and preferences of Gen Z, here are four insights that can help marketers create more effective campaigns for this generation.
Millennials are known as the generation that was constantly told: you’re “special”, and you can do anything you set your mind to. Gen Z, on the other hand, is generally considered to be more practical; growing up in times of economic uncertainty has made Gen Z less likely to seek quick fame and fortune, and they are more cautious with money.
Brands should offer products that are wise investments rather than quick fixes to temporary fads. This generation won’t be easily bought by advertising, and celebrity endorsements probably won’t do the trick.
Gen Z doesn’t care about influencers as much as Millennials—they’re big on user-generated content from brand advocates giving their honest, unpaid opinions. Brands have to prove that their products and services will provide value to Gen Z consumers, and they’ll have to earn their loyalty even more so than with Millennials. Beyond that, if they want to reach this cohort, brands will need to build a community of loyal Gen Z advocates and then encourage customer feedback and participation.
Gen Z grew up with a black president, a female presidential hopeful, and the legalization of gay marriage. They’re also the most diverse generation yet, with a 50% increase in multiracial youth population since 2000.
From 2000 to 2010, the Hispanic population in the US grew at 4x the rate of the population overall, and the number of Americans identifying as mixed white and black, as well as mixed white and Asian, grew immensely as well. These big shifts in demographics mean that Gen Z doesn’t think of their diversity as new or exciting—it’s their normal.
Marketers will have to find ways to create content that resonates with the most diverse generation in U.S. history, keeping in mind that diversity is an integral part of this generation’s collective identity. This extends beyond race and into personal expression; diversity is also a big part of Gen Z’s attitude towards personal style. Being “on trend” doesn’t matter as much to them as it did to previous generations, and they are much less tied to traditional gender roles than any generation before them. They have a strong sense of “you do you” and are known for their “norm-core” mentality, which shuns fleeting fads.
This is a generation that feels the responsibility for saving the world weighing on their minds. They’ll soon inherit a planet in disarray—the climate is out of whack, the economy is questionable at best, and rates of terrorism in the US have risen dramatically since they’ve been alive.
So, they care about the world in a big way—they have to. And their loyalty lies with brands who do, too. They want high-quality products that will last, that are produced ethically, and that will make the world better in some way. Whether the company has a commitment to environmental sustainability, or helps social causes, this generation will notice, care, and hold you to their standard.
“We are the first true digital natives, I can almost simultaneously create a document, edit it, post a photo on Instagram and talk on the phone, all from the user-friendly interface of my iPhone.”
Some say Gen Z has the smallest attention span of all the generations, but they are actually just professionals at filtering out meaningless social noise. They prefer multiscreen-optimized, snackable experiences that don’t require excessive work from their end. They love the engaging nature of video and are huge fans of live-streaming interactions with brands. They won’t blindly give away their loyalty, but if you fill their precious time with meaningful, awesome experiences, you may just earn their trust.
The main takeaway here for marketers should be: get back to basics. Keep it simple, authentic, and natural. When it comes to social, connect with Gen Z through user-generated content and aim to come across as digitally-native. Rather than trying to seem polished and aloof, shoot for infusing your brand with real, human qualities similar to those that you value in your customers.
Gen Z’s everyday lives blend seamlessly with their lives on social, and many of their defining characteristics stem from this continuity. Marketers will have to try harder than ever to interact authentically with this generation of consumers, but if they do, they’ll be rewarded by an audience that loves engaging with brands and championing their products.