There has been a lot in the media about Generation Y over the past few years – who are they, what makes them different to Generation X and the Baby Boomers, how are they affecting markets, trends, and the economy, how will they change the way things are done now?
But now, the time has come to ask those same questions again of a different generation, Generation Z.
There is a debate about when Generation Z starts, with some arguing that the earliest members were born in 2000 and others saying they go back as far as 1990, which would mean that the oldest members are now in their early 20s.
So what defines Generation Z? While definitions vary, their general characteristics are as follows:
They are often the children of Generation X, and are completely unique as they have grown up with the internet, never having known a time without it; they are avid networkers, using social networks and mobile phones as their main means of communication and entertainment; and are often referred to as Digital Natives.
The importance of digital media in their lives has had a massive effect on the way that they work and interact with others. Gen Z-ers ‘multi-screen‘, multitasking across up to five platforms daily and spend the majority of their time on computers and mobile devices. Their constant connection to the world (ironically also a sort of disconnection) has given them a fear of missing out, meaning that being connected to social media has become critical in their everyday lives.
But there is much more to Generation Z, than social networking and technology.
Gen Z-ers’ most informative years have existed in a world post-9/11, most not remembering or having experienced relaxed security at airports, or a time before the ‘War on Terror’ or economic recession. This has given them a sense of social justice, philanthropy and maturity. Unfortunately, Gen Z has been given a bad rep by the media in the UK, often being portrayed as selfish, binge drinking, insensitive, badly behaved and out of control. (As if to prove my point, when I searched Google for figures of the number of people in the UK that are 20 or younger, the first page spits up statistics about smoking, binge drinking, drugs, unemployment, and STIs).
About 30.7% of the UK population is below the age of 24, and whilst there are some issues with disaffected youths in this generation, the majority are healthy, respectful, ambitious individuals who care about their education and the world around them. Nothing sums up better how many Gen Z-ers are feeling than this letter by a 16 year old girl written to The Times:
Sir, I am getting increasingly annoyed at the barrage of articles about teenagers, and the adults who keep trying to explain our behaviour (“Moods and meltdowns: what’s inside the teenage brain?, Mar 1).
I am 16 and a straight-A student, like most of my friends. We are not as irrational and immature as adults seem to think. We’ve grown up with financial crises and accept that most of us will be unemployed. We no longer flinch at bloody images of war because we’ve grown up seeing the chaos in the Middle East and elsewhere. Most of us are cynical and pessimistic because of the environment we’ve grown up in – which should be explanation enough for our apparent insolence and disrespect, without “experts” having to write articles about it.
Has no one ever seen that we are angry at the world we live in? Angry that we will have to clean up your mess, while you hold us in contempt, analysing our responses as though we were another species?
I would like adults to treat us not as strange creatures from another world but as human beings with intelligent thought – a little different from yours, perhaps, but intelligent thought nonetheless.
Stop teaching adults how to behave around us, and instead teach them how to respect us.
Kilmarnock, E Ayrshire
Why is all of this so important?
Well, mostly because Generation Z is growing up; they are entering adulthood and starting to have a serious effect on the economy, businesses, technology, media, and so much more, and their influence will only grow.
A study in New York discovered that up to 60% of Gen Z want to change the world or have some impact on the world, compared to 39% of Gen Y, with roughly a quarter of Gen Z-ers being involved in some sort of volunteering. They are much more entrepreneurial than previous generations, with the majority of Gen Z-ers interviewed saying they want to start their own business and be self-employed.
Possibly for these reasons, and a kind of ‘anyone-can-do-it’ attitude, they lack brand loyalty. More concerned with the product than the brand, they will quickly abandon a brand in favour of higher quality. This means that companies will have to rethink their brand and product strategies to always be at the forefront of their field, otherwise they will start losing a large and influential customer base. Their constant connectivity means that they know about things the moment they are happening, and a sort of prestige has developed around being the first to know and spread the word. Companies need to be reaching out to these people first, as the second they know about something, the rest of their network knows too.
But perhaps the most important thing is not to patronise this generation. They have grown up with more access to real world content than any generation before them, and have grown up with full, un-censored knowledge of what is happening in the world. The most important part of Jenni Herd’s letter to The Times is where she asks for youths to be treated as ‘human beings with intelligent thought – a little different from yours, perhaps, but intelligent thought nonetheless’.
It is this feeling that companies need to tap into if they want to be successful with this generation. Don’t be a ‘try-hard’, be genuine. Gen Z-ers know the difference, a skill they have been taught through their constant connection to the internet, they have learnt how to distinguish between the best brands and the top quality products, and the brands that are faking it, trying too hard or not authentic.
Gen Z-ers judge each product on its merits – Mashable used the example of two movies that were release in 2009, one based its marketing strategies on the fact that there were two well-known actors from popular movies, so therefore, this movie must be good. The other built its reputation through film festivals and small scale releases, until word of mouth took over. The first movie (called Year One) made just $62 million, the second (Paranormal Activity) made $193 million, with very little marketing. This goes to show that Gen Z-ers make their own judgements, and take quality over popularity, platform, production value or brand name. They have been described as ‘Curators’ because they collect or curate their own version of the world through what they wear, watch and read.
Finally, as this generation is so connected, it is important to generate (but not dominate or domineer) a conversation with Gen Z-ers. If you can do this effectively, word of mouth marketing will take over, and they will create a transparency around your brand (bad as well as good) that will help you develop and innovate to improve your brand and products and help your future success.
The QRi Team x