What Marketers Need to Know About Generation Z

Many readers of my blog are developing marketing initiatives aimed at youth, especially adolescents. If you thought that understanding and marketing to millennials was a big challenge, wait until you have to market to Generation Z

Over the past few years, marketers across all industries and categories have been obsessed with millennials — how to reach them and build meaningful connections with their brands. This captivating generation has a unique sense of self and a nontraditional approach to life stages, which has made marketing to them a challenge.

But perhaps even more challenging is the next generation on the rise — Gen Z. If marketers thought they threw out the playbook with millennials, they need to know that Gen Zers aren’t even playing on the same field. They are in a very different world. I have done a fair bit of research on this group and have read quite a few studies and articles. So here is the latest information on Gen Zers.

Gen Z consumers range from ages 2 to 19, though the target range for marketers lies from ages 11 to 16. Gen Z is the most diverse and multicultural of any generation. For example, in the U.S. — 55% are Caucasian, 24% are Hispanic, 14% are African-American and 4% are Asian. Canada with its very multicultural society has similar situation albeit with some different demographics.

Here is some information from a terrific article in Advertising Age. There are a few key beliefs native to Gen Z that marketers must understand. First, Gen Zers are the least likely to believe there is such a thing as the “American Dream.” They look for products and messaging that reflect a reality rather than a perfect life. Gen Zers simply don’t respond to traditional notions of beauty or a projected image of perfection like past generations have. They respond to independence and entrepreneurialism, self-direction and a spirit of ingenuity.

Millennials are the generation of customer service — such as the creation of the Apple Genius Bar — to solve problems at any moment. They design their own, unconventional paths, yet they anticipate consistent success (and hand-holding) along the way. Gen Z is a generation of highly-educated, technologically-savvy, innovative thinkers. They look for solutions on their own. They set out to make things on their own.

Marketers must create products/services and marketing that empower this group to be their best selves. They must also create places — locations, websites, online communities — where Gen Zers feel welcome walking in and logging in, and feel just as wonderful walking out and checking out. Organizations that offer programs and services and an experience that help Gen Zers define and express their individuality and lifestyle will succeed with this group.

Millennials grew up with computers in their homes. But Gen Z is the first generation born into a digital world. They don’t know a world without PCs, mobile phones, gaming devices and MP3 players.

They live online, sharing details of their lives across dozens of platforms and dictating what they like and dislike with a tweet, post or status. And Gen Zers expects to virtually engage with their favorite products in doing so. So products can’t simply “embrace technology” as millennials have. They must act digitally native, too, creating a seamless and strong overarching brand experience across digital and mobile. To reach Gen Zers, it is paramount to reach them through two-way conversations, which are initiated online. An authentic digital and social presence as well as a slew of complimentary digital experiences in which Gen Z fans can engage with and share their brand allegiance is perhaps the best currency a marketer could generate.

Generation Z is open-minded and adaptable, not a group known for fixed opinions or inflexibility. Organizations that build careful marketing strategies that connect with the values of the younger set and offer a better digital experience online will be successful among this new, young, powerful generation.

Here is some important marketing intelligence on Gen Zers from CMO.com. Gen Zers are entrepreneurial and resourceful, courtesy of growing up during a recession. Marketers will need to take all of this into account when shaping their strategies for this group. Note these are US stats but are applicable to the Canadian market.

  1. Consumers 19 and younger prefer social networks like Snapchat, Secret, and Whisper, and a quarter of 13- to 17-year-olds have left Facebook this year.
  2. Gen Z are adept researchers. They know how to self-educate and find information. 33% watch lessons online, 20% read textbooks on tablets, and 32% work with classmates online.
  3. Whereas Millennials use three screens on average, Gen Zers use five: a smartphone, TV, laptop, desktop, and iPod/iPad.
  4. The average Gen Zer has the attention span of about eight seconds. They have grown up at a time when they’re being served media and messaging from all angles, and have adapted to quickly sorting through and assessing enormous amounts of information.
  5. Gen Z shares the entrepreneurial spirit of Millennial innovators: About 72% of current high-schoolers want to own their own businesses, and 76% hope they can turn their hobbies into full-time jobs.
  6. Gen Zers are do-gooders; they want to make a difference in the world. 60% want their jobs to impact the world, 26% of 16- to 19-year-olds currently volunteer, and 76% are concerned about humanity’s impact on the planet.
  7. 58 % of Gen Zs are either somewhat or very worried about the future.
  8. 79% of Generation Z consumers display symptoms of emotional distress when kept away from their personal electronic devices.
  9. 55% of those 18 years of age and younger would rather buy clothes online, and 53% would rather buy books and electronics online.
  10. 42% of Gen Zers follow their parents influence, compared to just 36% of Millennials.
  11. Generation Z consumers spend 7.6 hours per day on average socializing with friends and family.

The Hamilton Spectator had an excellent article on Gen Zers with some very interesting information . With the oldest members of this cohort barely out of high school, these tweens and teens of today are primed to become the dominant youth influencers of tomorrow. Flush with billions in spending power, they promise untold riches to marketers who can find the master key to their psyche. Lucie Greene, the worldwide director of the Innovation Group at J. Walter Thompson, calls them “millennials on steroids.”

While it is easy to mock the efforts of marketers to shoehorn tens of millions of adolescents into a generational archetype, à la the baby boomers, it is also clear that a 14-year-old now really does inhabit a substantially different world than one of 2005.

Millennials, after all, were raised during the boom times and relative peace of the 1990s, only to see their sunny world dashed by the Sept. 11 attacks and two economic crashes, in 2000 and 2008. Theirs is a story of innocence lost. Generation Z, by contrast, has had its eyes open from the beginning, coming along in the aftermath of those cataclysms in the era of the war on terror and the Great Recession, Greene said.

No question Millennials were digital; their teenage years were defined by iPods and MySpace. But Generation Z is the first generation to be raised in the era of smartphones. Many do not remember a time before social media. They are the first true digital natives, they 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 their iPhone.” “Generation Z takes in information instantaneously, and loses interest just as fast.” “We tell our advertising partners that if they don’t communicate in five words and a big picture, they will not reach this generation,” said Dan Schnabel, the managing partner of Millennial Branding, a New York consultancy.

So far, they sound pretty much like millennials. But those who study youth trends are starting to discern big differences in how the two generations view their online personas, starting with privacy.

Generation Z tends to be the product of Generation X, a relatively small, jaded generation that came of age in the post-Watergate, post-Vietnam funk of the 1970s, when horizons seemed limited. Those former latchkey kids, who grew up on Nirvana records and slasher movies, have tried to give their children the safe, secure childhood that they never had, said Neil Howe, an economist and the coauthor of more than a dozen books about U.S. generations.

Finally, a very informative article comes from Canada’s Macleans Magazine . Much of the current chatter surrounding Gen Z has been generated by the 56-slide presentation “Meet Generation Z: Forget everything you learned about Millennials,” produced by New York City advertising agency Sparks & Honey. It found that 60 % of Gen Zers want jobs that had a social impact, compared with 31 % of Gen Ys. It deemed them “entrepreneurial” (72 % want to start their own businesses), community-oriented (26 % already volunteer) and prudent (56 % said they were savers, not spenders). Gen Z is also seen to be more tolerant than Gen Y of racial, sexual and generational diversity, and less likely to subscribe to traditional gender roles.

Other studies paint them as the new conservatives. A Centers for Disease Control survey of 13,000 high school students released in June reported that teens smoke, drink and fight far less than previous generations (though they’re more likely to text while driving). “Overall, young people have healthier behaviours than they did 20 years ago,” reported study coordinator Dr. Stephanie Zaza, who noted that use of drugs and weapons and risky sex have declined since the study began in 1991.

The influential author and consultant Don Tapscott is a Gen Z optimist. His 2008 book, Grown Up Digital, features a study of 11,000 kids who were asked whether they’d rather be smarter or better looking: 69 % chose “smarter.” So is social researcher Mark McCrindle, of Sydney-based McCrindle Research, who has been looking at Gen Z for seven years. “They are the most connected, educated and sophisticated generation in history,” he says. “They don’t just represent the future; they are creating it.”

Their defining characteristic, so far, is that they’re a new species— “screenagers,” the first tribe of “digital natives.” The result could well be the most profound generation gap ever: a digital divide between parents who see the Internet as disrupting society as we know it (and making them feel obsolete) and their kids, who are not only at home with the technology— “it’s like air to them,” Tapscott says—but are already driving many of the shifts happening in how we communicate, the way we access information and the culture we consume.

Gen Z are bellwethers, says McCrindle: “Where Gen Z goes, our world goes.” What that portends is seismic social disruption and the commensurate anxiety. “This is the first time in history kids know more than adults about something really important to society—maybe the most important thing,” says Tapscott. “[It’s] a formula for fear.” Despite this tension—or perhaps because of it—expectations for a generation have never been higher. Forbes has dubbed Gen Z “Rebels with a cause.” The Financial Times posed the question: “Generation Z, the world’s saviours?” Tapscott says Gen Z doesn’t have a choice: “My generation is leaving them with a mess. These kids are going to have to save the world literally.”

Gen Z is “a global experiment,” says McCrindle. “A magazine is an iPad that doesn’t work.” One experiment showed a little girl sliding her finger in frustration over a glossy fashion magazine as if it’s an iPad.

Sparks & Honey reports that reliance on mobile devices has led to kids having poor spatial skills and trouble navigating streets without GPS; hours spent in front of screens puts them at increased risk for obesity. If you define a generation too early, “you’re really looking at the way their parents are operating, not who they are,” says Robert Barnard, CEO of Toronto-based Decode, a company that provides data on youth. Still, he argues that the older end of any demographic tends to be an early influencer or indicator of a generation’s values. He also makes a distinction between broad “generational traits” and “life-stage traits” consistent across generations.

Entrepreneurship is also a big buzzword: in a world where full-time jobs and pensions are in decline, it’s a glossy way of saying Gen Z is on its own. According to the Sparks & Honey survey, this cohort places less value on higher education (64 per cent want advanced degrees, compared to 71 of Gen Y). In response, universities have replaced the emphasis on the now-dated corporate M.B.A. with “entrepreneurial hubs.” Technology is seen as the great generational divide here, but if there is a pan-generational leveler, paradoxically, it’s technology, and the fact we’re all equally hooked; adults are just addicted to older, in some cases obsolete, technologies.

The most active people on Facebook, Barnard notes, are 30- to 40-year-old women; their children use Slingshot or Tumblr. (Sparks & Honey noted Gen Z places greater value on privacy than Gen Y, because it chooses anonymous, ephemeral communication tools such as SnapChat, Secret and Whisper, although the bigger appeal of these technologies may just be that they’re newer.)

The “don’t trust anyone over 30” mantra espoused by youth in the 1960s has gone full circle: now no one trusts anyone over 20.

Let me know what you think and good luck marketing to this illusive group.

Monday, June 13: 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

This workshop has been designed for leaders involved in communications and outreach strategies. It will be very relevant if you are influencing attitudes and behaviours to improve health, prevent injuries, protect the environment, prepare citizens for emergencies, or any other current critical issues.

By attending this workshop, you will save countless hours of planning time and learn proven techniques for launching a successful campaign to change attitudes and behaviours. You will learn how you can develop a social marketing strategy on your own, all in one day!

You will learn:

  • How to use a step-by-step, structured approach to prepare a social marketing plan that is actionable, has maximum impact, and leads to successful implementation;
  • How to present and “sell” your social marketing strategy to management;
  • How to implement a social marketing program on a very tight budget;
  • How to monitor and evaluate your inputs/outputs, outcomes and impacts;
  • How social marketing gives you a single approach: for mobilizing communities; influencing the media; activating key stakeholders; and building strategic alliances with business.

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