Nowadays, it’s impossible to escape the generational labels thrust upon us by trend forecasters and market researchers. We are bombarded with tags which claim to categorise entire generations of people in simple slogans such as the non-conformist ‘baby boomers’ to the kale & quinoa cohort – dubbed the ‘millennials’. However, it is often a complex task to keep on top of the latest behavioural norms since consumer habits, lifestyle choices and cultural aspirations shift in the blink of an eye.
To bring this into context, the current trend appears to still be the reign of the millennials, but despite the long and impactful shadow of their vegan health-nut influence, they might already be an out-dated concept. From the ashes of Generation X they made their appearance but like every cohort before them, the time has come to give way to new ideals, fronted by ‘Generation Z’. Born from an unquestioned reliance on global connectivity, technology has allowed this generation to be socially conscious, independent, hardworking and pragmatic. It roughly encompasses children from 6 years old up to those barely even out of college and they’re said to be a generation of serious go-getters. The combination of their vast social networks and instinctive multinational awareness means that they will define their age by ground-breaking and aspirational entrepreneurship.
According to LSN, Generation Z are about to have a drastic impact on current retail and employment methods – the website calling them ‘the big disruptor of our time’. They’re predicted to grow into the single largest group of consumers worldwide in 5-7 years meaning that marketers and businesses will fall quickly behind if they fail to prepare, adapt and react to this powerful generation. Their impact remains to be seen but their potential is definitely threatening. To give you an idea of their identity, here are 5 fundamental things you need to know about Generation Z from their strong social focus to their low attention span.
Image source, Dazed
Ambition, confidence & creativity: entrepreneurship is in their genes.
Who comes to mind when you think of an entrepreneur? Chances are it’s one of the big guns: Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs. However, despite these technological giants, entrepreneurs also exist in the form of many young underdogs who are making their millions in secret: people like 10 year old Mikaila Ulma who started a lemonade business in her hometown of Austin, Texas. Using honey as a natural sweetener, her lemonade business grew into an ecologically sustainable drink and is now sold in 55 Wholefoods stores throughout the USA. Encouraged by educational institutions and parents, budding tycoons such as Mikaila train themselves using various technological aids such as educational online workshops and mobile apps. In Mikaila’s case, she also spent much of her free time doing internships. Of course, none of this would have happened without financial support but given supportive parents, these young, nimble and confident children can develop a strong sense of determination. According to research, 72% of this generation want to start their own company and 65% say they’re determined to achieve greater financial success than their parents. This emerging group of motivated and aspirational children mark a trend, which deserves serious attention from big businesses and marketers alike.
Deep-rooted social awareness
Generation Z have a thirst for education and a willingness to engage with environment and social issues. This underpins their distinction from the much-loved millennials. Growing up in a time of complex violence, terrorism and recession, they learnt that government responses and available job markets don’t provide enough stimulation for self-improvement. They themselves feel responsible for creating a better world in a holistic and expanded way, going beyond traditional forms of service such as volunteering. Their mantra is predicted to be an attempt to investigate the roots of a problem rather than hiding the symptoms. Coupling this drive with their innate entrepreneurial skill, their career goals will include making a positive impact by creating or inventing something which could result in a greater social good. Going back to Mikaila Ulma, despite her age, she already gives part of her lemonade profits to local and international organisations trying to save the honeybees. This bright, young spark has revolutionised social entrepreneurship and challenged the grandiose view we once had of millennials. Marketers need to be aware of not just their vision, but the way in which they will apply their dreams through pro-social ideals, sustainability and pragmatic innovation. This generation is primed for global control but also suitably aware of sustainability and ethical issues, rendering them powerful yet mindful consumers.
3. Social media and a digital reality
Generation Z were born with a phone in their hand, they can’t recall a time without social media. They learnt to zoom and swipe before they could walk and believe a day without social networking is a day without purpose. As a result, social media habits are noticeably different to those of the Millennial and this, in fact, is integral to their success. Applications of social media include reaching friends on multiple platforms, organising social and professional meetings alike, keeping up to date on major trends and, of course, making purchases. A major shift has been seen since the millennial’s ego-driven social media obsession, fretting over likes on their edited Facebook photos. Now, the focus is on content which is visually-engaging but also attention-grabbing. Applications such as Snapchat and Vine display this craze with their accessible but short-lived content appealing to instant gratification. Researchers suggest these platforms accurately mirror the spontaneity of teenage life. They also suggest it may be a more healthy way to use media for social engagement by relaxing the importance of achieving a ‘perfect identity’ and, instead, encouraging the development of individual expression. The clutches of the digital takeover also extend to schoolwork – through the uses of Google Drive, education through documentaries on Netflix or TED talks, but also the development of communication which is more visually concise through sending GIFS, Emoji’s, videos and pictures instead of words. Targeting these social habits and platforms determines a brand’s success, as Generation Z will no longer responds to traditional campaigns. Hence, marketers must be innovative with their methods of storytelling in order to appeal to an age defined by instant-gratification and the desire for information which is both succinct and engaging.
4. Fast thinkers - limited attention span
Research found that the average attention span of children in 2016 was eight seconds which has reduced from twelve seconds in 2000. Also, apparently 11% of those in this wonderfully inspirational generation show symptoms of ADHD. However, it’s not an attention problem per se. It’s more commonly thought of as an ‘adaptive filter’ which allows us to cope with the vast array of quick-fire information floods our attention nowadays. The children of Generation Z have been subject to 6 second Vines and one second Snapchats and, as a result, LSN claims they are able to process rapidly appearing content far quicker than their predecessors. However, this also means that information gets lost quickly. Peter Firth from The Future Laboratory suggests that marketers need to accommodate for this difficult generation through incorporating a ‘blink, share, laugh, forget’ mentality – wordy content will not be well-received by this generation. Clever marketing has been shown by companies such as ASOS who are reaching their audience by advertising through Snapchat, offering discount codes and product reveals. WWF also released a campaign called ‘The Last Selfie’ which displayed photographs of the most endangered animals in the world with captions such as ‘don’t get this be my last selfie’. This attempt to relate to the younger audience is becoming increasingly common in marketing but it is a sure sign of clever and adaptive marketing which should be a key consideration for businesses who rely on a ‘trendy’ customer base.
5. Multicultural generation
Finally, they have been raised in multiracial families that come in all shapes, sizes. They have seen same sex marriage evolve into a fundamental right not a terrible sin and they’ve seen the first African-American president as a fact of life not a historical breakthrough. Through their regular communication with people all over the world they have developed a strong sense of the idea that all human beings remain the same, regardless of where they live. Even the main media forms are helping this effort with Snapchat exposing daily routines of people all over the world. Generation Z are well on the way to bringing a diversity to consumers, employees and entrepreneurs which will impact entire generations and cultures. Brands need to learn to see the world through open eyes if they want the loyalty of this breakthrough Generation.
Whilst people claim marketers are making stereotypes, biases and preconceptions, one cannot deny that 12-year olds today are living differently to the ones back in 2000. Most importantly, this article gives a glimpse of the unique nature of this cohort but it’s now more important than ever to embrace and interact with this generation. Despite their youth, they are driven by achievement and will shape our future in a revolutionary way. All in all, marketers need to create ‘continuous dialogue’ which is fun, engaging, valuable and socially conscious in order to tailor products and experiences to this deceptively sophisticated audience.