What marketers need to know about Generation Z

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For marketers, Generation Z is fast becoming the “it” demographic, the ones to watch and target. These consumers are the true blue digital natives, and they are already influencers on the economy, even though a good portion of them haven’t even come of age yet. But with so relatively little known about who they are and what they will become, what do we know about this generation, and how can marketers and brands adjust to engage with this growing force?

Generation Z is the age group born between the mid 1990s to the present day (depending on whom you ask). On the surface, 20-year-olds do not appear significantly different from its predecessor, Gen Y (also known as the Millennial generation, born in the early 1980s to the early 2000s). Both groups use social media, smartphone and internet technology as an integral part of their daily lives. Unlike the Millennials, however, Gen Z has not had to adapt to them.

“They’ve practically had it in their cradles,” says Wayne Roberts, president and chief creative officer at Blade Creative Branding.

Where the fundamental difference between these two generations lies is in the attitudes with which they view life. Millennials, as Pierre Battah points out, are thought to be entitled, narcissistic and overconfident. They are the “Me Generation.” But can the same be said of Gen Z?

Not so fast, says Brad Breininger, founding partner and strategist with Zync Communications Inc. “Everyone sees Gen Y as being entitled and lazy, and they’re pushing that onto Gen Z. But it’s less about that than that they’re coming at life from a different perspective … [Social awareness is] a big part of that generation because of social media. They’ve lived with social media through the early stages. They’re interested in social causes, and they’re looking to give back.”

The Cassandra Report, published by digital agency Deep Focus, cited Gen Zers’ ubiquitous use of technology as one of the four things to know about this group. The report highlights new data about how this age group relates to money and spending, brands and social media. According to the report (as summarized by Digiday), 51 percent of GenZers have a social media account, over 70 percent use their smartphones to (in order) take photos, text, email and take videos, and they spend an average of 10 hours a week online.

Despite this technological immersion, the New York Times reports that Gen Zers prefer in-person interaction over online, and that “they are being schooled in emotional intelligence from a young age.”

What does this emotional intelligence mean for branders and marketers interested in engaging with them? According to Wayne Roberts of Blade Creative Branding, “They will be more skeptical about brands, and will be looking for reliable content from them. They won’t assign loyalty easily, and they’ll bounce around from brand to brand, taking their time about deciding which brand they’re loyal to.”

This seems to be consistent with the three other qualities which the Cassandra Report identifies of Gen Zers: they know the value of money, they want the products and services they buy to be of benefit to them in some way, and they aren’t averse to being advertised to as long as there is a good story to be told in the process.

All positive findings. However, not to lavish unfettered praise on our youngsters, marketers need to be aware of a downside to this technological saturation, too. With such an overwhelming amount of content and messaging available, literally, in the palms of their hands, brands have a very small window of opportunity to capture Gen Z’s attention. Roberts says, “This is a generation which, for better or worse, has the attention span of a gnat, and their sense of loyalty is extremely difficult to capture.”

He warns marketers that Gen Zers are not interested in being served content on a schedule. “They’re looking at YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, all platforms where they can go and look at content at a time and place of their choosing.” And he urges smart marketers to “get [relevant content] pushed into as many social media platforms as you can. You must also know how to moderate the engagement you get on those platforms, otherwise you’ll be irrelevant.”

Along with this unscheduled content consumption comes wide-scale sharing. In the golden age of marketing (think Mad Men), it was the organization that chose what its brand was going to be, then served that message to unquestioning consumers. Today, this has changed thanks to social media, and with Gen Z’s fluency in this arena, this will only become more true with time.

Brad Breininger of Zync says, “One of the things we’re seeing is users defining an organization’s brand. Because of reviews and social interaction, you can say what your brand is all you want, but it’s the users that define it. The truth will come out.”

For smart marketers, Breininger recommends that you allow your Gen Z consumers to be a part of your story. Embrace them as co-creators of your brand, and adjust your messaging, your strategy, even your image, based on their collective view of it.

Generation Z is an exciting age group for marketers, and time will tell if the predictions about them come to pass. But from what this group is doing in these early stages, it’s safe to say that Gen Z is a generation poised to change what we know about our latest youth demographic, how we engage them with our marketing strategies, and the impact they have on our brand messaging.

Photo via Flickr, Creative Commons

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