Like most of you, I’ve read dozens of articles over the past few years about millennials and how they differ from previous generations – as human beings, friends, family members, consumers and employees. But what about “Generation Z”, the generation born after millennials, generation X and baby boomers – who are emerging as the next big thing for market researchers, cultural observers and trend forecasters? Millennials are known as tech-savvy but aren’t great team players when it comes to the professional working world. Gen X-ers are entrepreneurial thinkers, but rank low on their presence in the executive arena. And last but not least, baby boomers are team players and loyal, but aren’t willing to adapt as easily as other generations.
Known as the next big retail disrupter, those in the Generation Z category have the “weight of saving the world and fixing our past mistakes on their small shoulders”. Primed to become the dominant youth influencers of tomorrow, they’re described as conscientious, hard-working and mindful of the future. While there are many clichés surrounding those in the Generation Z era, it is important to understand what this group of people views as important in life.
1. Daily Life: They want everything, everywhere at the snap of their fingers. Generation Z can surf on two screens simultaneously. Researching the newest technology items is no issue, but when paying for a song or film makes their nose stand up when they know they can get it for free. With the age range from 13-20; they receive all the latest trends and stories from social media – while finding the morals and thought processes from their elders lame and out-of-date. Fashion trends are found worldwide over the web, while they watch movies like “Hunger Games” and “Divergent” and listen to songs that make them want to “twerk”. When listening to Generation Z, their vocabulary is interspersed with acronyms that could be incomprehensible to other generations.
2. Their Friends: People from Generation Z find it easier to communicate online than in person, compared to other generations who find phone or in-person conversations more appropriate. Their friends or cohorts on social media platforms are as important to them as their friends in real-life, but sometimes they do actually meet up with those “virtual” pals. More than eight out of ten individuals are obsessed with social networks and more than half of them think that this is what a social life is considered to be. And not to mention, they actively seeking out potential mates on dating websites, as young as 16 years old.
3. Technology: Being the most web-savvy, app-friendly generation to date – Generation Z has been shaped by and is shaping technology and social media in very different ways from the millennial generation who geared toward Facebook and Twitter. This young group favors more personal, immediate social platforms like Snapchat rather than broadcasting their life widely and publicly for all to see. Social technology is embedded deeply within all aspects of their lives, remaking it to how they see fit for them. Technology has become a key marker of this generation’s identity – where communications are sent and quickly gone, as users move onto the next stream of communication. Unlike other generations, Generation Z finds it acceptable to use smartphones in social settings, and deems it appropriate to receive a smartphone at age 13. When it comes to online transactions, Gen Z respondents are concerned about the privacy and security when paying with credit or debit cards online, but have fewer qualms about using mobile pay apps like PayPal and Venmo.
The social media influence that generates headlines everyday is how much these platforms have a direct impact on how they feel about themselves. Debates have surfaced on social media and whether it is an empowering tool for young people, or destructive to their personal well-being. Regardless of the positives or negatives, it has shaped young people to use it as a primary outlet for peer-to-peer communication and has a way to achieve influence and get “celebrity” status. The format of choice will continue to evolve through each generation and right now, Generation Z has embraced the creative culture by developing their skills of innovative and original things to address.
4. Consumer Traits: Known as screen addicts with a very small attention span, Generation Z makes up for a quarter of the U.S population and by 2020, will be accounted for 40% of all consumers. Understanding them will be critical to companies wanting to succeed in the next decade and beyond. Their options are limitless, but not for long. Once something has demonstrated attention-worthiness, they will become intensely committed and focused. Even though most cannot drive or earn their own money now, they still have immense influence over what their parents purchase – like clothing, food, and technology. Their exposure to brands is greater, as they invested on visually stimulating platforms like Instagram and Snapchat – which pulls them in with eye-catching content, rather than just a clever, crafted marketing slogan. For companies, Generation Z presents a new challenge to evolve their communication strategies to compete with the ever-changing behaviors of generations. Targeting this specific generation will require multi-channel campaigns that deliver visual content that can be shared with millions of others. Messaging will need to be compact and tiny, with centering them at the intersection of all social media platforms if they wish to successfully engage with this audience. They won’t be bought over with flashy or “cutting-edge” tactics, but with honest messaging about how quality products will add value to their everyday lives.
5. Workplace: Not only is Generation Z starting to enter the workforce, but they will be the largest generation yet to exist, with some 60 million people. For those companies that are reaching baby boomer retirements, the oldest members of Generation Z can represent a new line of entry-level talent for companies. With the willingness to blaze their own path for success, their uncomplicatedness and high personal aspirations are likely to add great value to their employers, which are coupled with their high degree of self-motivation and entrepreneurial spirit. Global communication is the norm, with being fully prepared and adjustable to the idea of taking on worldwide challenges. The notion of Generation Z being more level-headed and financially responsible will help them further succeed in the workplace. Even though an average of 15 hours each week consists of being on their smartphones, they are fantastic multi-taskers – which is probably a product of them growing up in a world where connectivity is at their fingertips. Their entrepreneurial spirit recommends them to be in a workplace that allows for the following:
• Clear autonomy and significant purpose in their work
• Support for personal initiatives
• Flexible working conditions
Having leaders be open and honest with them will establish working conditions in where they will succeed and not hinder from being as successful as they can be. By shifting talent strategies to focus on the needs and wants of Generation Z, it will prepare them for taking the necessary steps to future-proof their retention in their workplace.
The futures of Generation Z are the children of the crisis, saying that they are stressed out by what they see as a bleak future, especially in terms of the economy and environment. But like any realistic generation regardless of age, they want to change the world and love the idea of giving back to those in need. The United States is becoming more multi-cultural on a daily basis, exponentially higher than previous generations. Facing challenges in life such as peer pressure, creating their own lives and forming their identities can be difficult and even more problematic in this ultra-connected and fast-moving technological age that doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon.