– By Unmesh LamtureFollow @unmesh_12
Gen X created the digital revolution, Gen Y molded it, and Gen Z was born into it. Who are they? Depending on whom you ask – they are the generation aged 5-19 years, born roughly between 1996 and 2009.
They are incredibly different from their predecessors. Unlike Gen Y, they are not approaching adulthood at the time of a great paradigm shift; rather, they fell right into it. While Gen Y witnessed gradual changes in devices and connectivity, Gen Z has been using touch-screens and high speed internet since they were old enough to understand these devices. Just as Gen Y took television for granted, Gen Z takes iPhones and constant connectivity for granted. It is simply the norm that they are used to. Trained with the tactile feel of swipe-pinch-zoom in their formative years – digital is now an inseparable, inescapable part of their lives.
It is for this reason Gen Z will be responsible for a change in not only how brands speak to customers (already began with Gen Y), but also in the way organizations conduct their businesses.
What are the characteristics that make Gen Z so peculiar?
- Shorter attention spans: Research suggests that Gen Z brains are able to process more amounts of information at higher rates, and are mentally agile in solving tougher mental challenges. As a side effect, attention spans are getting shorter, and retaining Gen Z’s attention is proving to be a challenge.
- Snack media and visual learning: They eschew continuous text based conversations of their predecessors and prefer discontinuous, network based conversations available in short bursts, especially of image and video. Mobile social networks like Tumblr and Instagram, and messaging apps like Snapchat are very popular with them. They show an affinity to consuming information in bite-sizes, with an overwhelming preference for visual media. Their heroes are celebrity vloggers and Snapchat users.
- Realists:They are far more realistic than the optimistic Gen Y. They grew up in a time of economic instability, environmental turmoil, and global terrorism. This doesn’t make them fearful, but they are more globally aware and responsible (60% want their job to impact the world, and 76% care about the impact of humanity on our planet). They want products and messaging that reflects reality rather than a fictitious perfect life. Such a “flawless, carefree, perfect world” doesn’t cut ice with Gen Z.
- DIY culture:They are very entrepreneurial, far more so than Gen Y, and more likely to create online than to merely share. 76% want their hobbies to turn into full time jobs (50% for Gen Y), and in true spirit of their pragmatism, 71% expect to experience significant failure before achieving success, and nearly 40% say they see failure as an opportunity to try again. According to the ‘Winter/Spring 2015 Cassandra Report: Gen Z’ by digital agency Deep Focus, 62% Gen Z respondents want to start their own company, and 89% spend free time productively, learning something or honing a skill, rather than just hanging out with friends. 42% have actively worked on some craft, versus 25% of Gen Y at that age.
So, what does this mean for organizations and how they conduct their businesses?
Gen Z has had access to technology and a trove of information since their birth, and that gives them immense confidence. They show greater signs of being independent, and willing to cut loose. They can process information quicker, yet have shorter attention spans. They are unlike any force faced by companies before, already exerting a significant influence on business. In less than a decade, they will begin to exert a considerably greater amount of influence when they begin to earn and spend for themselves.
Marketers will have their hands full creating new kinds of multi-channel campaigns – with stories told across screens, visually led by images and videos, more participatory in their storytelling, and shareable, with content co-creation being a key driver. These campaigns must be centered in the golden middle of the social-mobile-local triangle. Bear in mind that for Gen Z, mobile is the preferred device of interaction, even more so than the TV.
Further, content needs to be instantly consumable. Think “snack media.” The messages must be ephemeral and real-time. Think about the brands that had fun with Twitter in the Football World Cup after the Luis Suarez biting incident.
Lastly, you cannot overestimate the importance of user generated content (UGC). The more practical Gen Z wants to see transparency and honesty in marketing campaigns. 67% want to be engaged by real people, and 63% want to see real people in ads rather than celebrities. Take this real world scenario: A young girl is browsing through Instagram photos of other girls like her wearing Zara clothes. Is she more likely to be influenced by these photos, or photos of impossibly beautiful models in a fancy, expensive ad?
Corporate branding strategies will need to evolve to target not only potential customers, but potential employees as well (when Gen Z is of age, and many of them almost are). Merely hiring a PR agency to dole out a set agenda to the public will not do. The reality within corporates is often different from the image they project, and in today’s digitally connected world, it would not be difficult for a potential employee to garner an independent opinion on what it is like to work for you.
In this regards, Google and Virgin are great at telling stories about how cool it is to work for them. Real, honest stories are the way to Gen Z’s heart. You must also appeal to their caring side, and show that your organization cares for the environment and the community, and not just profits.
Gen Z is expected to be more pragmatic than millennials, realizing that opportunities aren’t boundless and that they need to master in-demand skills. They are largely independent, and need to be treated so. Management policies may have to be changed in certain companies, but the results of freeing them to learn and prove themselves are potentially great.
They tend to digest information faster through visual media. Remember, they will have issues concentrating, so training and other such material will have to be redesigned to be consumed in small portions in engaging, multimedia formats.
However, owing to their ability to quickly master technology, they may prove more adept at face-to-face communication than Gen Y. They are constantly connected by Skype or Google Chat to finish class assignments, or linked by video during multiplayer video-game play. Although the interaction is virtual, it is still visual and not simply text or voice based. They will be more than comfortable moving from in-person to video-bridge communications and back again.
For Gen Z, collaboration is considered a critical part of supporting business innovation. This ethos extends to the behind-the-scenes aspects of businesses as well. How can businesses work together with suppliers to meet Gen Z’s demands without compromising market position or significantly increasing risks?
For Gen Z, buying decisions are more likely to be driven by value for money or a supplier’s specific value-added proposition. The modern supply manager can use the plethora of online resources and communication methods to identify and establish mutually beneficial partnerships. Companies therefore need to be open about their strategic future up front to make the partnership a collaborative one from the onset. In this way, businesses will find it easier to adopt innovative online processes that allow for the sharing of more real-time data that can drive efficiencies to meet Gen Z’s demands, such as customization of products.
Gen Z Consultation and Talent
Gen Z has its own cultural references and cultural context in which they operate, and it can be difficult to wrap one’s head around all of it. They use media in completely different ways. My friend tells me that for him, 9gag is not merely a source of entertainment but a source of world news as well (admittedly, he’s from Gen Y).
But, could there be a place in brand teams or boardrooms for a Gen Z spokesperson? After all, who knows that arena better than someone who is on the battle field day in and day out, literally living and breathing that stuff? Every device and platform is their playground.
Some brands have already caught on to this and are leveraging the clout of bona fide Gen Z stars. Marriot and Disney use Snapchat star Shaun McBride. In February this year, Twitter bought Niche, a digital talent agency for social influencers. Hewlett-Packard has embraced influencer marketing, leveraging the work that such an influencer does by virtue of his or her own passion, not because the brand has told them to. Truly, it becomes a mutually beneficial, collaborative relationship.
It’s clear that brands and organizations will have to change the way they handle this most peculiar sect, Gen Z. It is inescapable… they are coming up fast.
Gen Z are as practical as they are distractible. They are as passionate as they are independent. They have potential and so much to offer, if you let them. For such a generation that truly believes in the spirit of collaboration, it is up to brands and organizations to either throw up their hands in despair saying they just can’t understand these kids, or take the step to work with Gen Z in finding a mutually beneficial solution.
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