Move over Millennials, Generation Z now has purchasing power and is entering the workforce – with purpose.
We love labels; they make it so much easier to target, classify and tuck away into neat and tidy boxes. The word ‘Millennial’ conjures up celebrities and big shots such as Mark Zuckerberg, an entrepreneurial icon in a hoodie, the comedian Lena Dunham with her t.v. series about Millennial girls navigating the ‘real world’, Justin Bieber with his YouTube roots and frequent media coverage, and Beyoncé who needs no introduction as she is commonly referred to as ‘Queen B’. Millennials are thought of as entitled, lazy, and self-admiring.
Good news: Generation Z is the new and improved Millennial; tech-savvy, agile, pragmatic and conscientious. Market researchers are now salivating at the idea that Gen Z is coming into its own and have $44 billion in annual purchasing power in the United States alone. Gen Z outnumber Millennials by one million, totalling them at 60 million the U.S. alone. As for understanding them, they range in age from 5 to 21 years old making them difficult to define; the teens of today are more elusive than ever.
I’m [somewhat] teetering on the edge of Gen Y and Gen Z and can identify with elements of both — thankfully my attention span lasts longer than 8 seconds, reportedly that of a Gen Z individual and beating that of a goldfish (!). I hazily remember dial-up computers, VCRs, CDs, and tapes. My first big purchase with my allowance was the first iPod mini, now cast away as clunky and irrelevant. Gen Y may have grown up in the digital age but Gen Z are the true digital natives, not knowing life without social media and smartphones. They are burdened with the unfortunate inheritance of a world that is ripe with unrest, poverty, and global warming… it seems natural that they are more willing to take on the world’s problems and declare themselves as crusaders for such causes, improving the world — they simply have access to it through their smartphones. However, this sharp contrast that researchers and social commentators are making seems a bit too blunt for me.
We are consuming and pushing out content at lightning speeds. I can edit this document then post a photo on Instagram then simultaneously talk on the phone and scroll through my Facebook newsfeed — I would say I have my hands full but they’re just holding a smartphone. What makes Gen Z teens of today different than those of yesteryear are the ways in which they are interacting with brands and what they want from them. Sixteen-year-olds seamlessly weave in and out of Snapchat, Instagram, and YouTube in a matter of minutes. Although their ability to consume content is impressive, brands have to try and capture attention and keep it. Posting photos and minimizing text is the way to capture Gen Z’s attention.
BuzzFeed is a great example of successfully capitalizing on the ways in which teens and twenty-somethings are consuming content. Described as a social publication, BuzzFeed uses social media and publishing platforms the same way it uses its stand-alone website. BuzzFeed tailors content to each of these platforms, helping it reach 5 billion content views per month. The company’s success has derived from its ability to analyze the data from its content, and use that information to inform how it ‘creates and distributes the advertising it produces’. The internet company took the time to analyze what content actually worked on Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook in order to stay relevant in Gen Z minds which have ‘highly evolved eight-second filters’.
Even Gen Y is now absorbing and interacting with content in ways similar to their younger cohorts. However, unlike Gen Y, pragmatism defines Gen Z consumers. They are a self-reflective group that is optimistic about the future. Out of all age groups, Gen Z crave purpose in their work and hope to do well for the wider world. Research has shown they are more optimistic about change, whether this results from their age or upbringing by Gen X parents is unclear but they place high importance on ‘rehabilitating the world around them’; 90% support an inclusive society where diversity is highly encouraged. Reasons for this include the fact that they’ve grown up connected. Social media has been ever-present, thus expanded their horizons through their hand-held technology, helping them understand people of different ethnicities, religions, and sexualities.
Though they are young, Gen Z’s agility and optimism are things we can all take away. A simplified contrast to their Gen Y predecessors, they are do-gooders and fast-movers. More and more organisations are adopting ‘purpose’ driven business models and are seeing returns for doing so. People are rewarding companies that aim to do good beyond their bottom line. The Gen Z ethos is altering both consumers’ approach to brands and brands’ approach to consumers so it’s time to sit up and take notice of the new Millennials.