A lot has been written about Millennials, those "kids" who came of age around the turn of the century. Also known as Generation Y, they are the current leaders of today's emerging technology. Not surprisingly, they are also targets for marketers trying to get their attention about products ranging from beer to health food to cars.
Some marketing experts are also looking ahead to Generation Z-the generation which not only grew up with computers but with digital technology at their tiny fingertips. I recently read this very interesting article by Ruth Bernstein, who runs an "image marketing agency," in AdAge.
What Distinguishes Generation Z From Millennials?
It's a little early to make too many solid observations about Generation Z since the cohort is defined as those ages 2 - 19. We can safely say the youngest ones are losing teeth and most likely have temper tantrums when their parents take away the iPhone 6 to answer a call.
Looking at what this generation is experiencing, and is likely to continue experiencing, we can observe this:
- This is the most diverse generation in the US. Bernstein notes nearly a quarter will or already identifies as Hispanic and 55% as Caucasian. Almost 15% will identify as African-American, although this group does overlap with Hispanics. Four percent are expected to identify as Asian, although this is such a broad demographic chances are it will be better defined in the future.
- Many will grow up understanding real hardship. One in five US children rely on food stamps and free or reduced school lunches. According to the Children's Defense Fund, the US has the second-highest poverty rate among the 35 developed nations. You can scold their parents all you like, but this generation won't be easily persuaded when they must have the latest and greatest consumer product or go on a fabulous cruise when 20% will recall how hard it was for their parents to put food on the table and pay the rent.
- They may grow up to be highly cynical and less likely follow a leader. As this generation moves through middle school and beyond, they are observing the decidedly harsh language around them. Certainly the traditional leaders previous generations accepted and even venerated will have a harder time to get these kids to listen, much less follow, their dictates.
Younger Millennials are probably very familiar with these scenarios. Witness the number of college graduates working sales jobs and living with their parents. Unless the economy makes a drastic improvement, and quickly, the Gen Y/Z cohort will be very hard to persuade abut the value of anything that isn't a life necessity. Don't expect them to embrace credit cards and long-term debt.
How Will We Communicate With Gen Z?
I don't think it's an accident that "transparency" has become a hot topic in marketing and I'm certain many of us feel it's about time.
Marketing is evolving from talking points to an honest discussion. Gen Z is not only going to demand honesty, but require a personal connection to be persuaded toward a point of view, a purchase, or decision.
I agree with Bernstein that Gen Z won't be rigid, just cautious and maybe have a healthy skepticism earlier generations lacked. I think their experience-particularly those growing up under the hardships of unemployed/underemployed parents-will make them far more open-minded then their older siblings watching Fox News or MSNBC.
Bernstein and Julia Glum, writing for the International Business Times, both agree this generation will be digital in its outlook. Mobile devices will remain their BFFs. But as Glum points out, this generation is not just tech-savvy; they will want to be treated like partners rather than customers to get in and out the door. This will certainly be a challenge to future sales teams, while marketers will have to be very careful to avoid making assumptions about their knowledge and capabilities.
Finally, this generation will be socially alert, much like the younger Y Generation preceding them. They will probably follow these Millennials' voiced preferences to work for businesses with strong community service connections. Like everyone before them, they have their own sense of humor I'm just starting to understand myself. If you plan to interact with a Gen Z'er, just be yourself or you'll risk getting switched off.
Editors' note: Interested in this topic? Join us in Atlanta for The Social Shake-Up where we'll have a panel on "Will Generation Z Be Reachable on Social? How to stay relevant with the social generation." Buy your pass here.