Just when we thought we understood the complexities of the Millennial generation, a new cohort of consumers is moving in to shake up the market once again. Generation Z—the group officially born between 1997 and 2014—is 60 million strong in the U.S. and growing, now even outnumbering Millennials by about 1 million.1 Though its characteristics are often mistakenly assumed to be the same as those of Millennials, Generation Z is proving to be much more dynamic and complex than we ever imagined.
As a member of Generation Z myself, I can attest to the fact that we are a diverse and multifaceted generation. A variety of factors have shaped our habits and perceptions of the world to be strikingly different from those even just a few years older than us. Some of these insights were surprising, even to me, but to successfully reach Generation Z as an audience, it’s important to understand what makes us tick.
Understanding the unique characteristics of this rising generation is a business imperative as we approach a new era of consumerism. As communicators, we know that the landscape is changing rapidly and so must our efforts for reaching the public. Let’s dive into a few of the generation’s most significant characteristics.
We Play It Safe:
Say what you will about the recklessness of youth, but this generation is not made of risktakers. We are almost entirely a post-9/11 generation. The tragic day that changed our nation’s history forever is not even a memory for those of us who were only toddlers at the time, but we still feel the effects. Growing up in this world of high-security has made caution and alertness second-nature. From our relationship with technology to our purchasing habits, we’re trained to use discretion and practice caution at all times.
Winning Strategy: We value our security and are naturally skeptical. Show us your brand is deserving of our trust and you’ll win our loyalty for life.
We Manage Our Money:
Growing up in the national financial crisis drastically changed the way Generation Z views money and finances. We watched our parents struggle through the recession and learned the value of money the hard way, which is why, though we’re young, we are fiscally smarter and more responsible than previous generations were at our age.2 For us, the pressure is on to start saving money and paying off student loan debt ASAP—sometimes even before we graduate. That’s why we are proving to be a frugal generation that loves to find a good value.
Winning Strategy: We value our money a lot, and we want to know the brands we invest in do too. Show us how your brand is giving us the best product or service for the best price.
We Want to Get Personal:
With so many cost-effective alternatives to brand names, many Gen Z’ers are saving cash by eschewing large corporations in favor of more boutique sellers. This trend doesn’t just come from our desire to save money, though; Gen Z’s wariness of the world spills over into the business sector, with more of us being skeptical of large brands than ever before.1 Smaller companies and start-ups appeal to our humanistic side because they are more personal, as it’s no longer the name that sells but the story. Generation Z is increasingly choosing sellers that value extreme transparency and offer a gripping narrative over brand-names—even, ironically, if that means paying a little more. And that’s why influencers are gaining traction in today’s market, too. We aren’t naïve and we know when we’re being sold to, so traditional ads pale in comparison to real people advocating for the brands they love. 2
Winning Strategy: We value authenticity and transparency, but even big brands can overcome this barrier. Show us your human side beyond the big name.
We Speak Tech and Think Globally:
Generation Z is also commonly referred to as the iGeneration, Gen Tech and Digital Natives, so it’s a given that we are the most digital savvy group yet. We are the first generation too young to remember dial-up or landline phones—technology is seamlessly integrated into our lives—but it has also shaped our worldview. Technology makes us more connected than ever, lending a global perspective that affects how we think, act and relate to other people.3 Our eyes—and hearts—are wide open to people of all backgrounds and walks of life, and we celebrate the human spectrum for all its differences.
Winning Strategy: We value diversity and individuality more than ever before, and we respect brands who do the same. Show us that your brand is inclusive and can see the bigger picture in today’s global world.
We’re Ready to Work:
With 2018 sending one of the first classes of Generation Z graduates into the workforce, those places of business will soon have to evolve to accommodate their new residents. Unlike Millennial job-seekers, who desire fun office spaces and unique careers, financial security is our top priority for seeking a job.4 Sure, we’d love to have added perks and a vibrant social community at work but, ultimately, we just want to know we’ll be making enough to pay the bills first. We are competitive, hard workers driven by money, but we also believe that passion and practicality can go hand-in-hand, meaning the dream job for us is both fulfilling and profitable. 4
Winning Strategy: We value hard work, and we want to do something meaningful. Show us a career that can fuel our passions and fill our bank accounts.