Bye Bye Gen Y, Hello Gen Z


As a 22-year-old, I am on the cusp of a changing consumer group. Born in 1995, I am the youngest of Generation Y (millennials), and the oldest of Generation Z (Gen Z). Though these groups have similarities, they also have major differences in the way they experience technology, culture and the economy.

I’ve just graduated college and entered the workforce, and I’m starting to both make and spend money on my own. Gen Z is acquiring more than $44 billion in purchasing power and making up 25.9% of the population, the largest percentage in the U.S. By 2020, this generation will account for one third of the population. Because of this power, marketers need to know how to form a connection based on the five defining factors of Gen Z consumers.


1. Gen Z is cautious and realistic.

To many people’s surprise, Gen Z is probably more similar to older generations than millennials or Gen Xers. Gen Z is incredibly cautious when it comes to spending money. While idealistic millennials may spend money on experiences, realistic Gen Z is more likely to save for the future. This goes back to experiences with the 2008 recession and increasing student debt in our formative years. We were faced with financial realities early on, and therefore carry a risk-averse attitude to spending.

Gen Z is used to online shopping and expects a seamless experience to pick out each detail about what we’re purchasing. From its condition to specific measurements, we want all of this information at our fingertips in order to feel more confident in our purchases. We need positive digital opinions of the product as well as detailed return policies, warranties, brand assurance, and even a preference for free shipping before purchasing a product.

Gen Z is not just cautious about money, but also cautious of products themselves. We see this with everything from restaurants providing organic, gluten-free, vegan options, to companies advertising BPA-free water bottles. Companies that are advancing are marketing safety and health like never before, due to Gen Z and their parents avoiding any sort of risk or hardship after experiences like the recession.


2. Gen Z is the world’s first group of true digital natives.

I can remember life before cell phones and the sound of AOL dialup; however, as an older member of Gen Z, I’ve also known since high school what it’s like to take notes on my laptop and look up something quickly on my phone, while watching TV and Face-Timing a friend simultaneously.

Gen Z has grown up with six-second Vine videos, emojis that replace words and communication across the world with the click of a button. One study showed that nearly 92% of toddlers in the U.S. have a digital footprint. Many marketers make the mistake of criticizing Gen Z for not being able to focus, but the opposite is true. We’ve just learned how to focus on more things at once.

Marketers shouldn’t be so quick to assume that Gen Z is seeking a digital world to escape reality. Instead, we’re transcending reality. Interaction through digital platforms is considered just as meaningful as face-to-face interaction, and video games or virtual reality are real social experiences to us. Instead of fighting this change in personal interaction, marketers should continue to bring alternative reality experiences to life.


3. Gen Z has an 8-second attention span for advertising.

Gen Z has 12 seconds less of the attention span recorded in 2000, coming in at 8 seconds. Because of this, we seek “snackable” content, meaning we communicate in bite-sized messages. To reach Gen Z, content must become visually based, leaving text to a witty caption, headline, or replaced by an emoji.

Gen Z is also used to thinking spatially and in multiple dimensions, imagining how our fingers would move on a touchscreen. This is a huge opportunity for marketers to connect in a new way. With the creation of Snapchat filters, messages have become high-pitched, high-definition and high-speed. Morphed messages have become the standard, so marketers should think about how to navigate their campaign through multidimensional elements.


4. Gen Z is made up of teen entrepreneurs and brand managers.

In a time of uncertainty and changing norms, Gen Z has been coming up with accessible, creative options for our future.

Gen Z is more likely to consider non-traditional alternatives to college, like becoming content creators on YouTube or influencers on Instagram. In fact, about one-third of social media users between age 16 and 34 are influencers. Gen Z has grown up becoming brand managers, seeing every digital opportunity as a way to build our personal brands. Therefore, we’re getting an early start volunteering, partnering with companies and creating our stores online.

We’re also more entrepreneurial than millennials, with 72% of teens saying they want to start their own business someday. To reach an age group who knows they can do so much on their own from such a young age, marketers need to ask themselves what they can do that Gen Z can’t already do themselves. What’s their unique positioning or benefit?


5. Gen Z wants to form a relationship.

Lastly, to truly understand Gen Z consumers, marketers should understand how to form a relationship with us. Gen Z immediately rules out any sort of messaging that is clearly advertising. Instead, we want brands to “hang out” with us, forming an online friendship on social media. Promotions need to feel genuine, where the conversation flows two ways and the relationship is formed by choice, not thrown in our face. However, the online presence must make sense with the brand, or it’s a lost cause. As Amanda Gutterman, former VP of growth at digital media company Dose, said, “You don’t want to come onto a platform like Snapchat and be perceived as someone’s weird uncle trying to be cool.”


Most importantly, Gen Z is smart, realistic and adapting every day to a changing world.

As marketers embark on reaching this audience, they should make sure the conversation is as genuine as it can be, because that eight-second attention span can turn into two seconds really quickly. Gen Z can smell cheesy advertising from a mile away, so it’s important to stand out as a brand that not only understands, but also steers them in a direction that both mitigates risk and provides efficiency.

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