Defining a fluid generation
What makes a generation? The question itself has plagued marketers and philosophers alike, and defining generations has long been an obsession of society. Grouping disparate, complex groups into one mass serves as a living embodiment of the Gestalt principle.
As the millennial marketing train begins to show its first signs of slowing, we require a new cultural obsession. Emerging to take their place is Gen Z—those born from 1996 to the present. But the issue is that no one seems to know much about them, which is unsurprising given that the oldest members are only now beginning to enter the world of work and possess disposable capital.
What they will do as employees and consumers is therefore up in the air, a fact that is confusing business and marketing strategists across a range of sectors. In putting together a book on the subject, we have not only identified the trends that are influencing this generation, but also offer an alternative thought process on the very nature of generational studies.
Video: What You Don’t Know About Gen Z
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/ Their smartphones have given them greater intellectual freedom than any generation before, as they can instantaneously access every fact, opinion, and thought ever written down or recorded. This is evolving—not degrading—their critical-thinking skills, as the quick discovery of easy answers is alleviating their minds to explore deeper, more complex issues and problems. Gen Z has grown up with technology in a way that no previous generation has, and their declining critical thinking test scores are illustrative of outdated testing methods that don’t align with or anticipate the way the human brain naturally evolves alongside technology.
/ Gen Z-ers aren’t continuing the millennial trend toward collaboration. Instead, they see the world through an individualistic lens. Having lived through an era of media coverage that focuses on climate change, terrorism, economic crisis, and inequality, they are pushed toward self-preservation in a world that seems to offer them little security.
/ With Gen Z-ers spending increasingly large amounts of time “plugged in” to a growing number of social media platforms, it appears from the outside that this digital consumption is drawing people away from reality and toward fantasy. However, having grown up with Facebook in the background, they understand the limitations of social media better than anyone else. They therefore seek out platforms that allow for anonymity and authenticity, because those are the ones that allow them to drop the manufactured façade that is associated with social media.
/ As employees, Gen Z-ers will look for intellectual freedom and independent work. Having so much information at their fingertips has provided them with the confidence to seek out answers and solutions alone before collaborating on larger projects.
/ As consumers, Gen Z-ers aren’t abandoning physical goods in order to pursue pure experiences. Instead, having seen times of financial difficulty, they are looking for goods that they can quantify and derive meaning from, as opposed to the transient nature of experiences like traveling. They are also looking to blur the line between physical goods and experiences by shopping with retailers who create a transcendent shopping experience.
Creating without limitations
As Gen Z continues to develop and mature, their traits and trends will continue to emerge. However, waiting for these traits and trends to unfold so that you can produce a reactive strategy is inherently flawed. What we are advocating is for businesses to look beyond the data and see the real people they are hoping to bring on board as consumers or employees. Those looking to invent the future need to look beyond the limitations of generational boxes. Gen Z-ers see themselves as individuals, they have the technology to define themselves, and they want brands that respect that.
The answer to creating a strategy for Gen Z is to not look at them as Gen Z. The world has shifted away from mass production and unsustainable development. They are a generation caught between the seemingly juxtaposed forces of universal humanity and the desire for personalized services. By placing human-centered design that is accommodated by a multidisciplinary approach at the forefront of your organization, you can bring together these two forces in a way that makes your current and future consumers feel that they are working with a brand that doesn’t see them as a consumer, but as a person.
To learn more about Gen Z, check out our latest book.
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Download the first chapter