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Ready for Generation Z?

By May 10, 2018July 22nd, 2021Branding, Business, Strategy

As marketers, we simply must be ready to greet Gen Z and the significant differences in their collective consumer behavior.

Ready for Generation Z?

Ready for Generation Z? They’re Ready for Anything.

We’re all highly focused on millennials right now – and rightly so because they’re affecting everything from social media to life in the workplace to multi-generational living.  But it’s time to shift some attention to Generation Z and welcome them with open arms.  To clarify, everyone born after 1995 is part of Gen Z, and based on all the research (as well as my own observations), they’re ready to take over the world.

Robert Allan Paul’s recent post We’re all Millennials Now pointed out how much technology has changed every adult and our collective consumer behavior.  What it didn’t mention is how drastically different we all are from the next generation in line to inherit the American marketplace.

For the record, many millennials are motivated and successful.  Many of them work in great places like Modern Impact.  Yet, we continue to hear accounts of millennials still living with their parents or unable to find that perfect job that “contributes to their sense of self.” If hearing one more such story is likely to send you over the edge, then the research on Gen Z should sound pretty refreshing.

Robert’s blog also suggests that even Boomers are much like millennials when considering the brands we love and way we respond to advertising: “…when it comes to that famous sense of entitlement and frivolous overspending. Not by millennials, mind you, but by their parents.” In other words, Mom & Dad are really the ones to blame for America’s longstanding sense of entitlement.

Y vs. Z

Carpool Consumer Research

Thankfully, not everyone gets a Participation Trophy anymore.  In fact, not long ago my daughter got one at a local sports event and threw it in the trash because, in her words, she “didn’t earn it and it was a stupid idea to give them out.”

What I’m hearing from my own little focus group (i.e., my kids and their friends on the way to lacrosse practice) is awesome.  Things like, “I want to go to an I.B. (International Baccalaureate) high school so I can get into Stanford.”  And “I want to work for NASA, so I’m going to start focusing on aerospace engineering in high school.”  And, “I can’t go crazy in college because I’ll need to focus on my grades.” In other words, they’re placing responsibility for their ultimate success squarely on their own shoulders.

I’m not the only one hearing this stuff. There are several studies on the topic and all of them seem to come up with the same conclusion: Gen Z is coming on strong – to work hard, to multi-task, to over-achieve and, perhaps, to save the rest of us.

What Gen Z Demands from Us

As marketers, we simply must be ready to greet Gen Z and the significant differences in their collective consumer behavior.  According to George Beall’s recent article for, there are eight key differences between the Millennial and Gen Z mindset.  To paraphrase, this next generation demonstrates:

Woman scrolling on photo

Less Attention & More Multitasking – Gen Zs seem to process information faster and do more things at once, because they’ve been doing that all their lives. Which leads to shorter attention spans (not great for marketers) and increased workplace productivity (good for employers).

Better Skills & Higher Expectations – Gen Z knows nothing of a world without technology. It’s just a given. They expect things to work, correctly and quickly. If they don’t, something must be wrong (and it’s nothing they did). With 40% identifying themselves as “digital device addicts,” think about how this will change the way we advertise. IPTV and on-demand are already taking over the way they consume entertainment and will only increase. The good news is I’ve seen this desire for on-demand performance transfer into higher expectations of themselves, as well.

Early Initiative & Entrepreneurial Spirit – Gen Zs also believe if they can get it done themselves in a more efficient manner, they should go ahead and try. Their “highly networked world” makes them more independent thinkers and more likely to start their own businesses (with flexible work environments).  Predictions are that more Zs will go straight into the workforce and opt-out of traditional higher education. Online schools (like Steve Wozniak’s WozU) will become a much bigger category, as students seek to reduce debt – and multi-task, of course.

Individuality & Global Acceptance – Beall’s article states that “nearly 92% of Gen Z has a digital footprint.” Since they’ve had the world at their fingertips their entire lives, they’re also more global in their thinking. The brands and people they follow are often from all walks of life and all schools of thought; compelling them to see Uniqueness as something positive. My carpool focus group is no different. There is no tolerance for intolerance, and they readily call people out for being judgmental.  Embracing diversity and other cultures just comes naturally to them.

More Consuming & Less Couponing – While millennials care more about sales and bargains because they were raised during a recession, Zs are more interested in getting exactly what they want, when and how they want it. And although we’ve seen it with every generation since Xers, Gen Z is almost uber-averse to advertising of any kind unless the message is personally

In other words, if we had to create a consumer personality for Gen Z as a whole, the three most critical traits would likely be greater independence and a belief they can do things on their own; an unwillingness to take “no” for an answer or accept poor service from anyone; and a deep disdain for restrictions, exclusions or lack of freedom.

Ring a bell? It does for me and I can’t help seeing similarities between this new generation and another one these young consumers never knew; those whom we commonly refer to as “The Greatest Generation.”  Given the three key characteristics above, it’s clear that marketers are going to have to become far more nimble, flexible, global, inclusive and responsive.

Man smiling and typing on phone

Technology to the Rescue

Fortunately, marketing tech is advancing even faster than the speed at which Gen Z adopts everything digital.  Tools and systems (like Modern Impact’s Intelligent Pixel® platform) allow marketers keep up with Gen Z’s ever-evolving, multi-tasking personalities to serve them highly personalized, relevant content right when and where they want it.  Then these platforms leverage real-time analytics and machine learning that create more effective messaging and look-alike audiences that expand the Gen Z audience and enhance their response.

Global reach with limitless message personalization and diversity. It’s almost as if we let some Zers design the whole thing themselves.

Building on a Changing Mindset

On a personal note, I find the growing focus on acceptance and individuality a refreshing change from the world in which I was raised.  We’ve seen schools and businesses alike help kids to develop real confidence they can do anything if they work hard.  More of our youth – and young girls in particular – are being encouraged to consider STEM-related fields and believe they have every right to succeed. The Gen Zs I know are not only completely confident that they can be who they want to be, but are eager to start now.

So, we’ll need to adapt.  Again. To speak succinctly and respectfully. Anything that could be considered condescending or coddling will be shunned (and should be).  Brands that choose to provide personally useful information in just the right way at just the right time will be the brands that win Generation Z and all that these little go-getters are bound to earn for themselves.

And I, for one, can’t wait.

Cam Campbell

Author Cam Campbell

Yes, that’s really her name and, no, her parents aren’t cruel – she married into it. After 30 years navigating the traditional and digital advertising space, Cam joined ModernImpact to become our Chief Content Strategist. But she’s not just about creating content, she’s focused on metric-driven marketing messages with underlying, clever wit (when applicable). Working from our Denver office, she’s a master at Slack and video conferencing; working so closely with her MI colleagues she can smell the creativity streaming all the way from the Minneapolis office. Join Cam on her ever-evolving adventure through Marketingland (and ocassionally Mothertown and INeedSomeWineville).

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