Do you ever wonder what is going on in the brains of younger members of society as they adopt and understand technology better and faster than any previous generation? They are so far ahead of the curve that by the time their predecessors, Millenials, catch up, the technology is passé. These are Generation Z, or iGen, born from 1995 to date. They are the most connected generation to date, and are driven and independent, hard-working and good at solving problems.
Their education is mostly tech-based, using smartboards, laptops, AI, and apps. Their social life is planned – and often carried out – online. They facetime, rather than skype, preferring Instagram and Snapchat to Facebook and WhatsApp. They understand the importance of online privacy and prefer to keep their interactions limited to their known friends (versus Facebook’s cyber friends). Connectivity shapes their lives and dictates how they interact. In fact, globalwebindex published a report in 2017 which suggests that Gen Zers spend around 52% of their daily online time on their phones, accounting for over 4 hours a day. Consequently, older generations regard them to be lazy and obsessed with social media, but they are clearly much more than that.
They stream TV programs and videos, rarely watching ‘live’ TV, living in their moment rather than being dictated to by schedules. They listen to music digitally and they vlog, or follow favourite vloggers. They are confident in their opinions and use YouTube to reach an audience with their own brand of thought leadership.
They take an interest in the world around them, and question the ethics and values of brands, especially if they are not aligned with their own. They have favourite brands and are highly critical when they underperform. Mention Apple’s latest iPhone creation, they know all about it, its functions, applications, Face ID technology, relative performance versus previous gen iPhone, OLED screen and on and on…They may want to keep their communications private but not their customer preferences. They want their thoughts and opinions to be listened to and given importance. All these are significant considerations to future employers and brands.
Brands need to engage directly with Gen Z and be sensitive to their concerns, such as caring for the environment, and respecting social and gender diversity. Content marketing directly to social sites, and personalisation is key to gaining their attention. This new generation have heightened awareness of brands and social memes. They have grown up with the Amazon approach to personalised online instant retailing, and although physical retail channels are still popular, most prefer to window shop on the High Street, then proceed to buy online. For many, high street brands are too predictable and prefer online sites that reflect their individuality, sharing their style with friends.
There are some conflicting findings about this new generation. Firstly, Gen Z are said to be more optimistic about the future and are resourceful and creative. Many are too young to remember Gulf War II, 9/11, July ‘05 London bombings, the introduction of university tuition fees, or the effects of the Recession, whereas the Millenial generation saw the fall of Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden, figureheads of terror. The new generation are witnessing the horror of ISIS and Syria, and the mass migration of refugees. For them, terrorism has always been around them, (according to Oxford Royale Academy study in 2018) and although they are keen to travel they are anxious about encountering extremism or conflict.
One of the most disturbing aspects of Gen Z is the sharp rise in reported mental health issues among young men and women. A greater number are seeking treatment for low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and self-harm than any other generation according to World Health Organisation statistics. Some experts put this down to the extent of connectivity on social media and feelings of low self-worth when they see friends enjoying themselves or attending parties that they haven’t been invited to. There is also the constant exposure to celebrity images and photoshop’d images of the body beautiful.
This is a generation of tolerance. They are more accepting of difference than previous generations and are more likely to know people who are openly transgender or gender neutral. They expect to be treated the same whatever gender they are or choose to be and dismiss gender stereotyping as irrelevant, as they do political correctness. Across the UK Gen Z and their friends are likely to be a mix of cultures and races, and culture stereotyping is also irrelevant.
We are still learning about these young adults and children, but it is clear that they are very different from their Millenial siblings and forbears. Their innate knowledge of all things digital and their easy adoption of new technology and artificial intelligence augurs great things for this new generation.