Generation Z: Who are they and what do they want?

Gen Z, iGen, the Kylie Jenner-ation — call them what you want, gen Z are here. But who are they?

Eager, with an early-starter mentality, they’re entering the workforce already. Their understanding of technology and disruption of standard marketing practices liken them to millennials, but are they really that similar to their generational cousins?

We’ve broken down who they are, what they like, and what it actually means to be gen Z.

Who are gen Z?

There are conflicting reports on when gen Z actually starts but compared to millennials, who were reaching adulthood around the millennium, gen Z are considered to be born from 1995 and into the noughties. While most of gen Z are still suffering from the hormones that come with being a teenager, the oldest of them are reaching adulthood and will soon be infiltrating the workplace, so take note. Apparently, they’re the most influential generation to date.

Making up 25% of the U.S. population — bigger than baby boomers, gen x, and millennials — gen Z is also the most racially fluid. In fact, they will most likely be a majority non-white population. They’re diverse, which makes them adaptable and with a greater understanding of change. Generation X had a confused identity, heightened by the fact they remain as ‘the forgotten generation’. Millennials have a much clearer sense of identity, disruptive and fraught with anxiety as it is. Gen Z’s identity, on the other hand, is decidedly mixed.

But with the good comes the bad. Stereotyped as being glued to their phones with short attention spans, gen Z are the digital natives who are more connected than ever before. They are more likely to go to university and be politically active; they are keen on social justice, are engaged with the economic world, and apparently, are plagued by stress.

The real digital natives

One of the most defining factors of gen Z is how they use the internet. According to stereotype, baby boomers don’t understand the internet. Gen X created it and millennials developed it, but gen Z can’t imagine a life without it. They don’t remember a time when you would have to stop chatting to your mates on MSN if your mum wanted to make a call, or that they weren’t curating their lives on social media. 53% of teens think social media has had the biggest impact on the lives of their generation, and 69% admit they think they are more addicted to technology than older generations.

Snapchat is, of course, the platform of choice, with the majority of its users being gen Z. 71% of Snapchat users are under 34 years old and 45% are aged between 18-24. According to a study by Awesomeness TV, 68% of gen Z use Snapchat, 69% use Instagram and a whopping 79% use YouTube.

It’s also thought that gen Z are the generation most dependent on instant gratification: they want their entertainment to be available immediately, and ‘need’ to be able to show others what they’re doing or what they’re watching. It stands to reason that the main route to reaching gen Z is through social media, but their proximity to online platforms also suggests that they are much savvier than the older generations.

Altruism first, money later.

One thing that has shaped the character of gen Z is engagement with politics and society. Millennials were originally dubbed the ‘altruistic generation’, but gen Z are thought to take it that step further. Being ‘authentic’ — valuing honesty — with not only the way you live but the way you buy is big with gen Z. Their priorities are less about money, and more about achieving a wholesome form of success. 37% of gen Z believe that being wealthy or rich is an indicator of success, whilst 71% believe that being passionate and enjoying what you’re doing for a living is a better measure.

Being so-called ‘woke’ is also increasingly important, and somewhat of an indicator of who you are. Gen Z are largely in favour of Black Lives Matter (80%), transgender rights (74%), and feminism (63%), with the majority saying that these movements should be acceptable in society today. This generation have come of age in a turbulent time and choose to be accepting of differences as opposed to ‘tolerating’ them. According to the Associated Press, most young people believe that Trump is ‘morally unfit’ for office.

The Brexit vote too showed a stark contrast in what’s politically important to each generation. Older people were worried about a loss of sovereignty, a concept that younger voters considered obsolete in favour of freedom of movement and a connected Europe. Perhaps this is because their sense of national identity is more fluid than their parents: in the US, for example, the Census Bureau predicts that by 2043 the entire population will be what we now consider “minority.”

Values of social justice are important to keep in mind when talking about gen Z because they largely play into the way they view advertising. Gen Z expect much more from their brands than those who have come before them: in 2015, 23% of gen Z boycotted an activity or company based on moral values.

Are they just hyped-up millennials?

Gen Z are their own generation and are supposedly way more action-focused than their millennial cousins. They’re early starters, and multitaskers, which once again comes down to their early digital inception. 68% of gen Z would rather be an entrepreneur than work at a large corporation.

In the marketing world, they’re much bigger on loyalty then they are with traditional advertising models; 59% of gen Z compared to 71% of millennials say they follow an advertisement before making a purchase. Like millennials, they expect the brands and companies they buy from to have a purpose and be loyal to them in return. Millennials are still somewhat stuck in the traditional advertising and marketing practices: they hold companies to account if they don’t abide by their corporate social responsibility but are much more placid, whereas gen Z are much more aware and more willing to uproot a system on its head if they feel like it doesn’t benefit them. Or, at least, they will — the majority of gen Z are still largely in their teens.

Could they be the last generation?

Whilst baby boomers are largely considered to have incited the birth of ‘the generation’ — gen Z, the fluid, diverse group that preaches acceptance and shun labels — might well be the death of segregation on marketing lines. The differences between them and millennials are there, but it’s thought that gen z on the whole are much more welcoming of change and adapting then the generations before them. Perhaps staple values of gen Z are becoming staples of society as a whole; the Z could mark the end of the whole generation game.

This post is part of a series in conjunction with Curated’s panel discussion on ‘Why Are We So Obsessed With Generational Marketing?’ that we held in April. You can read the recap of the event here.

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