January 24, 2020

Media Buying

Same But Different: What Sets Gen Z Apart

Whether you call them Gen Z, the iGen, Zellinials or MEME Gen, 20-somethings born in the mid-1990s to the early-2000s have come to the fore over the past 12 months as brands have shifted their focus from “Millennial first” to their younger generational peers.

We know both a lot and very little about this “unicorn” audience. Part of their elusiveness comes from living in an era of supreme choice and control – of the content they consume, the media touch points they consume it through, and the ways they communicate.

At a glance, Gen Zs aren’t that different from Millennials. They are connected, ambitious, and experience driven. But when you scratch the surface, there is a level of contradiction that shapes the way these young people think and behave.

Understanding these tensions can have a fundamental impact in shaping communication plans. Here are three of these tensions and their implications to consider.

YES, they feel locked out. BUT, they don’t want to feel ‘locked in’.

YES, this generation has grown up with ongoing war, terrorism, fiscal uncertainty and constant change – and that has made them more realistic and mindful than some of their generational peers. Feeling “locked out” has become a way of life for Gen Z; they feel locked out of employment, locked out of housing, and locked out of nightlife. This ongoing uncertainty has fast-tracked their journey into adulthood with nearly 80 per cent feeling like they grew up too fast.

BUT, to combat this, their 10-year plans have been replaced with right-now plans. Like generations before them, an experience-over-stuff mentality continues to define young people. They have a commitment-free attitude and are challenging institutions by redefining the meaning of “forever” to “for longer”.

Naturally, this right-now mindset is influencing the way brands and products are going to market to reach this generation – we’re seeing a rise in “unlocked” with leave anytime plans, try a bit of everything passes, and need it now services.

For marketers, this means we need to ensure the context in which we reach this audience is reflective and relevant for their “now”. From a content perspective, it’s making action-led communications feel more like a choice, rather than a “locked-out” directive.

YES, they ride short-term trends. BUT, they are taking control of their future.

YES, they have been given the nickname of MEME Generation. Globalisation and instant connectivity means the moment anything is discovered that is interesting, it cycles around the world; it becomes a MEME; it goes viral. These are often short-lived and shallow, but that’s okay because it’s a moment that brings connection and humour. What is trending today may not be trending tomorrow.

Take the rise and (not-quite) fall of Pokemon Go as an example. Launching in July 2016 and soaring in popularity, it had lost at least a third of its daily users by the middle of August.

BUT, this generation also has long-term ambitions to change the world, creating movements to “fix” a world they feel has been broken by the generations before them. Rebellion continues to be a universal right of passage, but where their parents may have rebelled with disorder, substance abuse and excess, Gen Z has shifted focus to social motivation, petition signing and political protest. It helps that the internet allows them to become social warriors without much effort. Their entrepreneurial mindset is programmed to drive change with start-ups designed to transform the areas they care most about.

Marketers that understand the contrast between a moment and a movement will get brands noticed in the right context. Equally, when it comes to content and partnerships, it’s important to acknowledge or represent the underlying values young adults hold in the long term – without looking like a dad at a disco.

YES, they are full-time brand managers. BUT, a fear of social death keeps them awake at night.

YES, getting a first mobile phone has become a flexible right of passage. And like being allowed to stay home alone for the first time, it is a demonstration of trust.

But mobility and technology isn’t cool to this generation, it’s the norm. Cool to them is what their device enables and whether it can add value to their personal brand. They expend a great amount of energy on building a social media profile and displaying their success – both of which are seen as more important than “things” and a high income. Being a brand manager means knowing how to optimise focus, and Gen Z knows how to tailor their content for the platform to maximise engagement.

BUT, over half of this generation has experienced intense bullying, trolls and unfortunate moments captured and shared online. With depression and anxiety among Gen Zs on the rise over the past five years, the evidence is stacking up against the darker side of social media and smartphone use.

This still isn’t enough to stop the addiction. Despite data privacy concerns and #DeleteFacebook, only one per cent of Gen Zs claimed to not use Facebook. Because in reality, we get the privacy we act for, not the privacy we ask for – and for this generation the trade-off for their brand is too risky.

To entice Gen Z into an action, marketers must first understand how it impacts their social identity. Offering social currency or helping them navigate through a social reality can add credibility and provoke action.

Finally, these tensions reiterate why it’s important not to look at this group in isolation from previous generations. Just like Millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers before them, Gen Zs embrace the latest technology and media; they value social currency and seek validation from their peers; they are more educated than their parents; they rebel against authority; and they explore new places.

What’s different is the way in which they do these things, and the speed at which they do it.