A new study is pointing out that marketers are already making a crucial mistake in how they perceive Gen Z, the generation that comes after millenials, because they are treating them as they are another form of Gen Y.
Conducted by advertising agency Barkley, the study looked at the behavior of teens under the age of 18 and found that Gen Z, which is driving $44 billion of discretionary spending each year, combines the social values of the millennials with the work ethic of baby boomers, according to the research.
After conducting a cross-generational study of more than 2,000 respondents, researchers found an entirely new type of consumer that they’ve deemed the “Pivotal” generation.
“Earnest, hardworking and driven by traditional views of success (money, education, career) they resemble boomers in their attitudes,” stated the study. “But this generation is writing new rules that favor liberal – almost radical – viewpoints on things like race, gender, identity and sexuality.”
Barkley interviewed people about things such as views on self, society and planet; brand expectations; media habits; shopping habits; and information access.
Results showed that whereas Millennials dreamed of changing the world, Pivotals are actually follow a much more practical approach.
Jeff Fromm, president of FutureCast talked to DIVERGE about why the results are significant.
FutureCast® is a marketing consultancy that specializes in Millennial trends and modern consumer behavior.
Why is it important to differentiate between Gen Z and Gen Y?
Despite the common narrative, Gen Z will not – and is not – behaving like “Millennials on steroids.” While they behave similarly when it comes to tech, digital and social trends, there are different attitudes, beliefs and behaviors between these generations that brands have to be aware of if they hope to find success with this up-and-coming consumer group. Most notably, we found that Gen Z appears to be pivoting back to traditionalism when it comes to their ethos and value systems. As I like to say, they are old souls in young bodies.
Why did you decide to do this study?
Just like when we began studying the Millennial generation, we recognized that Gen Z is beginning to wield a powerful force in the market. Although still teenagers, when it comes to discretionary spending, they are already influencing more than $40 billion a year. This means brands need to build relationships with this consumer group as they will be active buyers of their goods and services in the not too distant future.
What results were significant/ really caught your attention?
The most defining insights we found on Gen Z were:
- They will work for their success and work hard
Unlike with the Millennial generation, we are seeing a transition towards traditional views by Gen Z on things like personal success, hard work and achievement that are highly reminiscent of the Boomer generation. They are aware of the hard work it takes to be successful and aren’t afraid to put in the effort it takes. Any thought that Gen Z would be identical to Millennials is blown away by this finding.
- Equality is non-negotiable
Whereas the environment was a major cultural characteristic of Millennials, Gen Z is all about equality and human rights for all. They will not take no for an answer when it comes to this and require that brands are accepting and inclusive for all. This will be especially important in the next four years as we as a country find our footing on new ground.
- They want brands to be real so they can be unique
Gen Z embraces a curated identity – they are not defined by one single version of who they are. After all, in today’s digital age, all it takes is a new post or a swipe of a smartphone screen to change one’s image. Social media has allowed them to create a more fluid sense of self, one that changes based on the platform in question. As a result, they want brands to be real so they can be unique based off of who they choose to be at the moment in question. Brands will be tasked with supporting Gen Z identities and must understand the different rules they have for each platform to keep their finger on the pulse of today’s culture.
What steps can agencies do to stay ahead of the game? What can brands do?
Both agencies and brands must understand the intersection between the important cultural trends of this cohort and their brand’s own DNA to properly align with Gen Z expectations. They also must have a clear recognition of what this generation expects of them:
- A shift from playing the hero to playing a supportive role
- Added support to the issues that are at the core of what matters to the generation
- Presentation of reality in their advertising and marketing to aid Gen Z in building their curated identities
- Utilization of the right social media platforms in the right way as defined by Gen Z rules
Do you think diversity will play a role in this?
Absolutely. The minority majority is a real thing – the new normal of our world today. For today’s teens, they are more likely to sit in classrooms that are nearly half non-white and to have friend groups that are culturally and ethnically diverse. Universal human rights are non-negotiable and will play a huge part in this generation moving forward. In fact, Gen Z is embarking on a new phase of the Civil Rights Movement that extends into the digital world. So far, primary focus has been placed on the Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ+ Rights movements.
Because Gen Z practices what it preaches, it will demand that brands do the same. We found that 60% of teens support brands that take a stand on issues they believe in regarding race, sexual orientation and overall human rights. It will fall on advertising agencies and brands to figure out what side of history they want to be on – the right side or the wrong side.
Unlike the “Trophy Generation,” Gen Z doesn’t expect participation ribbons. Talking the talk without walking the walk won’t be sufficient. As a generation, the Gen Z cohort will no doubt lead the development of completely new attitudes and behaviors in the market, ones that surpass even the influence of Millennials.