What you need to know about Generation Z

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What does it mean?
Generation Z-ers will mobilize around causes that they care about, and they look to be even more socially and environmentally aware and concerned than Generation Y. It is also very likely that because they are so naturally tech savvy, they will do things bigger, better, and at a younger age than previous generations. As marketers, we should obviously be looking to engage with Generation Z in ways that are not only authentic and intrinsically motivated (meaningful), but that are also highly actionable as in digitally downloadable and socially uploadable. Our challenge will be to embrace these contributions as long-term investments toward building lasting relationships.

Generation Z is smarter, younger
Weened on technology and social media, Generation Z-ers at 20 will also more closely resemble present understandings of the 30-year-old consumer. Because of simulated social media games such as Farmville, Generation Z is practically born business savvy. Their mantra might likely become: "Take fewer risks, but take the right risks." They're calculated and practical, and the most effective marketing aimed at Generation Z will have to be as well.

What does this mean?
It will be our charge to keep up with them or suffer the wrath of instantaneous rejection. Their greatest strength threatens to become one of marketing's greatest risks: underestimating the maturity of the Generation Z consumer. They are not like the youth of the past, not at 6 years old, and certainly not at 16 years old. Brand communications need to be mindful of this to a fault.

Instantaneous influence
This generation, like those before them, looks to their friends as the authority on products and brands. While this may not seem to be much of a ground-breaking observation, it becomes interesting when one considers how fast this happens now. Because of the speed with which Generation Z consumes media, it is very likely that the key "moment of discrimination" inevitably will be highly influenced by an almost immediate social response. Simply put, as soon as a brand communication is made live, it will immediately come with a publicized reaction. The reaction time is faster, and though the peer pressure of consumption might not be inherently changing, the rate at which social attitudes are broadcast most certainly is and along with it, its power to influence.

What does this mean?
The task then becomes how to best compel Generation Z to market for us. Consider the "Like" button present on many social networking sites. "Like"-ing a product might provoke friends to do similarly, and spontaneous brand loyalty will be spawned from the consumers themselves. As brands and marketers, we must view Generation Z as marketing allies, be open to their involvement, and work to provide them with increasingly interesting and unique ways to customize, share, and evangelize for us.

The next shift in social media will be one that adopts a macrocosmic approach that infiltrates the consumer's total experience. What is emerging is a vision for a new total digital experience, one that is more naturally inline with Generation Z consumers. Our industry has long been moving (or at least talking about it) in the direction of thinking less about TV vs. print vs. online, and more about how best to communicate in a digital world. Thankfully, this all-too-necessary evolution is speeding up. What we need to realize is that the up-and-coming Generation Z consumers are already expecting and searching for it to happen even faster. They are creating it where brands give them the tools and the opportunity, and they will continue to push the boundaries on their own.

Will your brand be part of what Generation Z makes happen next?

Angela Cross-Bystrom is director of strategic planning, DOJO.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

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John Huff
John Huff August 17, 2012 at 9:16 PM

As an adjunct faculty at a community college I teach the introductory art class and website design. Community college has a wide range of age groups (18-60+) The younger students don't come into class with the same sense of creativity that the older ones have. They want to rely on the computer to give them the answers, not their own intuition.
It could be said that intuition happens when one searches and finds the right solution through technology. However, it isn't original. It's not something that comes from the students own brain. And that is what "bothers" me about the future of children raised on technology.

Angela Cross
Angela Cross August 23, 2010 at 8:19 PM

Thank you to all that made comments and sent emails. I appreciate the feedback!

It is an interesting subject to many of us and one that will continue to move to the forefront. The reality is that kids are brand savvy younger and younger. By choosing which website to visit or which toy or gadget makes the cut and is on their birthday wish list they are already influencing brands. And we should be prepared that because Gen Z is so comfortable with technology they will naturally continue to have more of an impact.

Brands and marketers have been targeting kids via TV for years - why won't they target them in these spaces as well? Rather than deny this I challenge that we try to have a more responsible relationship with them - both for the sake of future generations and (let's be honest) also for the health of the brands we represent.

Nancy Meeder
Nancy Meeder August 20, 2010 at 11:41 AM

I have a Generation "Z" and a Generation "Y" child and I think you make too many assumptions yet. My 12 year old is no more ready to influence marketing then she is to decide whether to play with Webkinz or Club Penquin. My Generation Y is not as into the internet games as my Generation Z but I also must comment that although they may be savvy with the internet, in many ways they are both younger than generations before. They want to be kids and are not ready to make influential decisions yet. In fact, there have been many articles as to "why" Generation Y is afraid to grow up, and honestly, I see the same with Generation Z. With all the media around them, the big thing they need to learn is focus. They do multi-task well but many times projects suffer because they are not focused. Great thoughts on the article but too many assumptions--its too soon to tell.

Clark Cogbill
Clark Cogbill August 20, 2010 at 10:28 AM

I think you are jumping the gun in identifying "Generation Z" as a marketing target. Arguably, the last of the Gen Xers were born in the early 1980s. Although there are not firm definitions, some consider the younger end of Gen Y to include those born in the early 2000s. In that case, "Gen Z" would be children who are 10 and under. I'm not ready to start marketing to this group just yet. Let's leave them alone for a few years and just let them be kids.

Guillermo Corea
Guillermo Corea August 20, 2010 at 9:16 AM

First time I hear the term generation Z.