Just when marketers thought they were getting to get everything about Millennials, along come their younger cousins – Generation Z – to shake things up again. The past year has seen ‘Gen Z’ come into the spotlight, with marketers figuring out the implications of this young demographics’ characteristics and desires.
As usual with age-based clusters, there is no agreed definition of who qualifies as Gen Z; it is widely accepted, though, that they follow Millennials. Some marketers start this generation as early as those born in 1990, while others start counting in the mid
to late 1990s, or even at the turn of the century. What everyone agrees on is that this generation is different to that which preceded it, and that it’s a big audience – more than a billion people so far, depending where you begin counting, and growing by the day. And, while the youngest Gen Z-ers are only just learning to walk and talk, many are already spending significant amounts of their own money, and influencing the purchases of their parents. In the US alone, just those children aged between 3 and 12 have an estimated spending power of US$43 billion a year, Euromonitor estimates in its report ‘Toddlers to Tweens’.
The report pointed to several Generation Z trends that are relevant to brands:
- Purchasing power: children are being given greater financial independence, and are influencing a greater share of family purchases.
- Age compression: children are maturing earlier, blurring the lines between tweens and teenagers. They are choosing toys in favor of more grown- up interests, such as fashion, fragrances, cosmetics, smart phones and social networking.
Tweens – and, increasingly, small children – are always connected to the internet, mainly via tablets and smart phones. Favorite online activities are ‘cluster-sharing’ (ie sharing YouTube clips with friends and family), instant messaging, photo sharing and gaming. Children love popular icons, including animated TV, film and games characters. YouTube artists are taking over from singers, sporting heroes and TV stars as the most influential celebrities among tweens.
Gen Z-ers have access not just to a second screen but also to a handful or more of their own and shared connected devices, and they flit between them all. Alison York, Research Director at Nickelodeon UK, told a conference on Kids and Youth Research that this was the ‘swipe generation’. In the company’s My Media, My Ads media consumption study, it found 73% of children say they multi-screen – particularly the 10- plus age group. One interesting aspect of Generation Z is keeping consistency of experience around the world – media experiences are arguably converging across cultures due to the rapid rise of smart phones.
- Access to technology is shaping not just media consumption but friendships and entire lives. A study of 13 to 21-year-olds in Malaysia, for instance, found the vast majority of this age group had their own mobile phone and considered it an extension of themselves. “It’s vital for us to remember that Gen Z doesn’t distinguish between a digital world and a physical world; they simply blend into one,” said Margaret Lim, managing director of OMD Malaysia, at the launch of the research.
- And in Vietnam, only around one third of Generation Z think the most comfortable method of contact with their friends is face- to-face, with most preferring some form of digital communication, research by Epinion has shown; half of Gen Z-ers said they felt most comfortable communicating with chat apps or text.
- The interconnectedness of Generation Z’s physical and digital lives mean they demand authenticity from the brands they deal with. Gen Z wants ‘authentic’ social media. This was underlined by a 2014 Youth and Online Habits study conducted by Harris Poll, which found that the youngest social media users are using these spaces in a different way to older counterparts. Rather than broadcasting announcements, they want more private ‘meeting’ places, away from parents, potential employers and the broader public.
“There’s a cultural shift underway, being driven by Generation Z,” said Doyon Kim, General Manager of Camp Mobile. “It shows a preference for online authenticity and more private group spaces to share information selectively with various subsets of their diverse work and personal lives.” While reaching and engaging these young consumers is challenging for brands, as they divide their attention between an ever-growing range of media, Microsoft insights into Generation Z show they can be reached via online ‘microcelebrities’ who are influential on YouTube, Vine and Twitter. A single tweet in favor of a new Nike shoe by influential vlogger TBlake, for instance, generated $600,000 in sales. Oliver Roup, CEO of VigLink, and a former Microsoft director who oversaw media properties including the Xbox Live Video Marketplace, Zune services and MSN Entertainment, added: “They engage in micro-slices, eight seconds at a time. You know they’d be happy to engage today, but you have to re-convince them tomorrow. So, if you’re a marketer looking to reach this audience, you have to assemble the panel of influencers who care about you. You have to keep them fed and interested in you. And you have to anticipate the fact that they will change over time.”
Change is the only constant for Generation Z. Try to catch them.