Not too long ago the marketing world was all about how to reach Millenials. But there’s a new darling in town: Generation Z. Also known as iGen and Centennials, Gen Z refers to those born between 1996 and 2010. That means the oldest Gen Zers are finishing college and ready to enter the workforce.
Each generation tends to have its own unique characteristics but Gen Z has one that makes them stand out from previous generations – they were raised with the internet and social media. The internet was solidly in use by the mid-’90s. In 1996, email, for the first time, was sent more than postal mail in the US. Ask.com was created and Google was introduced to the world. Craig Newmark turned Craigslist into a website. IMDB and Myspace both came online in 1996.
Retailers and brands ignored the digital revolution and Millennial buyers, playing catch up for the last decade. Now is their chance to “get ahead of Gen Z’s tendency to be online at all times, and make sure to meet this generation’s digital expectations.” To understand why it’s important to get Gen Z right, they will be the largest consumer spending group by 2026 (just edging out Millennials). Gen Z’s digital expectations might not be what marketers may think.
Gen Z in the Future Workplace
According to a research study from Dell Inc., 80% of Gen Z aspire to work with cutting-edge technology. When it comes to choosing employment, 91% say technology would influence job choice among similar employment offers. According to several studies, this is a generation that is entering the workforce with less experience than previous generations yet more focused on making money.
This is a generation starting to embark on their careers in the middle of a pandemic. They’re looking for alternatives and new technology is creating quicker opportunities. If someone wants to work in healthcare, for example, it now only takes 30 days. Carrus, an online healthcare education provider, has created accelerated partnerships to quickly train and deploy contact tracers and other highly specific in-demand jobs.
Technology is creating the need for specification. For Gen Z, already well versed with technology, this creates a new career path or career pivot in a month rather than four years of standard education.
“Everyone should be looking at Gen Z’s habits and tendencies now in order to understand the generation that will set the standards going forward. While Boomers and Millennials have been fighting based on their vastly different outlooks, Gen Z so far seems to have it all figured out,” says Samantha G. Wolfe, Founder of PitchFWD and Adjunct Professor at NYU Steinhardt.
Gen Z believes they have a deep understanding of how technology can transform the way people work and live. They’re willing to learn new professional skills and are confident they have the tech skills employers are looking for. Yet, many in Gen Z worry about having the right soft skills and experience for the workforce.
This dynamic gives employers an opportunity to cross-train older generations with new technology while teaching younger generations the soft skills and work-specific experience they need to exceed. Many employers see this as a “win-win” for their organization. They’re able to capture tribal knowledge from older workers using new technology like augmented reality and video capture that younger workers know how to intuitively use.
Gen Z Technology Consumers
Millennials grew up being introduced to the internet where Gen Z grew up on it. They have the name iGen for a reason – never being without arm’s reach of an internet-enabled device. Gen Z spends an average of “3 hours 38 minutes online on these devices – almost 50 minutes longer than the average internet user.” 45% of Gen Z get their first mobile phone between the ages of 10 and 12.
The top three social media apps for Gen Z are Snapchat, Instagram, and Tik Tok. These aren’t just the top apps for Gen Z to interact with each other, they’re the preferred way for brands and retailers to reach them as well. According to a 2019 poll, 73% of teens say Instagram is the best way for brands to reach them about new products and promotions. Shopping has turned into an authentic part of using Instagram. The apps augmented reality “try on” features and seamless in-app purchasing make Instagram a key platform for reaching the largest consumer generation yet.
Tik Tok wasn’t listed on the 2019 poll for teens but it should have been. 41% of Tik Tok users are between the ages of 16 and 24, making it another powerhouse for reaching Gen Z. Tik Tok is releasing an augmented reality ad format to compete with Snapchat and Instagram. Tik Tok’s AR ads will “allow TikTok users to add interactive visual effects from advertisers to their TikTok videos that interact with the physical environment around them.” A Tik Tok spokesperson said that the company is “always exploring new ways to bring creativity and joy with our community.”
“If Gen Y was the selfie photo generation, Gen Z is all about social videos. If Gen Y was about your ‘finsta’ and presenting a perfect version of yourself, Gen Z is about accepting your flaws and sharing your imperfect outtakes publically,” says Sam Wolfe. “This creates more of a community on platforms like TikTok and one that quickly rallies and acts when there is a shared cause.”
Despite taking part in online social media and their desire to work with cutting-edge technology, Gen Z as consumers are less likely than Millenials to want to be “always reachable”. Even so, Gen Z struggles with disconnecting from their devices. They are less optimistic about the effects of tech on society and worry about their online safety, security, and information getting into the wrong hands.
Gen Z Is Using Games For More Than Play
To many in older generations (Millennials+), gaming means sitting in front of a computer or console working through solo levels to a pre-scripted game (even if it’s an MMORPG). For Gen Z, the definition of “gaming” has changed. Gaming is more than enjoying a video game. They’re drawn to specific types of games like Roblox, Fortnite, and Minecraft.
Not only are these games mobile-friendly. They “double as virtual hangouts with gameplay that allows for laid-back multiplayer sessions.” “Gen Z are interested in games that allow them to create their own worlds, unleash their creativity, and share it with friends.” Sam adds, “This type of digital world experiences are almost expected by Gen Z consumers, who have turned to shared gaming as a way to connect with their friends during the pandemic.”
As a socially conscious generation, Gen Z looks to make an impact in everything they do, even playing video games. Gaming may seem like an unlikely place to conduct medical research but Gearbox recently released Borderlands Science, an interactive game available within Borderlands 3 that invites players to map the human gut microbiome to advance vital medical studies while earning in-game rewards.
“We see Borderlands Science as an opportunity to use the enormous popularity of Borderlands 3 to advance social good,” said Gearbox Software co-founder Randy Pitchford. “Borderlands Science is the vanguard of a new nexus between entertainment and health: an innovative game-within-the-game, complete with scores, progression, and rewards, where your playtime actually generates tangible data that will be applied toward improving research, helping cure diseases, and contributing to the broader medical community.”
XRZ: XR For Gen Z
“VR, AR, AI, ML, and Gen Z are all maturing together. Therefore, Gen Z is the most likely generation to integrate advanced technologies like virtual reality and augmented reality seamlessly into their daily lives,” says Sam Wolfe. “ They know the value of and the issues with these technologies, as they saw the generations before them battle it out publicly. Gen Z will enter the workforce understanding digital worlds and technologies and how to regulate their own time in and out of XR. This generation soon will be able to afford the next version of Apple’s augmented reality glasses (whenever the first are released) and the 3rd and 4th generations of the Oculus. It’s not just just going to be Gen ‘Z,’ it’s XRZ – a Cross-Realities Generation.”.
Reaching This Generation
Generations shape the workplace, culture, and how marketers can reach them as consumers. Generation Z is no different in those ways than the generations before them. What makes Gen Z unique is their desire for creativity, cutting-edge technology, and being able to share the experiences they make online.
They grew up behind a generation that had to make it in a great recession. Now, this generation is starting to graduate during a pandemic. They see technology as their way to high-paying employment. Technology isn’t something to be feared, it’s something to master and make the world a more fun place (while making themselves more money).
Gen Z feels confident about their use of technology but they still have a wary eye towards how their information is used and privacy is respected. They want brands to reach out to them on social media, but they don’t expect to be reachable at all times. This push-pull creates an interesting dynamic for a generation who wants to disconnect but doesn’t seem able to.
Gen Z’s desire for sharing online worlds with friends (whether that be via a video game or augmented reality experience) will continue to push new tech software and hardware to the marketplace. Employers and marketers alike will be forced to upgrade their plans to reach the largest consumer generation yet.