Understanding Gen Z is more than Gen Zombie: How brands can engage the digital native generation

Generation Z is just one of the labels given to those people born in the mid-1990s through to the early 2000s – others include: Centennials, Post-Millennials, Digital Natives, Plurals and more. The youngest are around 13, the oldest in their early 20s. But whatever they’re called, everyone agrees on one thing: Millennials are old news and Gen Z are set to take the limelight. In fact, research from Bloomberg claims they will outnumber Millennials in 2019, making up 32% of the population.[1]

What makes Gen Z the new buzz demographic is the fact that they are the first generation to only know a world in which the Internet exists. For many, this fact alone is, not only difficult to comprehend, but also rather frightening. As a result, a common assumption has arisen that those born in the digital world are exposed to so much tech noise that they are essentially slaves to the internet and out of touch with the physical ‘real world.’

As with Millennials, who were blamed for ‘killing’ a number of things from mayonnaise to the napkin industry, it can be easy to assume a similarly negative perception of Gen Z – simply because they view the world differently to previous generations. ​

For brands, this informs an increasing anxiety in how to reach out to such an Internet savvy demographic. Consuming at a far younger age than previous generations, Gen Z present a promising opportunity for brands, but also a challenge. The pressure is on for brands to successfully engage these young consumers, without coming across as too try-hard or clumsy in their approach. As I discussed before in my articleon brand activations for Pride in London 2018, it’s immediately obvious when a brand is jumping on the bandwagon of the latest trend with no real understanding of the community it is approaching. The countless misguided and tone-deaf attempts to relate to Millennials are often cringe-worthy and the same needs to be avoided for Gen Z.

This point can be perfectly exemplified in – true Gen Z fashion – with a meme:

How can brands avoid this?

By simply gaining a greater understanding of this generation, and ignoring assumptions and stereotypes. Rather than seeing Gen Z as Gen Zombie – the brain-dead, screen-obsessed youth – it’s essential that brands fully understand and respect how Gen Z perceive the world if they want to engage with them. Paul Stanway, Creative Director at independent brand experience agency, XYZ, stressed this: “There’s no substitute for doing your ground work on the audience you want to engage, and it’s through that research that the insights will come – the truths that will create the bridge between the brand and the audience. Anything less and they’ll reject it in favour of something else, somewhere else that speaks to them with more authenticity.”

A closer look at the current trends shows that Gen Z is extremely switched-on to what’s going on in the world. In fact, the internet and connective nature of social media that makes global issues accessible to all,suggests that Gen Z are perhaps more aware of what’s going on than any previous generation.

So, what exactly do the current trends reveal about Gen Z?

Read the full article on the IPM here.