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This article was published on July 28, 2016

The battle brands face for the hearts and souls of Gen Z

The battle brands face for the hearts and souls of Gen Z
Frederique Vermaete and Conrad Rasmussen
Story by

Frederique Vermaete and Conrad Rasmussen

Frederique Vermaete, Creative Director, and Conrad Rasmussen, Content Specialist, Mirum. Frederique Vermaete, Creative Director, and Conrad Rasmussen, Content Specialist, Mirum.

Everyone’s already talking about Millennials. Congratulations! But what about their younger siblings? Get ready for the new generation of digital natives charging into the marketplace.

In fact, the next generation is already here. Born in the late 1990s through the mid 2010s, we’ve already started calling them names: Generation Z, Post-Millennials, Plurals, iGen – even Founders.

It’s time to pay close attention, too. They have $44 billion in annual purchasing power in the US alone, according to the excellent report by JWT Intelligence, “Generation Z: savvy, connected, changing the world.”

So why isn’t your brand talking about them? Where’s that conversation happening? Why is your agency still talking about Millennials?

Nothing lasts forever

Here comes the part where we tell you they’re ‘born digital’. But that phrase doesn’t even begin to explain how deep-rooted and intrinsic this really is.

They were born with a smartphone in their hand, multi-focusing and multi-screening from day one. Theirs is a world where every bit of information was always right there – instantaneous and bite sized – to be consumed and immediately discarded.

preteen, mobile

For them, immersive, real-time experiences aren’t nice-to-haves – they’re the bare minimum. They meet the very least of their expectations.

But it’s not all about jaw-dropping experiences and non-stop media consumption. This generation has grown up in a time of relatively less abundance, job security, and growth, so they rebel by conforming, carrying a greater sense of responsibility and increased concern about the future than Millennials do.

And when it comes to brands, they hunger for authenticity. They’re challenging companies to embrace a more genuine state of ‘always on’ – both as employers and in marketing – forcing them to adapt in real time with an unprecedented level of openness.

They’re not looking for permanence, like a 30-year career in one company, and they’re not looking for gritty realism, instead exploring hyperrealistic aesthetics and themes. Some of their idols, like PewDiePie and Miley Cyrus, are defined by change, constantly reinventing themselves.

But ephemeral doesn’t mean unengaged. On the contrary, they’re rooted in global causes – people like Emma Watson and Malala Yousafzai represent a resilience they honor.

Everything has changed – nothing has changed

In some ways, Gen Z has more in common with Gen X. Millennials record, archive and curate their Facebook feed, while for Generation X that Madonna concert might’ve been the greatest night ever – but then it was over.

And now, Gen Z is all about Twitch and Snapchat – it’s live, it’s now and then it’s gone.

preteen, mobile
We’ve embraced the visual web, but is it time to focus on the immaterial web? Live streaming, cloud services, the shared economy – this is the world they grew up in and it’s perfectly normal.

First up, it’s obvious that we should collectively shift our thinking about products to services. But how can we stand out in a world that’s busier than ever? If capital-E ‘Experience’ is the new norm, how do we ensure relevance?

Don’t play catch up – get ahead of the pack

The answer: get out there and meet them. Engage them in your research and development. Get them involved and have them round for lunch. Offer short internships. Share your work, forget about secrecy and welcome feedback.

It’s time to foster a culture that connects with the future. Be open – allow teenagers to teach you something. But be warned: they might just talk to you like you’re old.

So what’s really changed? Not much.

Stay curious and embrace the meaningful messiness of this generation. They won’t fit in your box, and that’s exactly as it should be.