Losing Sight of Z’s
in a Sea of Y

By: Myles Badger   |  October 27, 2015

While I’m not one for generational speculation and generalization, as a late Millennial, I’m in a unique position. I often find more in common with early members of Generation Z, those born around 1995 and on, than I do with Millennials, also known as “Generation Y” or those born in the mid to late 80s and early 90s. This commonality is especially true when it comes to technology.

I still experience “a-ha” moments of perspective. For example, while checking something on my smartphone (or now, my smartwatch), I’m often struck by how exponentially far technology has come in my lifetime. Only to remember that for many people younger than I am, the entirety of Generation Z, technology has always been this good. It’s not unreasonable to contend this divide represents a fundamental, generational difference in perspective – one that, if properly understood, could have huge implications for marketers. The problem is many marketers are still stuck fawning over Millennials, and they wrongly assume future generations will be quite similar to them because of the internet, or smartphones, or social media, or something similarly short-sighted.

Marketo already estimates that Generation Z accounts for 25.9% of the current US population, more than any other generational segment, including Millennials. They’re not old enough to make any huge impact on B2B marketing, but they’re certainly starting to change the way marketers approach B2C. By 2020, members of Generation Z will account for 40% of all consumers. Already, these statistics should have any sensible marketer’s attention.

So what should marketers know about reaching the generation of soon-to-be decision makers?

Beware of Generalization
Having grown up in the wake of events like 9/11 and the recent economic recession, members of Generation Z are already being described as “pragmatic” and “resourceful”. Analysts seem eager to position them as the driven, entrepreneurial, no-nonsense follow-up generation to the popularly work-shy, lazy Millennials. Ironically, members of Generation Z are probably more averse toward generalizations like these than any generation before them. The America they know is the most racially diverse in history, with a 50% increase since the year 2000 in young people who identify as multiracial, and the influences of historical “norms” about gender and sexuality on mainstream society have waned significantly in their lifetimes. Whether generalizations like these prove true or significant in the long term remains to be seen. However, Gen Z’s content consumption and social media habits are easily quantifiable and offer some fascinating insights.

Forget About Facebook
From 2011 to 2014, twenty five percent of 13-17 year olds left Facebook. Between 2012 and 2013, Instagram nearly doubled in popularity (12% up to 23%) among Gen Z users. Some analysts have suggested members of Gen Z are wary of social networks like Facebook due to the permanence of any content posted there, and thus prefer Snapchat and other social platforms that offer less permanence; 60% of Americans ages 13-34 use Snapchat and 71% of Snapchat’s users are under 25.

Say it With Visuals
Some analysts have contended that members of Gen Z prefer images to text. This is another generalization, but it’s probably the most reasonable thus far, reinforced by the growing popularity of image-driven social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat among young people, the increasing prevalence of Emojis in text-based communication, and the development of Virtual Reality as a new medium for branded content. Any content produced in the marketing space should offer visual components that are both deliberate and purposeful.

Make it Snappy and Relatable
The average Gen Z attention span is eight seconds – a statistic that may frighten marketers. But think of it this way: “If it can’t grab my attention in 8 seconds, then it’s not worth my time.” This is why it’s important now more than ever that marketers provide useful information. Many members of Gen Z have grown up online and are quite discerning Internet users; they understand they can’t waste their time trying to view, read, or interact with everything. As digital natives, they know full well how much amazing (and useless) stuff exists on the Internet. For marketers, this means content has to be immediately engaging. More than that, it means content should engage with viewers on a specific and personal level. It needs to live where they live.

There’s an endless wealth of statistics that already paint an interesting portrait of America’s next most influential generation. How they ultimately live up to them, and to many of the generalizations applied to them, is impossible to predict. But in 2015, when the word “millennial” is spoken in every marketing meeting, it’s important to remember the next generation is already here, and will be even more influential in years to come.