What shapes a generation?
From baby boomers to Gen X to Millennials to Gen Z (and don’t forget the up-and-coming Generation Alpha), people are defined by the times in which they were born. Gen Z is no different. According to Jason Dorsey of The Center for Generational Kinetics, this generation will be most affected by the fear and uncertainty surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic. Much like Millennials and 9/11, Covid-19 will forever change the way Gen Z sees the world.
Growing up with, and partially developed by, the internet, Gen Z (which at one point was going to be referred to as “Zoomers“), is the first generation uniquely qualified to connect the digital world with the unique human experience. They are a generation of creators and builders impacting the way marketing works and, on a much greater scale, the way the world works.
The Center for Generational Kinetics and WP Engine have released a comprehensive new study, Generation Influence: Gen Z and the Power of Identity and Marketing, which explores two key aspects that make up their relationship with all things digital: identity and influence.
“The attributes of trust, sharing, and authenticity in the digital world are all key components of Gen Z’s overall identity. To reach these digital pioneers, you must create digital experiences that allow Gen Z to be creative, engage on a personal level and, most importantly, be themselves.“
Gen Z is distinct from other generations in its diversity and how it makes connections, both online and off. McKinsey & Company coined the term “communaholics,” meaning they are “radically inclusive,” seek out people with common beliefs, and seldomly differentiate between online and in-person friends.
That said, it’s not hard to see why Gen Zers crave, if not demand, authentic and engaging experiences, ones which resonate with their particular interests and values. Marketing no longer dictates the messaging; they do.
According to the WP Engine study, Gen Zers believe that the internet can be a “force for good” and think that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will have a positive impact on the world. They feel strongly about the causes important to them. Seventy-seven percent of Gen Zers have taken action for a cause or social movement they believe in. Another 23% have boycotted a brand they disagreed with. The study by McKinsey found that 79% of Gen Zers will stop buying from brands that produce a campaign they view as racist.
Gen Zers live and breathe the internet and the myriad of devices (83% of teens have an iPhone) and social media platforms that go with it. Twenty-four percent say they can’t go an hour or less without internet access before feeling uncomfortable. It’s no wonder. It’s where their friends are.
Over half share images and videos online along with memes and selfies. For this generation, there’s really no such thing as oversharing (as any teenager can tell you). Gen Zers report being most comfortable talking and gaming with their friends online instead of face-to-face.
This generation is highly visual in the content they choose to consume. Teens watch an average of 68 videos per day. Their preferred platform? YouTube. In fact, Gen Zers spend more time watching videos on YouTube than on Netflix, 37% to 35%.
At the same time they are watching and listening to influencers, which naturally makes video an essential part of any marketing strategy. Since 2016, influencer marketing has been growing by roughly 50% every year and 70% of Gen Zers say they follow at least one trusted influencer on a regular basis. Almost half have made purchases based solely on an influencer’s recommendation.
Keeping with their proclivity for authenticity and credibility, Gen Z tends to trust and follow nano influencers (2,000 to 10,000 followers) and micro influencers (10,000 to 100,000 followers) over big names and celebrities.
The Influential Generation
“Gen Z understands the number of choices they have at their fingertips, and they will choose products and brands that fit their needs and meet them on their terms, not the other way around. Brand loyalty won’t sustain itself for Gen Z; you must continually earn their business.“
Gen Z is much more willing to share their personal information if they view a brand as authentic and trustworthy. Marketers, then, are tasked with providing a predictive experience built on who they are. A predictive experience is distinct from a personalized experience in that it’s designed to anticipate the user’s needs, made possible by their personal information.
Before developing the right predictive experience, marketers need to understand why Gen Zers are online in the first place. WP Engine found that they go online first for entertainment and humor, and then to access information. Marketers must learn how to pull them in by entertaining before providing any information or content. Gen Z is looking for an experience that anticipates their needs. Again, they’re the ones dictating the message.
A major factor influencing Gen Z’s trust in a company or brand is positive online ratings and reviews. They also want to see actual customers and unedited images in ads in line with their genuine yearning for substance.
In the end, this is a generation that wants to be seen and understood in all aspects of their lives. If it seems like they’re asking too much, it’s because they can.
“The pandemic caused a profound change in the way we do everything, from shopping to eating to engaging with friends and family,” said Mary Ellen Dugan, Chief Marketing Officer for WP Engine. “Gen Z was already comfortable in that new paradigm, so if you meet the digital needs of Gen Z, you’re ahead of the rest of the world.”
Watch the recorded webinar about the study and access other resources.