The last time I heard from my cousin who is pursuing a Bachelors in Computer Science here in India, he told me about his internship at Volkswagen in Germany. Seemed like he had worked out the financial aspects with the paid internship at the auto giant. Interestingly, this guy also took some time off and fulfilled his wanderlust around Europe. Our conversations revolve around technology and humans, where he believes “robots will raise future babies” and how our “brains could be connected to the cloud,” reflecting a Black Mirror-esque future, just like Elon Musk’s idea of having a brain chip! But, what sort of surprises me is the endless possibilities and opportunities they see, in a world that is becoming a complex puzzle.
He is truly representative of a generation of go-getters who see themselves as global citizens and believe in unparalleled inter-connectivity. The Generation Z, born between 1996 and 2012, have grown up as digitally immersive natives where they love Netflix, watch less TV, believe online shopping is the way of life and surprisingly, use social media less than previous generations. Primarily, technology and Gen-Z is interdependent on each other.
Having grown up watching their parents wade through financial obstacles, they have learned their lessons early and do not want to wither in the debt trap. They process information differently in a world that offers multiple paths and choices. In fact, Gen Z’ers have lived in a world brimming with Internet activity all the time, unlike us Millennials, who’ve witnessed the birth of the Web and have seen life before smartphones.
Gen Z has figured that the millennial way of life isn’t theirs. The whole ‘discovery’ of a career path coupled with parental decision and pressure is just not them.“They are hackers who plan to figure out what works best for them, even before they graduate,” Tim Elmore, the millennial expert, says.
Raised in a world buzzing with Internet Activity
Their work, lifestyle and buying habits are all a bit different. Currently, Gen Z makes up 25% of the population and by 2020, they will account for 40% of global consumers. A LinkedIn study states that they also understand that the workplace is changing because of technology. So, a majority of them don’t think their current jobs will exist in the same form 20 years from now.
GenZ isn’t just disrupting the workplace. These consumers have very different expectations around how brands sell to them as well. Nearly 73% of them say they prefer brands to contact them about new products through Instagram, Snapchat or Tik Tok. What this also means is that they will change marketing, retail, food and beverage, restaurants, well – basically everything.
Here’s what I could make sense of:
1. Social justice advocacy
They are the first generation to take global issues such as climate change, terrorism and internet democracy seriously and have also made social causes go viral. Their feelings about community-related issues are honest and raw. They strive to fix these issues as they have been exposed to a lot more content on these subjects than any other generation. This massive transformation is only gathering momentum now and we’re seeing it in all walks of life – from the banning of plastic straws to people earning Earth Miles to get offers on their shopping in a bid to reduce their carbon footprint. They are also passionate about animal welfare, clean eating and saving the oceans.
2. Inclusive & multi-racial
Given that they have grown consuming everything that the Internet offers, they are very well aware of its pitfalls and want to democratise information, be inclusive and socially diverse, create communities that will foster personal and society’s growth. As Isvari Mohan, a popular Gen Z professional and columnist, says “We’re the last American generation to be majority Caucasian. We grew up in non-traditional households and multiracial families.” In fact, GenZ has come of age after same-sex marriage has been legally recognized in some parts of the world.
3. Being open matters
Transparency is another key trait of Gen Z. They have grown up listening to their parents telling them it won’t be an easy run while also equipping them with the best technological tools. So, if a company isn’t ready or willing to lay everything on the table, then consider a different tactic to impress them. They don’t like closed doors and want to know the why and how behind your operations. If you’re honest and open as an employer, you may consider them on board!
4. Convenience & flexibility
Convenience and adaptability are holy grail to them and so are Internet Influencers. If you’re not open to the idea of marketing your brand on social media platforms which they see as information hubs, you are losing future consumers. Not only that, but they also see Popular Youtube Content Creators and Twitter Influencers as their role models rather than celebrities and advertisements around them.
Most Entrepreneurial Generation
According to Sparks & Honey, nearly 60% of GenZ’ers want to start a business someday and they are more entrepreneurial than Millennials. Interestingly, they are putting in long hours and doing whatever it takes to make their passion a career. They’re more conservative when it comes to safe jobs and pragmatic about financial matters. It is a mix of work and play they look at, along with fulfillment in personal lives and excitement in their jobs (work-life balance). More importantly, they know that not everyone can be Steve Jobs and hence, call themselves realists.
Take 15-year-old Nihar for example. A home learner and student entrepreneur who opted out of formal school education and built an app for regular bus commuters in Bangalore. The idea came out of his necessity when the government’s mobile app didn’t function well while he had to take the BMTC bus everyday in Bangalore. Having taken an online course in Android app development earlier, he used his skill to develop the app so that people could track buses. While he released a first version of the BMTC mobile app, he upgraded the second version to make it more tourist-friendly and released it in October 2017. The app clocked nearly a lakh downloads. Now, Nihar is interning with IISc to develop drones and also working with a French Start-up on building an Android OS.
Most GenZers like Nihar believe Youtube is a better learning platform than classroom teaching. A finding about GenZ population says that more than half, 56% to be exact, would consider joining a workforce instead of going to college. What this means is that more and more Gen-Zers do not see college as a necessary ingredient for success.
For instance: A teen entrepreneur from Britain began designing music album covers for fun and uploaded them on Tumblr. The 18-year-old received a few followers after that and then the number of followers began soaring, eventually, getting him a number of requests to work on real projects. Many artists and rappers got in touch with him through Twitter and he found that a lot of artists were in need of great artwork. He then started his own company called Next Exit, working with popular music artists.
Acing the Personal Branding Game
What these examples reflect is how they believe in creating something new rather than improving existing ideas. Not only do they over-communicate their ideas but also exploit every platform by pre-announcing and creating massive hype to reap benefits. They strongly believe in collaborations. They see competition as an opportunity for collaboration as they grew up in a crowd-sourced world where sharing resources is a thing!
Their knowledge, skills and experimental attitude has helped them create their own personal brands, during their growing years. Not only that, they are specific about how their image on these platforms reflects their self-image to friends, relatives and the outside world. Moreover, they have ideas like launching their own clothing line of apps like Musical.ly or Tik Tok, at all of just 14 or 15. Ask them how they came up with the idea, the answer you get is “it is the next best step. Of course, a million followers is a decent number for a clothing line!”
Their early success in business and entrepreneurship definitely teaches the world some important lessons, regardless of age. Even Fortune 500 companies have been struggling with marketing while teenagers across the world are acing the game as if it is their second skin! As diligent self-learners, independent and hyper individualistic people, they also believe in technology with humanism.
So, is your business ready for GenZ?
The best example I can think of is the success of Tik Tok and how the platform struck a chord with GenZ. So, what worked for Tik Tok is:
- Global appeal: Having a global appeal, bringing together audiences from various geographies & genres onto a single platform.
- Cross-platform marketing: Videos posted by a Tik Tok star on Instagram or Snapchat also influence other brands on the platform, allowing a healthy influencer marketing mix!
- Creating communities offline: A restaurant in China called Haidilao, on Tik Tok, encouraged customers to go DIY on their soup bases, dip sauces by mixing and matching ingredients of their choice and post these videos.. Within no time, food-lovers swarmed into Haidilao restaurants to film their own recipes, eager to showcase their cooking mastery and unique tastes.
- Hashtag Challenges work: On the platform, hashtags like #ChooseYourCharacter, have brought the best out of users’ creativity. Even big brands like GUESS started #InMyDenim challenge on TikTok, which went viral among GenZ’ers.
- Clear user experience which is visual & straight-forward, just the way GenZ’ers are.
- Personal Online branding: Possibility to create a personal brand for teens and tweens with a quirk of goofiness
Even as Tik Tok’s success sheds light on how GenZ reacts to brands and businesses, it is imperative to understand that they are clear about career advancements and how a company values their work. They love to get ahead in life and do not like wasting time on ambiguous ideas that lack clarity and most importantly, they demand greater autonomy.
While Generation Z may look like Millennials on steroids, they are the most socially conscious and demanding consumers businesses have ever seen! Being in the internet/tech space,I have always believed that I would be ahead of the curve. But, looks like we have a whole new Generation of self-aware, young and empowered people who are just around the corner.