Interview: Michael Sauermost
What are the key characteristics of “Generation Z”? What differentiates them from Millennials or Generation X, for example?
Generation Z is widely recognized as the succession to Millennials. Gen Z are kids aged 3-17, born between 1998 and 2015. They’re the offspring of Gen X and Millennials, so a mix of generational influences is involved. Gen Z are the first generation to be born not knowing what life was like before the internet, who take mobile technology and the state of being “constantly switched on” for granted.
For the younger Gen Z kids, aged 3-7, the rules on how, when and how often they access the internet have already been relaxed by their Millennial parents, as the rate of change has accelerated and the rate of “wisdom and experience”, even the realization of the risks involved, have not kept apace. The very youngest Millennial parents may have little recollection of life before digital themselves. Younger Gen Z kids play less in the real world and more with digital one than their predecessors, framing their experiences accordingly. They are permitted use of and may even own their own tablets as prices have dropped. Tablets mean more to them in some cases than traditional TV screens, just as YouTube means more to them than traditional content production or the constraints of a broadcast schedule.
Why is it for marketeers still or maybe even more important to focus on demographic consumer Groups like Teenagers in today´s digital world?
It’s essential to segment Gen Z kids down even further than the 3 to 17 years age range, as differences in behavior are already emerging. Young Gen Z kids have not gone through the same process of discovery of social media and have no awareness of what life was like before video-on demand. They haven’t yet gone through the process of adoption and customization of digital media or devices, during a rapid phase of change and inventiveness in the same way as older Gen Z kids, teenagers have. Teenagers have already been influential, and some would say pioneers, in shaping social media to suit them – from the rejection for Facebook to the allegiance to Instagram.
Young Gen Z kids have no nostalgia to a pre-digital or pre-social media age. They have already lived half their lives in the social media space, through the posts of parents, family and friends. But nor have they experienced the initial obsessive rush for likes and shares which teenagers have gone through. It’s an “unexceptional norm”, with potentially less power than it originally had.
Playing in this competitive area takes agility on the part of the marketeer to stay informed and connected to this fast-pace of digital and media evolution. It is essential to watch trends closely, to investigate them in order to understand them, to be visible in the right places and on the right platforms, with the right tone of voice delivered with the right level of language and even to predict what comes next!
Kidzglobal conducts market research for teenagers worldwide. Are there certain parallels in Generation Z across the globe that transcend cultural differences?
It’s about Glocalisation rather than Localisation… or indeed Globalisation. Many attitudes and behaviors are following the same progression but the execution of it at a local level is a nuanced as we have just seen between teenagers and younger Gen Z kids. The media platforms vary, the digital devices may also vary not just in terms of brands, but also in iOS and connectivity. For a marketeer, knowing whether one country on once continent is on the same trajectory as another, just at a different stage of the journey, is an important consideration as they determine how to invest in future activity. Knowing which platforms are the most widely used and appreciated in China and which in Brazil enables marketeers to adapt their message, style and campaign profile to be in keeping and impactful in each market.
With the immense popularity of online influencers it seems that young consumers are turning their backs to classic brand advertising. What advice would you give companies to be successful with this generation?
This area is quite controversial. “Turning their backs on” suggests that Gen Z kids have been exposed to and are aware of traditional advertising in the first place. Many, especially younger kids, are simply unaware that they are being advertised to, let alone have experienced “traditional advertising” in the way the statement implies. Older Gen Z kids do have more experience but the tendency to switch over, fast forward or simply look at another screen is shared across all ages.
Gen Z kids, both young and old, are susceptible to online influencers, and with less experience of traditional advertising overall, they may also be less aware of when they are being advertised to by their online heroes.
Digital advertising is an arena in which many of us, marketeers and agencies, are still novices but companies are dedicating large portions of their advertising budgets to online influencers as they have a “direct path” in to the digital mobile world of kids.
The unanswered question is what is the return on investment of online influencers and how can it even be measured when the message is in the hands of the influencer?
We strongly recommend our clients to evaluate the efficiency of any influencer, because it is not true that follower=buyer. There are many other aspect to investigate, not least the complex measures which Gen Z kids resort to in influencing parental spend and having their own spending power.
Do brick and mortar stores play any role anymore for Generation Z?
What are our memories of shopping when we were kids? Going to do the grocery shop with mum or dad? Walking down the aisles with a trolley (and trying to sneak a bar of chocolate in the basket when dad isn’t watching? Having pocket money to use in the local corner shop? In Some markets, Gen Z Kids have significantly less experience of shopping in a physical store, from the sensory experience of bakery smells, to the cognitive effort of making a purchase decision on a tight budget or the transactional one.
Millennials and Gen X parents are increasingly reliant on a) online and b) convenience stores. The convenience store has the potential to create a rich, sensory shopping experience for kid consumers, however they are convenient because they are quick shop destinations, have smaller footprints as neighborhood stores and often visited “after normal hours”. Their size means that experience of shopping the most relevant non-food categories is limited.
How do companies need to adapt their products in order to reach Generation Z?
Gen Z kids have become accustomed to “shallow attention” and bitesize activities, ones which can be multi-tasked across multiple screens. It’s not surprising in an era, for some countries of increased academic testing, organized activities, less free time.
Gen Z kids of all ages are looking for something fast, easy to use, multiplatform, experiences that deliver maximum emotional, sensory or intellectual satisfaction with minimum complexity and maximum integration with all the other media choices and activities readily available.
A brand which delivers these things has the potential to become a much loved brand, one which kids will seek out to repeat the benefits they experienced originally from it and MORE, the benefits which it can then introduce across all platforms – the cartoon they watch for an exciting story, the game they play so that they can be the hero and protagonist, the merchandise which they can buy – a T shirt, a phone case – to display to others their allegiance, the sense of community they feel in a social network where they can share likes or post content of their own creation.
How does this compare to Generations X and Y?
Gen Z are the social butterflies which did not have to start off as caterpillars. They were born in the digital era, they take its existence for granted rather than in awe of its invention.
Gen X and Y are not so far apart, other than in what they witnessed socially, culturally and politically. Neither of them was old enough (or born enough!) to witness the first landing on the moon. They share an experience of the physical world, from shopping to sending mail, from ordering a takeaway to going to a place of work each day, from experiencing media disconnected time to having to plan ahead and record that favorite program on TV that only comes around once a week at 9pm on Tuesdays. Of course, Gen Y, Millennials, have had less experience of “life before digital”, and each use technology in ways adapted to their particular needs, but they are more closely aligned than any previous generations before them. It was Gen X kids who were assigned the label “kidults” and “ladettes”.
What distribution channels have gained in importance and which ones have waned due to Generation Z’s consumer approach?
It is not Gen Z which is shaping distribution channels. It is Gen X and Millennials who have caused the biggest upheaval in retail and consumer behavior, from the earliest mass adopters of online shopping, pre-natal and new parents of the early 2,000’s.
What sectors have already been upended by this shift from both consumers and advertisers/companies?
Toys, and apparel retail are maybe the most affected, big giant like toys’r us disappearing from the market with amazon taking a big slice of his pie, or New online realities like Yoox net a porter becoming one of the world’s biggest player ( 2,1 billion euro rev) are the evidences of this changes of behaviors.
It seems that influencers today create their own brand ecosystems. How does this work?
This is a completely new world that has not stabilized yet, which makes rules quite mutant, some have been already able to build their own brand thanks to social media, thanks to behaviors, statements, overexposure of their private life, increasing through social media the base of their followers, starting to license Themselves as a brand. The consumers buy what the influencer buys, but the equation” I have a million follower, I’m able to sell million products” is still far to come.
Bild: Philippe Guinaudeau © privat