They don’t drink, they don’t smoke, they don’t have sex and they don’t eat junk food. Generation Z, according to many reports, are the most responsible, determined and downright focused generation we’ve ever encountered. How does your brand ensure it offers experiences that meet the demands of such a unique demographic?
‘Generation sensible’, as they’ve been somewhat disparagingly dubbed, are fast becoming your most important customer.
Making up roughly 25% of the UK population and wielding spending power of $44bn in the US alone, this cohort of youth – born in 1995 or after – have had brand leaders quivering under their bedsheets at the prospect of their eventual uprising.
Why? Because they’re different. Unlike anything we’ve seen before. Generation Z don’t drink – 24% report that they never drink alcohol. They value good grades at school and having successful careers (82% see these aspects being of the highest importance), and they place less importance on having sex. Teenage conception rates in England and Wales have fallen by 60% since 2007.
Crucially, they’re digital native and expectant about online experience. Generation Z don’t know a time before the inception of the internet.
“Millennials and boomers are addicted to their phones [but] Generation Z simply hasn’t known a time without the device,” says Mary-Leigh Bliss, chief content officer at Ypulse, speaking to Canada’s Global News.
“It’s not an addiction, it’s an extension of themselves. Are you addicted to your right hand?”
Recent studies suggest that many of the major trends associated with Gen Z directly correlate with their existential reliance on smartphones. Regardless of how close to the truth this is or isn’t, what’s clear is that Generation Sensible has become expectant of brands when it comes to digital – specifically mobile – experiences.
“We’re seeing a shift in how the digital world is understood, away from being a place to ‘inform me’ and toward a place to ‘entertain me.’ It goes without saying that this will massively affect how customer experiences will be crafted in the future,” says Mary Ellen Dugan, CMO, for WP Engine.
“Most Baby Boomers, Gen X and Millennials rely on the digital world largely for access to information, whereas the majority of Gen Z consumers consider their primary online use is entertainment first, then information.
“Gen Z doesn’t view the internet as a global repository of stored information as previous generations do. Instead, it’s a path to empathy and connection, so given that Gen Z consumers are selective in how and who they choose to engage with, businesses that want to truly understand them and build a relationship must first entertain them.”
The majority of Gen Z consumers consider their primary online use is entertainment first, then information
Earlier in the year, WP Engine published extensive research into what makes Gen Z tick – specifically what they value in digital experiences. Whilst 72% said they relied on the internet and smartphones for entertainment, what was also crucial was that they also expected to have authentic, trustworthy and personalised experiences.
69% can’t go more than 8 hours without being online, while 48% say they want guaranteed authentication for every online interaction.
The expectations are different, and so brands must cater for these requirements now or risk losing a crucial demographic with a willingness to spend.
“Five years down the road, the online experience will look very different,” adds Dugan. “Digital experiences must be fit for a future that is personal, with connected appliances and devices and personalised experiences across websites, apps, and platforms. Consumers will access these experiences in new ways, such as voice and gestures, which allow brands to incorporate emotional cues in the information they serve up.
“Gen Z also expects websites to not only understand their wants and needs, but to predict them too. The move toward a more predictive, personalised digital experience and the convenience that comes with it means that they are more likely than Boomers and Gen X to choose a digital world where websites or apps can predict and provide what users need at all times. In fact, 32% of Gen Z would stop visiting a website if it didn’t anticipate what they needed, liked or wanted.”
With recent publicity around data privacy laws such as GDPR comes a heightened understanding amongst all demographics about the importance of trust online. But Gen Z are the most innately in tune with what this represents, accord to WP Engine’s research.
“While security is still a concern for Gen Z consumers, the younger generation is more open to balancing its privacy concerns with the desire for personalised experiences,” says Dugan.
“What this means is that in exchange for data and personalisation, brands need to deliver clear value across consumer groups. Just like innovations in braking technologies for cars helped pave the way to much faster engines, better security could further enable the next wave of digital experiences.”
Gen Z expects websites to not only understand their wants and needs, but to predict them too.
Making things easier
Fusing these requirements together creates complexity for big brands that are expected to push the envelope for personalisation and prediction online, but there are some that are finding new ways to tap into youth expectations.
Starbucks, for instance, now offers the ability for customers to place mobile orders in advance of walking into one of their shops to pickup (without preloading payment), alleviating queuing and waiting in-store.
This type of technological update appeals to a generation with an “8 second attention span online”. However, even brands in less trendy sectors are having a similar success by tapping into their knowledge of what Gen Z wants.
Insurtech company, Root Insurance, for instance, has seen a huge uptick in its customer base by marketing itself a ‘mobile first’ insurer. New customers are encouraged to first download the Root app, and then take a series of test drives before their first insurance quote is calculated.
From there on in, the company collects data about driving habits through its users’ smartphones to come up with an automated insurance quotes that evolve with the customers’ driving.
Generation Z simply hasn’t known a time without owning a device
In fact, in many cases it is incumbent industries such as finance and insurance where the simplest improvements can enhance the customer experience for Generation Z.
“Gen Zers highly value an in-person meeting with an agent when buying insurance,” says author and self-confessed ‘Gen Z guru’, David Stillman. “In their world, such a meeting doesn’t have to be in a physical office, though. Skype, FaceTime or Google Hangouts work. Independent agents should be familiar with those tools and have an internet connection stable enough to support video streaming.
“Remember, too, that this generation grew up in a world where anything can be looked up. They know how to do product research and can educate themselves about the benefits of any product lines. That means you have the opportunity to connect with them by being an educator…you can achieve that role through transparent, informative content marketing.”
There’s no denying Gen Z are a unique group but there’s no need to be fearful of how to appeal to their expectations. Staying abreast of trends is crucial, and being able to adapt your offerings to appease their reliance on digital experience an imperative.
“They price check on their mobiles while in the store, catch up with their loved ones while waiting in the queue and share their favourite online videos to thousands of friends,” says Dugan.
“Understanding where Gen Z is, what it wants, and where it’s going is a powerful clue to predicting the future of the web.”
About Chris Ward
Chris is Editor of MyCustomer. He is a practiced editor, having worked as a copywriter for creative agency, Stranger Collective from 2009 to 2011 and subsequently as a journalist covering technology, marketing and customer service from 2011-2014 as editor of Business Cloud News. He joined MyCustomer in 2014.