If marketers and brands have struggled to understand and communicate with Millennials, they may find the new kids, Generation Z, an even bigger challenge to engage with.
A new global study, entitled "A New Definition of Childhood by The Marketing Store Worldwide," looks in detail at the habits and attitudes of children aged 6 to 12 years old from 12 countries (though Generation Z’s accepted birth year parameters range from 1994-2004). While any demographic-based generalization about worldviews should be taken with a grain of salt, there are some interesting findings and they indicate that brands will have to be more transparent, more authentic, and more open to negotiation than ever before in order to connect with Gen Z. They will also have to demonstrate value and purpose much more specifically than they have previously managed.
Gen Z kids, according to the study, know more about the world and are more concerned about it at an earlier age than previous generations—71% of moms agree their kids know a lot about what is happening in the world. They are educated to care. Their values and concerns about the world reflect their knowledge of wider events as well doubts and fears within their own families and communities.
The impact of the global recession is noticeable, and an awareness of a shortage of money and unemployment is commonplace, particularly in economically troubled countries such as Spain, where when asked to imagine they ruled the world and had the power to make it a better place, what three things would they change, among the Spanish responses were: "That everyone has a job to work in"; "That the unemployment in my country would end"; and "My parents would have work."
The Marketing Store director of planning and strategy Wendy Lanchin, who worked on the study, observes: "This generation lives with change in a way that nobody has before. It’s absolutely embedded into their psyche; they won’t be fazed by it either in a way that previous generations have, because they have been brought up to expect it." She adds: "In many countries polled, these children were born into a recession and have different expectations and perhaps less of a sense of entitlement: Many say they have to work for pocket money and are accustomed to waiting for special occasions to get things."
Perhaps their being accustomed to uncertainty and a lack of institutions or leaders they can count on to protect them and their welfare will create individuals with a new understanding of personal power. This, combined with their strong sense of values along with their knowledge and concerns about pressing issues in the world, will undoubtedly have an impact on their relationship with brands.
Lanchin says: "The transparency and value equation from brands will be absolutely vital. These kids will be able to see through the marketing ploys that brands might attempt to use on them because they will have grown up with them."
Lanchin points out that brands will also have to become better negotiators, first because Gen Z’s Gen X and Millennial parents overwhelmingly agree that they want to include their children in decision making. (89% say they like their children to tell them what products to buy and 76% say their children often choose what to buy.)
And second because consumers in general are redefining how they relate to brands anyway. "Consumers of any age are learning to negotiate and understand the power they have in relation to brands," Lanchin says, adding: "But these kids are learning to negotiate and take part in decision making in their own families much earlier."
They also spend a great deal of time alone: Of activities Gen Z kids say they do alone—56% explore the Internet alone, 30% play on their own, and a sad 5% say they hang out alone.
It’s no surprise that they spend a huge amount of time online (30% of 6-year-olds spend a day a week on the computer and 21% of 6-year-olds are shopping online). But unlike Millennials who describe themselves as "digital natives," Gen Z kids won’t perceive any difference. Furthermore, their repertoire of technology doesn’t increase with age (they start having access to devices from 6 years old)—it’s only whether they own devices personally that changes. All the birthday wish lists are exclusively around technology.
The research shows they do exactly the same things on their mobiles as they do on their computers. In terms of media, they don’t think about digital or traditional, it’s all the same to them. They might even find terrestrial TV’s linear programming confusing and frustrating.
It seems as though the challenges that the business world has wrestled with when communicating with Millennials will be intensified with Generation Z, but one thing brands can focus on is that this generation looks as if it will be led by the energy and optimism of those in emerging nations; children from countries like Brazil and China lead the way in many of the study’s trends: They have access to more technology and get it earlier, and they have pocket money and buying power. Not only that, they have a strong desire to get on in life, to travel, to learn, and to grasp opportunities.