Vikki Mitchell from Millward Brown takes a look at how the expectations of Gen Z will change how brands interact with them.

Several of my colleagues and I have been doing a fair bit of chatting recently with our clients about their brand and how to tackle emerging social trends. Learning how to deal with the “new generation” of customers, partners, investors and employees is no new challenge for organisations. However, internally we have been having much debate over what Brands need to know to navigate emerging social trends and cultural norms as they develop content and plan media. I thought I would share some thoughts and see what you think…

Just from our general living, we know everything is progressing at a faster degree. Norms are shifting so rapidly and at an accelerating rate, that a business culture may look and behave significantly differently than it did six months ago, simply because a critical mass of younger employees have come on board. The customer segments you’ve reliably targeted for the past decade may disappear completely next month, because a new app has rendered your product or service obsolete.

As we have seen with Millennials, Generation Z (or Gen Z) is quickly gaining a reputation for being glued to their screens and unable to focus on anything for more than eight seconds. Many of our clients are still working out how to effectively engage with this increasingly important group and understand how they want to interact with brands. Gen Z, also dubbed ‘post-millennials’, who were born between 1994 and 2000 are the first true “digital natives” to have Internet access from birth. Having grown up in the heart of the smartphone and big data boom in the late 90s and early 2000s, Gen Z are the most comfortable on the devices and are expected to bring another set of expectations and behaviours to the workplace.

According to a study put out by ACAS, the majority of business leaders (71%) are concerned about so-called Gen Z workers entering the workforce, as they will make up almost 10% of the workforce by 2020, adding up to over 16 million employees. We hear a lot about their need for instant gratification, resistance to authority, poor face-to-face communication skills and expectation for quick promotion to be among the biggest challenges. However, on a more positive note for marketers, despite their digitally dominated media consumption, Gen Z can still be impressed by traditional media. While they spend less time with traditional mediums, Gen Z are consistently more positive about ad formats such as outdoor, print ads and cinema, TV and radio ads compared to standard digital alternatives.

We also know:

They are “connected” for more than 10 hours a day (Source: Wikia).

  • They are motivated by workplaces that have opportunities for advancement and by meaningful work.
  • There is a desire for their workplace to have a wellness program.
  • They are keen for their future employer to give back to the community in such ways as creating new jobs locally, donating money, and fundraising for charity.

Gen Z are already 2 billion strong and have enormous influence due to their stability to form communities and use social media to voice their thoughts.

Gen Z are already 2 billion strong and have enormous influence due to their stability to form communities and use social media to voice their thoughts. They are also leading indicators of the behaviours that we are all embracing, and they adopt new technology at a faster pace than ever. This means they are ripe to be brand ambassadors – they know what’s coming next and why it matters. If you are not paying attention to what they are not afraid to say they want, then you are missing out on what older generations want but have not yet voiced.

Gen Z have grown up in an on-demand world of infinite choice, and this flavours their expectations of advertising. They are much more attracted to ads that allow them to co-create or shape what happens, compared to Gens Y and X, who have a higher preference to link to more information about the brand. Whilst Gen Z have a range of attitudes and behaviours that will challenge marketers, only where brands take all this into consideration will they be successful in engaging this increasingly critical and fast-emerging group of customers” – Duncan Southgate, Global Brand Director Media & Digital at Kantar Millward Brown.

What we do all understand is that for our clients, creating advertising that works across generations is tough and getting Gen Z to engage is particularly tricky since they are more likely to skip online content. We have found through our work at Kantar Millward Brown that Gen Z can’t easily be pigeon-holed, but in most countries they place more value on music and social media. They are a mobile-first generation, but that is not the only way to connect with them. Don’t underestimate the power of traditional media – formats like branded events, social media feeds and celebrity endorsements all score higher for this group globally than older customers. Gen Y is more positive about user reviews, social media and native information, while Gen X prefers brand information.

At the end of the day, with their smartphone in hand, a socially conscious outlook and a self starting attitude, Gen Z will soon be at the centre of a big shift in the way we are likely to do business. Learning from them means understanding what kinds of entrepreneurs they will soon be: always switched on, engaged, and interconnected. Brands – are you ready?

* Kantar Millward Brown surveyed more than 23,000 16-49 year olds across 39 countries. Qualitative research was also conducted among Gen Z in the US, Germany and China, and 31 TV ads were tested across TV, and digital platforms in 10 countries. The AdReaction: Engaging Gen X, Y and Z study explores advertising receptivity across three generations to analyze and understand when and where each group is most likely to respond positively to advertising. It also provides marketers globally with practical advice about which creative approaches work best across the three generations.

Vikki Mitchell – Millward Brown