Every generation develops different wants, needs and desires as they progress from children to adults. I am one of Generation Z’s oldest members who will be turning 21 this year. Generally the terms narcissistic, spoilt and entitled are related to the generation born between 1995 and 2010. These clichés have been put in place simply because my way of life slightly differs from the millennials before us, which is completely understandable. But what do you actually know about Generation Z?
People tend to forget that I’m the first real digital natives. I can simultaneously create a document and edit it while talking on the phone and watching Netflix, all on one user-friendly interface. I understand and take advantage of the power of the internet nearly every day. Our arrival to the business landscape scares people because we’re different. Unlike previous generations, we’re the largest generation about to enter the workforce and by 2020, we will account for 40% of the world’s consumers. What makes them tick? How can we reach them? What interests them? Companies need to find another new way to engage and inspire a whole new generation of workers but many of them are too focused on the stigma we’re associated with to see what’s behind the young ambitious “millenniums on steroids.”
Since my early teens, my parents have been adamant on finding work early. That’s probably the reason I found my first part-time job independently at sixteen, two years before my millennium older sibling first entered the workforce. I’m a first-hand witness of Generation Y struggle to find work and still residing in the family home. I always understood why my parents thought it vital to start working early. Experience is key in any field of work and they didn’t want to mollycoddle me like they had done previously. As a result, I can honestly say that I’m far more independent, realistic and self-sufficient than my Gen Y sister. We’re so driven as a generation that we actually work for a lower wage than Gen Y in an attempt not to fall into their same circumstances. We’re already challenging them in the workplace because we refuse to be left unemployed and dependent on our parents.
Shaped by the internet…
From an early ago I knew that if I wanted something, the only way to get there was to work, work long days and even longer nights, work even harder than Rihanna. I wasn’t sheltered from the reality that life is work. I was very independent, I didn’t need to ask my parents for help. The internet was the quickest, easiest and most accessible was of sourcing information and knowledge. And I knew that the internet would always outsmart my parents, or anyone’s parents. Endless tutorials, demonstrations and presentations became my most treasured educational tool to help with school, life and teen woes. Many of us have been multi-tasking on five screens lying around the house before we could walk—televisions, mobiles, tablets, iPods, desktops, laptops, consoles and I’m sure there’s more lying around everyone’s house.
…And our Education…
Since childhood I’ve been able to find, interpret and take advantage of information that’s only a few clicks away. And I didn’t particularly understand the need for information that wouldn’t benefit me in the long run. And if the rare need was to present itself, I could source it blindfolded. When iPads started popping up in more and more a few years ago, I was sure that the distractions available wouldn’t make it a success as an educational tool. However, it seems as though the Educational System of 100 countries have caught onto the (flow) of my new Generation. Studies have been released proving that this technological method of teaching is improving student learning, comprehension and study.  They’ve cracked the code on how to efficiently engage generation Z in primary school and comprehension levels have raised significantly.
…And our Social Upbringing.
I think the national educational system’s triumph was inclusive classrooms, differentiated learning and most importantly, classroom diversity. I’ve grown up with people from all corners of the world, of different races and ethnicity and it’s opened my eyes on the understanding of cultures. Because of this, we’re more head-strong in our beliefs for equality. It’s caused me to be opinionated and passionate for the equal and just treatment of everyone regardless of who they are, where they’re from or what social class they belong to.
In the last 30 years, there’s been a 400% increase in multi-cultural marriage and since 2010 there has been 50% increase in the multi-cultural youth population, making it the fastest growing ethnic group in the world. I am part of this statistic. For the first few years of school, my siblings and I were the only multi-cultural pupils in a small, Irish school. I was in amongst the richest, poorest and just getting by. For many of my early childhood friends, I was the first person to enter their lives that didn’t look like them or their parents. I like to think that it was the beginning of their cultural understanding and that I prevented them having any future stigmas or predetermined ideas of a person based on their physical appearance. The world is changing, stigmas and prejudices are being rightfully dismissed by the younger population and we’re all changing with it.
Realists who want to make a difference
Besides our belief in equality, the majority of my generation aims to be an entrepreneur. Some may be surprised to learn that this is because of our intent to change the world. I want to do something for the better of others. My younger siblings (more progressed technical natives than I) either weren’t born or don’t remember a world before 9/11. I’ve lived my entire childhood knowing and hearing of constant terrorism, governments failing, graphic invasions and hate crimes in war-torn countries. It was impossible to shelter anyone from the news at the time so from a very early age, I knew bad guys were out there doing harm.
But I’ve also witnessed some of the most ground-breaking days in history—Barack OBama becoming the first African-American President, same sex marriage was finally introduced, important government figures finally acknowledging climate change and women demanding the same respect and treatment as their male counterparts. I’m a first-hand spectators of the best and worst dates of history in the last few decades. The entire Generation Z has developed during times of chaos, uncertainty and brilliance, so we’re the complete opposite of naive. It made us clear-sighted and has opened our eyes to the pain and suffering in the world. That’s why we’re realists and that’s why we aim to abolish war and make a difference as we stride for success.
The “Silent” Generation had a big impact.
Generation Z is considered by some to be much like the Silent Generation. Born between the 1920’s-1945, they also came of age during war and economic depression. Both generations were sculpted by their surroundings into diligent, sensible workers who don’t waste their time striving for unrealistic perfection. Like many from my generation, especially those Irish, I was raised in a bigger households that extended to our grandparents after the fall of the Celtic Tiger and recession that followed. Older siblings had to move back home when they couldn’t find work, shaping us into a very family-orientated generation. With big households but little space, I’ve learned to be a team player and sharer if anyone was going to get along. I also have the greatest admiration and respect for the elderly. They relate can relate to us more than any other generation because of our similar economic trouble upbringing. They’ve shared their wisdom and helped guide us in life, shaping our core values and leading us to share the merit of hard work for ourselves and for our family.
Generation Y paved the way.
Generation Y includes anyone born in the years 82-95. Both generations may seem pretty much identical but there are many obvious differences. Also known as millenniums, Gen Y were raised to pursue the American dream, making them very confident high achievers with a sense of entitlement. After the recessions, the efforts they had gone to in order to succeed were no longer relevant. Their talents meant nothing. The years they spent studying a particular nice was useless. The digital thinkers had spent years in college chasing a career, only to finish and realise that their field of expertise had almost vanished.
Slightly pampered while growing up by Boomer parents, many expected the same treatment when moving back to the nest. As unemployment rates got higher, they were left bored, unchallenged and gathered a “needy” reputation for themselves as they became more and more comfortable with living at home while trying to find a stable occupation.
Where Generation Z is accustomed to five screens, Generation Y can multi-task across three screens. Their adolescent age came at a time of booming social media sites, leading them to subscribe to everything social. An online reputation became a very important aspect in their lives and they enjoyed a life at home and online that revolved around them.
What makes Gen Z different?
Generation Z, also known as the iGen or Gen C (for connected) heard the complaints of their older siblings expecting everything to just fall into their laps. So from an early age, we were realists. I knew that an education in the most prestigious college made no difference in the employment market. This led me to seek experience and use the internet as a tool for the future. But we’re so very clever making sure our online profiles are private to not sabotage our future hopes of employment. This is apps like Snapchat and Whisper became popular amongst Generation Z so quickly. Instead of aiming for likes, we aim to change the world into a place likeable for everyone.
We’re hyper-connected online and know what needs to be done to market something. Consider us born entrepreneurs.  I see companies market their products daily, we know what they do and we know how make something an online success. Because of this and our non-sheltered childhood, we’re surprisingly independent and intuitive. We know that if we think of something good enough, we can raise funds on Kickstarter, market it on Instagram and Facebook all while using free college Wi-Fi.
We were also lucky enough to be born in an era where individualism was encouraged, respected and cool. And we knew that the world didn’t revolve around us from growing up in multi-generational households. We expressed ourselves in fashion, art and music, making us the most creative generation yet. The individualistic generation’s natural competitiveness makes them natural born leaders. We encourage others to embrace their differences, making them happier and more appreciated. Everyone has a different approach so an original mind-sets can be used to their own benefit.
Things Have to Change
Things changed once and they’re already starting to change again. Whereas Generation Y grew up while social media and technology was slowly advancing, we grew up during the boom period. I’ve watched thousands of videos on YouTube, posted hundreds of status’ on Facebook, recorded and edited videos on Snapchat and tweeted all of our childhood heroes who never reply. Our consumer expectations are higher than ever before in history. The things that have worked in the past to engage Generation Y isn’t going to cut it with us. We’re more advanced, more creative, more morally just and more realistic than any of our predecessors.
For the first time in history, companies and brands alike are being called out by Generation Z for their unacceptable advertisements involving sexism, racism or morally unjust content. We’re headstrong and uncontrollably opinionated which is why there has to be a big shift from the expectations of past generations and expectations of our evolving society now. We’re sure to be the most difficult to impress because everything created to specifically engage Generation Y, we’ve been using since we were toddlers. You can’t stick to your ways of the past forever. If you do, you’re sure to crumble from lack of interest. Engaging us is going to be the most difficult task of the century but it isn’t impossible.
Out with the Old and in with the New
As generations go on, the expectations raise. This is because of the advances that are made at the time. The factor that influences this the most is technology. Generation Y and Z both saw great advances in technology, online and offline. Generation Y grew up while the internet was still getting the right footing. Sites like Myspace, Facebook and Twitter became popular. Gaming consoles became more widespread than ever and YouTube was launched just as they were becoming adolescents. Employers and marketers alike had to change their strategy to engage Gen Y. Social walls and videos were created as visual engagement, companies joined social sites to reach them on a platform that was a more hip and trendy way to communicate than email and gamification was incorporated to keep their interest. You must forget all of this, all of it. We’ve seen it all a million times, I’ve no interest.
In 8 Seconds or Less – Attention Span
With so many distractions surrounding us, the attention spans of my generation have shortened. The average American Generation Z has an attention span of 8 seconds. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because we’re consumers of snack media. I’ve communicated in bite size information with the addition of emojis and symbols since I first got a mobile. These little images become a tool for subtext in private conversations. Companies like Snapchat and Vine rose to such popularity because it was created as a creative social sharing, snack-media based engaging platform.
Although we process information at higher speeds, it’s difficult to keep out attention unless the content is relevant or somehow useful to us. This precise communication doesn’t leave much for interpretation so we expect the same in return. The quick rapid-fire conversations I’m used to are the cause of our very specific ways and this is the key to engage.
Our interests and way of life have to be the ground base when thinking of how to engage us. Your main objective involves creativity. You need to deliver content in a creative manner to avoid boredom. Humour and the art of surprise ensure we won’t drift off. As I said before, we’re a hands-on, multitasking, five screen generation. Provide demonstrations to let us get physically stuck in and distractions between talks like air-hockey or timed puzzles or. Keep our minds challenged and active so we won’t fall asleep.
Unlike ever before, society is finally beginning to acknowledge both environment and social problems around the world. Politicians now address global warming and the UN fight for the rights of young girls. Change is continually in progress and we want to be a part of it. I want to know that the people running a company are socially and environmentally conscious. I need to know that they won’t dump toxic waste into rivers or watch a town’s youth fall into trouble due to lack of facilities before supporting you. Generation Z expects companies to recognise their CSR (corporate social responsibility) and do something to improve the world. Demonstrate your commitment to the planet, get behind an organisation, sponsor a charity, give a certain percentage of your proceeds away or sell products in aid of a particular cause. This makes you likeable as well as investable. We love to support companies (and aim to work for one) that acts to improve the lives of others.
Forget brand loyalty
Due to the economic struggles I’ve witnessed, I’m less conscious of brand loyalty compared to my older siblings. I save money where they can, so a designer tag simply isn’t enough to convince me to splash out €100. I want encouraging stats and guarantees rather than your company’s name or slogan. Forget old marketing trends because they simply won’t work. You need to find new ways to market yourself at events. The swagbag trend is real. We love free things, everyone does! It’s the easiest way to make our company a household name and in the minds of consumers. You don’t have to spend all your budget on prizes. Offer a mix of items at different price ranges up for grabs throughout the day. Tell us your company stats, history, future projects and what responsibility you’ve taken. Capital figures don’t mean much to us because we’ve grown up holding onto bigger intentions. The reputation of your brand can no longer depend entirely on a logo because I simply source it somewhere cheaper online.
Since childhood, I’ve been immersed in rich, graphic content in 2D, 3D and now even 4D. We use the internet as a tool for information, inspiration and unification. We’re more creative than any of our predecessors and aim to be original in our work so involve us in the creative process of planning an event. We are more expressive than those before us because we’ve been encouraged to stand for our beliefs and aim to make a difference in this world. Prove you value our input by asking about our interests and then cater for them. Hold group discussions rather than talks. Have team tasks rather than solo projects. Our colossal social reach spans across Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Snapchat and Vine. We interact with people from all over the world. Use this and these people to your advantage by getting everyone involved. Think of ways to integrate social media or snapchat with your events layout to make us your #1 contributors.
Look to the future
We are more tech-savvy than any generation before us. New technology is being conceived and released on a constant basis and we have a serious case of FOMO or fear of missing out. To truly impress us, you’ll have to give us the complete immersive experience. Augmented reality and holographic imagery are edging closer and closer to the market. I’m not saying you have to go out and get the most expensive AI Robots or 3D mapping projectors but VR headsets and drones are becoming mainstream. If you want to catch our attention, you have to keep up to date with our interests. Gaming has been massive part of our lives thanks to consoles, smartphones and tablets. So gamification should be incorporated wherever possible. We thrive on competition and love diversity so use this to your advantage. Think fun, engaging, up to date technology and team orientated.
How to Connect RECAP
- Picture us as a diverse group of culture, ethnicity, sexuality and fashion rather than the specific.
- Communicate using emojis and symbols in short bursts of snackable content.
- We’re adults, so treat us that way. We have opinions and want to be heard. We want you to appreciate our efforts and provide some creative criticism.
- Provide content across multiple screens.
- We’re born researchers so optimize your search tools to appear when certain buzz words are used.
- Collaborate with others.
- Be humble and help improve our expertise so we can develop in your company.
- Feed our curiosity.
- Trust us with control.
- Tap into the born entrepreneur. We’ve seen what’s gone wrong before to avoid doing the same. We know how to reach our generation so let us.
- Live stream and allow compatibility for mobile, tablet and laptop.
- Include a social cause.