Gen Y are rapidly becoming the generation equivalent of Apple.  They are fascinating and we admire them; however, there’s no shortage of opinion about them.  As the knowledge market about Gen Y grows more saturated, attention is turning to the next generation, Gen Z.  Those born between the years 1996 and 2010.  The youngest are barely two, yet can identify the Golden Arches whilst blindfolded, and as a mom of three Gen Zers I’ve had direct experience, although it hasn’t been through a controlled experiment….

This young generation is significant because they’re big in number (287m in India, 215m in China and 45m in the US, source: Grail Research) and, despite some being barely out of diapers, they’re clued up, persuasive consumers from the start.  They influence family brand choices from electronics to cars:

  • 31% of US children, aged between 6-12, wanted an iPad over any other electronic device for Christmas in 2010; followed by a computer (29%) and an iPod touch (29%) (Grail Research).

Apparently there’s no shortage of words and phrases engineered to capture their unique generational essence. A Google search revealed - we first called them Gen V (for virtual).  Then there’s Generation M (for multi-tasking), Generation C (for the connected generation), the Net generation, the Internet Generation and Digital Natives – 73% are on a social network and 63% are online daily (Grail Research).  Pretty remarkable statistics considering the oldest are approaching the grand old age of 10!

Strauss and Howe’s Generational Theory identified that generations born during crisis, and there’s been a few big ones in Gen Z’s life-time (Y2K, 2001, 2008 - 2012), exhibit behaviors in adulthood that set them apart from those born into more ideal times, or times of awakening.  Under crisis conditions cultural expression is redirected towards a more purposeful, community-focused orientation where people define themselves as part of larger group and collective.

Our industry’s growing fascination is charting Gen Zer’s characteristics and projecting their adult purchasing behavior, the kinds of brands they’d like and experiences that will capture their fleeting attention span. Gen Zers are variously attributed as being socially responsible, always connected, constantly multi-tasking, and comfortable with technology; and, attitudinally social, participative, opinionated, playful and individualistic, yet possibly less imaginative than previous generations.  They exist in a world where’s there’s no lack of data, content, online games, websites or apps to stimulate their play or fill their time.  They’re also predicted to be the smartest generation yet, a product of early childhood education (more universally adopted from 2 years) when compared to previous generations.

Theories and research presented to date have credibility and describe the characteristics of Gen Z; however, in part, they’re being too kind.  My friend Steven Berlin  (http://www.roslyngroup.com/), an entrepreneur with bags of intuition, has coined a perfect word for Gen Z.  He describes them as Generation NOW. Based upon my experience and observations this is a truly apt term.  Technology has created its own Frankenstein.  It has set an expectation that everything can be instant with the result being that Gen NOW are inherently impatient.  Even the idea of waiting produces a “No!”, a “Why!” or, if you’re luckier, a reasoned argument.  A Gen NOWer sees no reason why it’s not possible to get the toy they’ve just seen on TV right now!  If they fancy wearing a yellow sweater they see no reason why it can’t be delivered in an instant.  Further, everything is considered disposal and easily replaced. It’s as if their appetite for stimuli is never sated, and they view life is an impressionistic tour, one that can be sucked in and then spat out.

Most of Gen NOW in the Western world at least will not remember a CD or a DVD.  They may not ever post a personal letter or postcard.  They don’t have to wait for the weekly library visit, or even for a book to be speed shipped.  iTunes, ebook readers and the like have culled waiting time.  The virtual world is Gen Now’s real world.  What’s more, intuitive touch screen technology has usurped the skills once painstakingly acquired as Gen Yer children patiently learned how to navigate a keyboard, dealt with the frustrations of the learning curve, and developed the skillful dexterity to efficiently direct a mouse.

The NOW Generation is also the SELF DIRECTED generation, to the point they are unmanageable at times.  Their parents tend to be Gen Xers, the latch key generation that had to be independent from a young age.  And independence is a trait they’ve carried through into their parenting style and expectations of their children.  As parents, Gen Xers are often less helicopter-like than Baby Boomers, provide less structure and enforce productivity less.

The challenge for brand owners is not necessarily to capture the attention of Gen Now but rather to win their loyalty – over and over again.

The opportunity is for leadership brands to act as artists and curators to help Gen Now focus and function better in a world overloaded with information and stimuli:

  • Brands will be relied upon to disentangle information and apply it to real world situations; they will show Gen Now how to interact with the external world and integrate their products and services instantly into each stage of day-to-day life.
  • Brands will have an even greater calling to be organizers, acting as life-editors that categorize and connect their service and product offers, and consistently evolve them in more relevant ways.
  • Brands that flourish will be more expressive; they will share strong opinions that gain the respect of Gen Now’s who’ve been encouraged to freely contribute their views in every situation
  • And lastly brands will become more experiential across their marketing communications and channels; Gen Now will respond to those who find even cleverer ways to appeal to their five senses, and appeal to their individualistic side, even when the purchase is virtual, remote, or they have to wait for the actual experience.

I am absolutely certain of one thing - brand owners and communicators have their work cut out to appease this demanding, at the tap of a screen generation.