Summer is the perfect time to people watch, catch up on those podcasts you’ve been meaning to review, and indulge in news articles. So, after a summer of reading, researching, reflecting and of course working, we at Onesixtyfourth have a couple of observations we’d like to share with you before the 2014 brand and marketing planning cycle starts.

Gen Z has the power
As a 23 million strong generation, Gen Z (under 17 year olds) may not be as sizeable as the Millennial cohort, but what they lack in volume they make up for in influence. This is the generation that thinks dial up was something dinosaurs did, advises venture capitalists on product ideas, and self-publicizes like previous generations played neighborhood baseball or football (dependent upon if you grew up in the US or UK).

The technological context that’s empowered them at such a young age has its down- as much as up- side. News of school shootings and terrorists attacks are more difficult for parents to hide. Security drills rather than fire drills are commonplace in their schools, and additional airport security checks are just a routine part of travelling. And, yes it affects them, they’re often less optimistic than Millennials (especially those at the older end of the generation), and seek relationships with brands that are consistent and feel familiar.

Their role models aren’t of the same ilk either; they’re often more ordinary than aspirational. Interestingly, Gen Zers value them because of this. Rather than represent the person next door, they are the person next door - with more talent perhaps. Real people teach Gen Zers anything is possible; even when you are 6 and don’t have a job. Take Evan HD. My boys (8, 6 and 5) like many their age latched onto him this summer. His YouTube show gives this exquisitely powerful 6 year old the perfect vehicle to set trends in toys, shares ideas for superhero style art projects, and espouse his lifelong wisdom…all six years of it. Brand Evan is likely becoming a pain in advertisers proverbial @#*%. He’s dictating what my boys and their friends are into now. Moviemakers, the Disney channel, toy manufacturers have no influence over Evan’s relatable and personalized way.

And, while perhaps exceptional, Evan’s not unusual. Gen Zers as diligent researchers need no encouragement to efficiently curate the Internet. Daily, my boys conducted price comparisons between Target and Wal-Mart online and further checked out any discrepancies between on- and offline pricing.

Gen Zers constant connectivity means that Mom’s power as the primary influencer of family related purchases is being eroded, and not just in the areas you’d expect. From a family’s choice of holiday destinations, hotel brands, airlines and cars, Gen Zers knowledge and influence are changing the dynamics of consumerism. Thanks, Evan and YouTube. We were California bound to Lego’s newest experiential hotel during spring break and at least we now have the Christmas list set!

In the knowledge economy the business of education gives better returns
Liverpool University in England is developing its brand. A while ago having a brand rather than just a name with a good reputation in the education sector was considered breakthrough. Now this red brick institution is going a step further. It’s bringing its particular brand of expertise to different locations (a Chinese campus now, India, Latin America may be next) and creating targeted offers to appeal to new audiences. Liverpool’s London campus will target the mid career professional.

If predictions stay on track, by 2025, the worldwide population will increase by 1 billion, which requires four universities to open up every week just to keep pace with our insatiable appetite for knowledge. And it’s not just demand for graduate level education that’s booming. Insights from our two of our CultureQ studies (2012 and 2013) reveal Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, as well as Millennials, would all spend infinite time advancing their knowledge and furthering their education. Yes, partly to buffer their CVs and as a strategy to further their careers, but also to address the societal expectation that every minute needs to be used purposefully.

Demographic changes will ultimately influence our choices in education and increase expectations of educational brands. The egalitarian perspective, when State delivers education it ensures equitable access, shows signs of shifting, in part fuelled by increasing competition for jobs and rising educational levels worldwide. Rather than private education and privilege being synonymous, the quality of all types of education is being questioned and the value it provides being more rigorously assessed. Decisions are being made more on what opportunities the education provides - ROI - rather than who is delivering it. A well-respected, well financed brand, run by relevant business leaders with sensible financing options will have as much if not more value than revered instituitons in consumer’s eyes.

And, expect brands across categories to integrate education into their core offering and fund more institutionally oriented research into the macro issues facing society (global warming, finding alternative cheap energy sources).  All of this as consumers further demand that business makes a difference, progresses societal knowledge for mutual benefit, and expands their remit to be broader than solving close-in category problems.