There is no shortage of perspectives regarding today’s younger generations.
Millennials, that is, those born between the early 1980s and mid-1990s, are a major topic of review among business leaders. In contrast to the narrative of the “me-generation” that came before them, milllennials are typically seen as innovative, reflective individuals withe plenty to offer the workforce.
Business leaders, however, have a lot less affinity with millennials' successors, Generation Z.
This discrepancy speaks to the ways Gen Z’s non-traditional mindsets and communication styles challenge these corporate leaders. "Needy," "fickle" and "preoccupied" are some of the terms leaders trying to adjust to the traits of this younger cohort use in describing their frustration.
But, nonetheless, industries are trying to quantify the defining qualities of Gen Z; and for business leaders, this exercise is rather a hurdle. Accommodating Gen Z, in fact, seems more a burden than an opportunity; but, still, members of this age group are reshaping business as we know it.
Rather than viewing Gen-Z’s differences as a setback, however, these understandings can be seen as a business opportunity. Here are five ways to accommodate the needs of Gen Z and improve your business:
1. Succinct messaging
With an average attention span that researchers have set at 8 seconds, Gen Z challenges marketers to be concise. This demand is crucial for any business because clear communication improves consumer engagement as a whole, and not just with youth. Limited character counts urge marketers to take a deeper look at, and be creative with the delivery of, their value proposition.
Multimedia content such as video and infographics continues to provide exciting new ways to represent data and share messages in concise ways with Gen Z. And members of this group and their desire for engaging and succinct messaging only contribute to the rise of this multimedia.
With visual learners representing 65 percent of the general population, traditional long text-based ads miss a large proportion of their desired market. Gen Z’s desire for engaging and succinct messaging has helped with this problem by contributing to the rise of micro-content platforms and interactive mediums. The result has been an increased effectiveness in marketing messages.
2. Company authenticity
Gone are the days of one-way, unsubstantiated marketing. As with their millennial brothers and sisters (of which 43 percent rank authenticity over content when consuming news), Gen Z seeks honest messaging. This generation is not afraid to call out a corporation on its claims and challenge businesses to act!
Indeed, members' demand for ethical spending, civic responsibility and open dialogue makes businesses accountable and inspires transparency. From its encouragement of new industry markets, like sustainable fashion and conscious production, to its call for improved food labelling and enhanced labor standards, Gen Z and its call for transparency has raised the bar for businesses.
The traditional image of "America" — the white picket fence and a Caucasian family — will not resonate with Gen Z. Growing up in a society with a 400 percent increase in multiracial marriages, these young people are advocates for diversity. That diversity extends to same-sex marriages, LGBT rights, single parents, multiracial families and integrated design that accommodates those with accessibility needs: Gen Z challenges businesses to create more inclusive advertisements and environments.
Consider, for instance, the increase in "real beauty" campaigns, today's plethora of plus sized models and untouched advertising layouts.
Gen Z is proving to be a voice of acceptance and change. In a recent convocation address at McMaster University, mental health expert, Bill Wilkerson told graduates that they would be among the first generation to enter into a workforce where mental health and well-being are standard priorities.
Gen Z is collaborative by nature. This group's emphasis on peer interaction encourages businesses to step out of their industry silos to embrace co-creation and cross-collaborative solutions. At the end of 2014, “crowdfunding added 270,000 jobs and injected more than $65 billion into the global economy.” These staggering numbers reveal that “crowdfunding” and “crowdsourcing” are no longer trends but the ideal approaches to problem-solving and innovation.
Successful platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo thrive off this collaborative spirit Gen Z champions. These trends have significant industry influence. According to Kickstarter, crowdfunding continues to rejuvenate troubled industries like book publishing. From idea generation and open source development to consumer blogs and live conversations, collaboration is becoming a business resource for consumer engagement and innovation.
5. Sense of purpose
Empowering a double bottom line, 87 percent of Gen Z say it is important for businesses to focus on giving back to their communities. This conscious perspective drives businesses to consider their mission beyond their services and invest in corporate social responsibility. More and more businesses are reflecting upon their social footprint and feel challenged to consider their "why."
Where are their dollars going? What is their brand purpose? Why should consumers care?
Basic sales principles demonstrate that consumers rarely buy products for their features; rather, they buy for the benefits. Marketing is not about the products or services as much as it is about relationships and emotional connections. Businesses that have a clear “why” behind their services are positioned to create deeper relationships with their consumers.
Gen Z’s desire for businesses to have a greater purpose encourages them to recall their founding roots and establish brand principles. Such principles form the heart of a business which, in turn, builds culture and differentiates businesses from their competitors.
Although Gen Z may pose some different hurdles, these young people also present new opportunities for growth. Change can be challenging, but Gen Z is inspiring change across industries. It’s those businesses that adapt and accept the changes that are happening that will rise to the top of their markets over those set in their ways.