Next year the oldest members of Gen Z will be turning 18 years of age, and they will nudge out the millennial generation as the world’s largest population segment, according to a recent analysis by Bloomberg, based on data compiled by the United Nations. (Although, technically, in each of the four largest economies – U.S., China, Japan and Germany – millennials will hang on to the #1 spot a bit longer.)

This imminent generational transition has special meaning for me, as it will be just the latest phase of monumental societal change that I’ve witnessed since our firm was founded nearly four decades ago. Since we opened our doors, we’ve served clients from the pre- to early-Internet era, to the dot-com and internet explosion eras. Then came the dawn and maturation of social media, and now–what some are labeling the post-digital era. What’s unique about Gen Z is that, in just a short period of time, it will be the first cohort to enter the workforce having no knowledge of what the world was like before digital. Remarkable!

Bloomberg (as well as the U.S. Census) defines Gen Z as individuals born starting in 2001, until whenever the next generational shift is determined. Millennials include those born starting in 1980 through 2000. (Definitions of the generational cut-off points vary.)

But before 2019 is done, Gen Z will comprise 32 percent–or 2.47 billion people–of a global population of 7.7 billion, per Bloomberg. They will edge out the 19- to 39-year-old millennials by one-half of 1 percent.

Frankly, there is a mountain of information and reports in the marketplace contrasting the characteristics and preferences of Gen Z versus millennials, providing a great deal of useful information to inform marketing and communications strategies. (Many of these reports are perhaps overly harsh on millennials, I noticed.)

But I agree with what research firm Nielsen Holdings plc wrote: “Each generation comes with a unique set of behaviors and presents a unique set of challenges for those looking to reach them.” Of course, as communicators, sensitivity to target audiences is in our DNA!

I don’t have the space to go through all the reports I perused, but two themes stand out to me in importance.

A Different Mindset

A recent report called “Rise of Gen Z: New Challenges for Retailers”, describes Gen Z as a new disruptive force. Marcie Merriman, an executive director at Ernst & Young involved with the report, put her finger on an important attitude change between these two generations. She contrasts what she calls the “self-centered, what’s-in-it-for-me entitlement of millennials,” with the Gen Z profile of “self-awareness, self-reliance, and innovation.” Millennials “looked to others, such as the companies that they did business with for solutions, whereas the younger people naturally sought to create their own solutions,” she noted in a Bloomberg interview. Gen Z grew up in turbulent, often unpredictable times, which “reduced the likelihood Gen Z-ers will take unnecessary risks and has increased awareness of how and where they spend money.”

Low, or No, Brand Loyalty

An article by Hubspot, headlined “Marketing to Gen Z: What Everyone Over the Age of 30 Ought to Know”, advised that “You might assume young people don’t hear what you have to say, but they do – they just choose not to listen.” Why? They are bombarded like no other generation with information from different tech devices and social platforms, so “if you want to reach Gen Z, you better have a convincing reason for them to let you in.” Companies must match their messaging with authentic actions that are in tune with their beliefs. A study from Google supports this idea, giving evidence that Gen Z uses brands “to help shape their world.” This generation “wants brands to be a representation of their values, their expectations of themselves and their peers.” It gives examples of companies (they are obvious ones) that are already ahead of the curve.

So, marketers and communicators have their work cut out for them. Bring it on!

thought leadership

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