Welcome to the Gen Z Era

June 26th, 2020

Sorry, millennials, your reign is over. Alas, it was short-lived, and we’ll always remember you for your avocado toast, but a new generation stepped up to the plate: Generation Z. Gen Z, born between 1995 and 2015, grew up in the Internet age. They think mail has always been digital and video chats were second nature to them even before COVID-19. They are confident, empathetic, diverse, independent and adaptable. And, even though many of them may only be kids, they know the power of their own voice and are compelled to use it when they feel wrongs are happening in the world.

I have some experience with this. I’m raising a Gen Z teen myself. I can tell you first-hand they are well-informed. Their noses may be buried in their phones, but they are soaking up news and information like multi-tasking sponges. They question everything, share knowledge with peers and challenge adultsplaining without fear. (Adultsplaining: When someone adultsplains, they firmly believe that they know what’s right based solely on the fact that, as an adult, they’re better and wiser than you, kids.)

Last Saturday, Gen Z, used their voices to insert themselves into the political arena. The president held a campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Trump’s campaign was billing this as a max capacity event, with one million tickets requested – even in the midst of a pandemic. But Saturday night came and only 6,200 Trump supporters attended. Why? Because teens around the world had been organizing on TikTok to secure tickets to the rally with no intention of actually showing up. The teens used their voice of protest in the quietest way possible: empty seats. The media attention they received for their collective efforts that night was off the charts.

It wasn’t the first time Gen Z teens had a national voice though. After the Parkland, Florida, shootings in 2018, high school students who attended the school used the power of social media to draw attention to gun violence. They took to Twitter to plead their case for gun control and were able to capture the attention of the nation. And soon multiple companies cut ties with the NRA, including United and FedEx, and the NRA claimed financial losses in the tens of millions. The Parkland teens went on to form an advocacy group, March for Our Lives, held a national march in Washington D.C. and are currently proposing significant gun-control legislation.

Teens. Whether you agree with their views or not, teens are doing this.

Ok, so how is this all relevant to your brand and the way you communicate to Gen Z? Gen Z’s confidence in their ability to share ideas and affect change should be a hint as to what types of interaction your brand can expect when given the opportunity to communicate with them. A few tips that might help along the way:

  • Be Authentic. This is communication 101, but Gen Z really sees through fake accolades or flowery copy. Be honest, blunt even – they can take it; heck, they even expect it. Their Gen X parents have been giving it to them straight for years.
  • Get to the point. Quickly. They won’t have the patience for long diatribes about why your product is the best. They’re used to short bites of information. The only way they stick around for the entire story is to hear it directly from peers or peer influencers they admire.
  • Take a stand. The buzzword in marketing these days seems to be social responsibility, but Gen Z really does expect it. They want to know where you stand on social issues because, maybe for the first time in our modern world, they understand that social issues and business decisions are intertwined. One does affect the other, whether, we as adults, want to address it or not.
  • Meet them at their tech level. They are not afraid to use the latest technology or try new media platforms or apps. This does not mean you, as a brand, can instantly go on TikTok, create a dance video and be cool. It does mean you should invest time in exploring the platforms Gen Z uses. Speaking of TikTok, here are some brands using the app well for inspiration: Washington Post and Chipotle.
  • Cherish diversity. Gen Z will be the most diverse generation we’ve seen. Their acceptance of everyone no matter their background, preference or ability is to be applauded. They are empathetic and inclusive – they welcome different. This may be their most defining generational factor yet.

It’ll be interesting to see how Gen Z changes the world (because I believe they will). Sure, they’ll have their flaws like all generations, but their ability to adapt on the fly might help them navigate rough patches a bit easier. Let’s hope the rest of us can keep up!