The following text may or may not have anything or everything to do with what is currently happening in our culture due to the author not really keeping abreast of the times.
Who are they?
Generation Z (shortened “gen Z” or “Z’s” later on in this text) is the generation born after the second millennium. The term refers to the youth in the developed nations where the internet is a part of everyday life for a large part of the population. One of the labeling issues about the Z’s is the fact that they are the first generation to grow up in a world where computers and the internet are so widely integrated within the functions of the society.
Social media and the IT are a normal (and natural?) part of life for this generation. This has raised the question of whether or not it is a good thing to be involved with the new technology and open information from such a young age. But perhaps trying to control the Z’s social media interaction too much is unnecessary. This generation is able to use the IT more fluently than any previous generation and will learn to better cope with the new kind of social environment. Possibly a lot of the same things that used to happen in schoolyards in the evenings after school are nowadays happening in the social media. All the ups and downs of the experience may similarly be a part of their growing up. Obviously this does not mean leaving kids all on their own. The youth needs parental figures; but it is a fact that many of the Z’s parents have a very narrow and fearful picture of the internet as a source of information and social contacts. There are also worries about the social skills of teens that spend a lot of time in social media. But what if this was only to bring up different sort of social skills. After all, through the social media the teens are involved in more social contacts than any previous generation. People have always been scared of changes in the society, but as is often stated: change is the only thing certain.
To really learn to cope with the changing world we must not fight it, but adapt it and to it. To see all the benefits and threats coming with the internet/social media revolution, will take, I believe at least a generation. Also I firmly believe that we have so far only seen the baby steps of this potential: most of us are still only using technology through devices locked in a single position, or with portable devices that require your full attention. All this seems pretty primitive when compared to something like a computer in a contact lens that can integrate the technological applications within the world as we see it. And this is only something that I can imagine. There will most certainly be inventions that are impossible to predict.
Z’s in the market
Getting a message through to the Z’s may require a different approach than that used with the older generations. Gen Z doesn’t rely on newspapers as a source for information, the TV as such is also less important. The Z’s learn to find information online. I believe this causes at least three different scenarios at the same time:
– the possibility to find information not covered by the heavyweight mainstream media
– the possibility to confuse misinformation for truth
– and the possibility to organize and network in ways unimaginable for the previous generations
Note: I see the internet neutrality (=everyone has an equal chance to share information) as an extremely important issue. If the internet neutrality is lost (there are some plans to have high speeds for those who can pay for it and low speed for the rest) then the benefits that can come from easy sharing and freedom of information will be lost. Though I believe in such a case people would find some sort of alternative to replace the current internet.
The new generation may not see the marketing environment as a threat as do many from the older generations. According to studies people are less happy with themselves when the media imposes a picture of certain standardized kind of success and beauty on them. This is a “great” opportunity for companies to sell people products to fill the disliked spots within themselves. But maybe while the Z’s have grown up in the midst of an advertising bombardment they will also learn to filter out the negative influences of advertising, so that their happiness is not affected so much by such suggestions coming from an outside source. They might, when “grown up”, have a more confident image of themselves than their parents.
Marketing to the Z’s may be rather different from the earlier generations. The Z’s have seen more economic collapses than any previous generation. After the millennium there has already been at least two major worldwide recessions, and a third one seems to be lurking around the corner. These events may make the Z’s more aware of their economical behavior, they may be more aware of the economic risks in the market. They are able to locate the best price/value and are less depending on the location of a product. This will require the companies to be more aware of the existing competition. This will clean up many uncompetitive firms and may also cause the centralization of many sort of production. But it is also possible for many smaller companies to make good business through a more targeted approach.
The Z’s may expect marketers to use different approaches than are used when dealing with older generations. As consumers they expect the marketing interaction to work in both directions, interactivity is valued high. Gen Z is smaller in numbers than previous generations, but largely affects the buying behavior of their parents. Through the internet the Z’s are able to find out all the facts about products and services. None other generation has had the same possibilities at such a young age. The Z’s may know a lot more about many products than their parents and therefore also know how to demand the right qualities. Of course this all is often colored with the naïveté of a child, but it may develop information handling skills never seen before throughout a generation.
Exposure to all sorts of culture and religion may also make the Z’s incredibly open minded. This means that a one angled, commanding and suggesting marketing may lose its power. The age old, “Uncle Sam wants you to join the fight for freedom” -sort of message may not appeal anymore. With the open information on the internet, there will hardly be people who see the world black and white enough to believe that peace is built through war.
Individuality seems quite an important value to the Z’s, though there obviously are also plenty of collective values as well (trends?). As individuality becomes more important, and if the generation’s confidence was to become stronger than ever, the effect of opinion leaders to consumer behavior may also lessen. From my point of view the lifestyle of younger generations is at the same time both, becoming more uniform while the different lifestyles also spread fast. This seems controversial at first. But I believe this is possible because the internet spreads culture very effectively, and therefore the culture can become more uniformed at the macro level and at the same time differentiating on the micro level. So the vast amount of subcultures spreads around the world and becomes quite similar everywhere. In 30 years there may be a fantastically large mix of subcultures, but the mix may be very similar in Tokyo as in New York.
The Z’s seem to have an incredible amount of possibilities and potential, but also their future seems to be filled with worries and risks. Keeping the Earth a safe place to live on will be even larger an issue to the Z’s than for the previous generations. Maybe the mass in this new generation will finally be able to carry the responsibility that, I believe, belongs to a species so expanding by nature.