Born into an age of mobile phones and internet access, Generation Z has never known anything but the connected lifestyle.
They are more switched on, more tuned in, and more digitally savvy than any generation before them. And now they’re about to make their entrance into the workforce.
So what drives Gen Z, and how as a business do you attract their attention?
In 2018, WP Engine released “Reality Bytes: The Digital Experience is the Human Experience”, looking at Generation Z internet usage.
The report examines how much Gen Z use the internet and what they utilise it for in comparison to previous generations like the Millennials and Baby Boomers.
In it, they define Gen Z as people born between 1996 and the mid-2000s, who are currently aged anywhere from 14 to 23. And they note, this really is the first generation to have connectedness built into their being.
Not only were they born into an established internet era, they have never known life without the mobile phone.
Now, as they ready to enter the workforce, this generation is shaping up to be important for business and marketing alike.
The report explains in the US alone:
- Generation Z represents 25 per cent of the population and comprises 86 million people
- They boast $143 billion in buying power; and
- Gen Z influences as much as 93 per cent of the family spend
“For Gen Z, the most Internet-dependent generation in history, the physical and digital worlds have begun to blend with one another in a way no generation before them has ever envisioned,” the report authors state.
“This presents opportunities and challenges for today’s brands, but to reach Gen Z you must first understand their needs.”
Oh so connected
For Generation Z, the internet is part of who they are and they use it like no generation before them. The report highlights how this generation can barely function without connection.
The study found 55 per cent of Gen Z can’t unplug and when they do, can go only five hours without internet access. In comparison 22 per cent of Baby Boomers can unplug and go 168 hours without logging on.
In fact, 64 per cent of Gen Z indicated the internet is so important in their lives, they would rather have unlimited access to it than no internet access and a college degree.
Meanwhile Gen Z also uses the internet differently to their predecessors. Their main use of the internet is for entertainment. Two thirds (66 per cent) use the internet for entertainment, while connection ranks second, and information is a distant third.
And when using the internet they continue to look for easier, more innovative ways to gain access, including utilising voice assistants, gestures, and hand and finger movements on a touchscreen.
They also believe the internet should be able to predict their needs and are willing to hand over personal data in order to assist.
“35 per cent expect the Internet to predict what they need and alert them before they need it within the next five years. That’s compared to 28 per cent of Millennials, 27 per cent of Gen X, and 24 per cent of Baby Boomers. Additionally, 44 per cent of Gen Z would actively stop visiting a website if it didn’t anticipate what they needed, liked, or wanted.”
Meanwhile, 44 per cent of Gen Z are more likely to provide their personal data for a more personalised digital experience. And they continue to embrace future forms of internet connection, with the belief everything from clocks to dishwashers, refrigerators and vacuums should and will soon be logging on.
Gen Z and retail
The internet might be their native arena, but interestingly the research found Gen Z ranked online and physical retail as equally important.
When it comes to e-commerce, websites rather than apps are their preferred medium. Over half (62 per cent of Gen Z indicate a clear preference for a company’s website over an app when making a purchase.
Meanwhile, like the generation before them, Gen Z is socially conscious in the purchasing decisions they make.
“69 per cent of Gen Z are more likely to buy from a company that contributes to social causes, while 33 per cent have stopped buying from a company that contributes to a social cause with which they disagree,” the report notes.
An entrepreneurial era
With the internet at their fingertips and a mobile phone in their hand, Gen Z is also the generation most likely to start their own business.
An astounding 64 per cent of Gen Z said they would be likely to start their own business, compared to 56 per cent of millennials, 47 per cent of Gen X and only 28 per cent of Baby Boomers.
And yes, that business is likely to have its genesis online, but a physical location may also be important.
“64 per cent of Gen Z would launch their business online first, 36 per cent would still do so at a physical location.”
Interestingly, it turns out this is in stark contrast to Baby Boomers, “who overwhelmingly (80 per cent) would launch their business online first”.
An online reputation
Contrary to popular belief, Gen Z is far from cavalier when it comes to their online reputation. This generation is acutely aware of the power of a personal brand.
They may be willing to hand over personal information but when it comes to their online image, they understand the power of curation.
- 72 per cent of Gen Z worry that their online actions, including social media posts and past purchases, will affect job offers
- 60 per cent of Gen Z believe their online reputation will determine their dating options, and 52 per cent believe that soon, Internet usage will tell as much about a person as their credit score
“Perhaps that’s why Gen Z is fiercely committed to authenticity when considering the brands they use and buy. 79 per cent of Gen Z will trust a company more if the images that brand uses are not photoshopped. 84 per cent of Gen Z trust a company more if they use actual customers in their ads.”
10 key takeaways
Generation Z is always on
Generation Z spends the most time on the internet, and is the least able to switch off, alternating between entertainment, social media and information seeking on the side.
“If Gen Z is always on, it follows that your brand must always be on as well,” the report notes.
“If always on is not enough, finding new ways to connect with this generation is of the utmost importance. That begins with reaching Gen Z where they are today— across a wide variety of social channels—but it also means having the courage to go places Gen Z hasn’t fully reached yet.”
A website is a must
Apps might be useful, but a website still remains the preferred channel for Generation Z when it comes to purchasing online, with 61 per cent preferring websites over apps.
“Despite Gen Z’s eagerness to access the web using new methods and different devices, they still show a clear preference for a company’s website over a mobile app when making purchases. This fact held true across all generations, with Baby Boomers leading the pack at 85 per cent, followed by Gen X (82 per cent), Millennials (68 per cent), and Gen Z (61 per cent).”
Entertain rather than inform
With Generation Z accessing the internet primarily for entertainment, it follows that brands need to offer this type of content to their patrons.
“One resounding message from the study is that Americans continue to overwhelmingly (81 per cent) prefer information over entertainment when interacting with a company’s online content. An equally resounding point? Gen Z is reversing that trend, and 26 per cent now prefer to be entertained rather than informed, compared to 8 per cent of Baby Boomers.”
Video will remain king
Over the past few years, video has emerged as one of the most popular tools for delivering content. That’s likely to increase courtesy of greater mobile internet speeds and improved broadband speeds.
“The study found that a vast majority of Americans believe video content will grow to dominate the Internet within the next five years.
“That percentage increased from 71 per cent in 2017 to 76 per cent in 2018. It’s exactly this trend that has driven the rise of YouTube and made it the most popular social platform among Gen Z.”
Consistent, relevant content
Every brand should know their audience and the content that they seek. Generation Z is no different although the medium of delivery may further shift over time.
“…they want companies to provide them with content that’s consistent and relevant. In fact, Gen Z is the most likely generation (82 per cent) to purchase from a company that provides consistent, relevant content.”
Stay ahead of the trend
It’s little secret the internet landscape is changing. The past few years have seen a boom in voice activated technology courtesy of smart speakers, while machine learning is also allowing brands to better target and service the interests of their audience.
“Experimentation with new technologies (voice, personalisation, AI and machine learning, etc.) must be top of mind and part of your budget, not an afterthought, if you’re going to reach Gen Z.
“Brands employing this strategy are already seeing success. From diversifying the social channels they use to developing more video and even VR-style content, businesses must have the bandwidth to meet Gen Z where they currently are, and branch out to some of the new channels to which they’re gravitating. If brands choose not to do these things, they risk alienating this important demographic and their burgeoning buying power.”
Social media may be a mainstay and the human touch may happen online, but Generation Z is far from fickle or insincere. They understand the reality behind the glitz of influencers and marketing and having grown up with it, they can spot a lack of authenticity from a mile.
“Gen Z appears to be advancing the tradition of holding companies accountable when it comes to taking a stand on social issues. Here authenticity reigns supreme. If a brand chooses to support a cause, they must ensure they are not only talking the talk but walking the walk.”
In the digital age, Generation Z may present new challenges and ever-evolving criteria for the brands they choose to trust. But when a brand services them well, they will repay them time and again.
Meanwhile, businesses who fail to heed their needs will do at their peril as this generation enters the workforce and waits in the shadows to become the prime spenders and consumers in the next decade.
“Gen Z is highly confident in the way they interact with technology and the online world. It’s instinctive and not learned as it has been for other generations. At the same time, they are practical, empathetic humanists who want to stand out and make a difference in the world.”
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