In the study of evolution, there is an overarching rule of thumb: you can only see evidence of evolution at the population level, never the individual level. This is true in nature, humans, culture, and business.
There is a theory that iGen (Gen Z, 1995 – mid-2000s) will largely predict the use of technology in the future. A key tenant in this theory is that other generations (Millennials, Gen X, Boomers, etc.) will begin to use tech more like iGen rather than iGen growing to look more like older generations. We’ve seen evidence of this in the tech-dependent Millennial generation. In order to interact with Millennials, older generations must adopt technology in their daily routines (e.g., social media, text messaging, emojis, online ordering, etc.). However, Gen Z continues the evolution, taking technology behavior to a whole new level.
Studies from institutes like The Center of Generational Kinetics, based out of Austin, Texas has led the way in understanding this cohort, their behaviors, and their relationship to technology. In their national survey of 1,250 participants, trends emerge that suggest Gen Z’ers are typically less idealistic and more thrifty than their Millennial counterparts, less guarded about technology use, and generally communicate more while using fewer words (gifs, memes, and emojis are used frequently).
However, Gen Z is unique. Considered technology natives, they are our first generation born with access to technology throughout their lifetime. They don’t know a phone that doesn’t Facetime, or a screen that doesn’t expand or minimize with a touch of two fingers, or entertainment that doesn’t stream on demand. The way they experience the world is entirely different from any generation that has come before them. And along with the different experience, their expectations and their blind-spots are different as well. How the unique behaviors of the technology native influence the older generations tech use remain to be seen.
Moreover, we are still working to understand the business implications of servicing consumers in an on-demand world. Nonetheless, we do know there are implications coming. By Fall of 2017, the older cohort of Gen Z will be eligible to vote. By 2019, Gen Z will be a prominent segment of the workforce. By 2020, Gen Z will contribute $3 Trillion in purchasing power.
Because we are seeing tech adoption and behavior begin to blur across the age cohorts, companies are beginning to lean into consumer behavior, rather than stark age demographics, to define their offerings. This broadening of target populations creates a much wider net in the market, causing competitive market lines to grow increasingly fuzzy. And, the disruption is not limited to only brands that target Gen Z’ers. Older generations (Gen X, Baby Boomers, etc) are now utilizing and leveraging tech in their daily lives as influenced by Millennial and Gen Z’ers, forcing brands and companies that wish to capture their consumer attention to rethink their technology and overall experience.
As brands begin to invest in understanding their consumer’s behavior the expectation of technology and experience are placed front and center. Unfortunately, tech is only new if the user can remember a time without it, otherwise, it’s the standard. When we consider this in light of the current generations — this poses quite a challenge. I remember corded phones and boom boxes. I remember the walk-man radio. I remember life before VCRs and having to be home in time to see your favorite shows. I remember life before call waiting and the sound of the endless busy line when you were trying to call your best friend or crush. For me, the technology of today is new — it’s convenient and wonderful. However, for Gen Z’ers, it’s the minimum standard, it’s not new or cutting edge, and it certainly isn’t a product differentiator.
For brands, it’s important to begin to consider how the influx of this new perspective and new behaviors from Gen Z will influence and inform your current consumer base. You may just find yourself with a new consumer that has a different expectation on services, a different demand on product and features, and possibly different purchase motivations. And in some cases, challenging the way you’ve always done things.