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The New Kids of America

Posted on March 22, 2016, at 8:45 a.m.
by Elizabeth Broussard.

They are the generation born with a smartphone in one hand and a desire to change the world in the other. At a young age, their world was rocked by multiple financial crises and the onset of The War on Terror. They’ll never fully understand what dial-up Internet is, but their ability to influence people halfway around the world through social media is staggering.

As Brian Solis, principal analyst and futurist at Altimeter Group, said, “To them, a magazine is an iPad that doesn’t work.” Welcome to the digitally sustained world of Generation Z.

Many researchers and marketers alike are still trying to define and understand this group of young individuals, but there are some key identifiers that are likely to stay. Here are five things to know about the collective mind that is Generation Z.

1. Their attention span is short.Solis Sidebar 2

This one is no surprise. With multiple screens around them daily, and a constant deluge of information reaching them by the minute, time is quickly becoming a delicate resource in the lives of these young people. In fact, research shows that Gen Z-ers have attention spans as short as eight seconds, or the length of a Vine video.

Jeremy Finch, a writer at  Fast Company, echoes this sentiment in one of his articles: “They’ve grown up in a time where their options are limitless but their time is not.”

Therefore, brands have to engage quickly and effectively. If a video clip doesn’t make them stop on Facebook or Instagram within a matter of seconds, they’re going to keep scrolling. Time is of the essence, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t willing to listen.

“I wonder if at some point centennials are going to drive hyper-focused networks that don’t get past the notification window,” Solis said. In other words, just as texts or tweets can be replied to on an iPhone’s home screen without entering an actual app, there is a chance that all digital interaction will happen this way.

2. Data is becoming currency and online popularity is key.

While many older generations frown upon the sheer number of hours these young people are spending behind a screen, it isn’t without purpose. For many of them, social success lies in the ability to maintain an online presence.

Anne Boysen, a futurist at After the Millennials, stated that “sharing is becoming a currency and social media is becoming a type of utilitarian space. They’re going to start to see their own data as currency – as an asset they can trade.”

In other words, transaction will no longer be viewed purely in terms of money, but in the exchange of data and personal interests as well. Additionally, strategic purposes for sharing data will begin to emerge as Gen Z moves away from “sharing for the sake of sharing.” As a result of this shift, a distinction between information consumers and information producers will also emerge.

3. Very often, they replace optimism with pragmatism.

Gen Z is full of hard-working, forward-focused and somewhat apprehensive individuals. In one sense, they are starting to look more and more like their grandparents, or great-grandparents, and less like millennials.

“They have a very can-do, entrepreneurial spirit,” Boysen said. “They want to solve world problems, but they are taking over a world, which is in peril. There are challenges at every corner. There’s enormous opportunity, but there are also some pretty dire threats and we’re really depending on them to solve [these issues].”

While Boysen is aware of the belief that this generation is already quite cynical, she’s hoping this cynicism can be used constructively in order to change the world.

4. They’re expert brand managers.

They may not be old enough for a degree in marketing, but centennials know one brand better than anyone else ever will: themselves. And social media has become the place for them to build this brand. As a matter of fact, they’re doing exactly what marketing professionals do: showing-off the good and hiding the bad. The fundamentals of self-promotion are in their DNA.

Now, how is this trait helpful for brands? Gen Z-ers can promote like none other. In an economy that’s all about personal recommendations, marketing reps can play into, and greatly benefit from, this generation’s desire for their voice to be heard.

5. They latch on to influencers and strive to become influencers themselves.

Gen Z has accepted the Internet as a space for the exchange of ideas, both locally and globally, and they’re embracing this reality.

“They’re utilizing [social media] to either become an influencer or to look for an entrepreneurial opportunity in this platform-driven economy,” Boysen said.

Furthermore, they’re taking important conversations to authentic and real places. Key influencers are no longer celebrities pretending to relate to the everyday teen. They’re normal, middle-class individuals filming 10-minute videos for YouTube and inspiring others to do the same. It is this authenticity that Boysen believes is “becoming part of the essence of this new form of communication.”

Generation Z wants their brands to be authentic influencers as well. Transparency is key, and a willingness to make the world a better place often drives purchasing decisions.

New Kids of America
Courtesy of

These young individuals have all of the technology they could ever need, but what people aren’t talking about is the somewhat puzzling dichotomy that Generation Z embodies: Their hearts beat for innovation and the betterment of humankind, yet they’re hiding behind screens. Is this generation’s all-consuming desire to obtain likes and followers getting in the way of actual world-changing progress?

Brian Solis is wary of the narcissism that is emerging from today’s platforms. “In many ways, [narcissism] is holding back radically different types of networks because people, at the end of the day, want to share a selfie or a Snapchat,” he said.

There are big problems that this maturing generation needs to solve, but sheer awareness can’t dig wells in Africa, and a Snapchat filter certainly won’t cure cancer. The danger of becoming so consumed with consuming is that it will lead to only one place: a gridlock that’s absent of tangible advancement.

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