12 differences between Gen Z and Millennials

Feb 8, 2019 · 6 min read

My Dad called me a Millennial the other day (because I had my head stuck in my phone).

Fair enough Dad, except I was born in 1979, making me the last of the Gen X’ers (or ‘Xennials’ — say that without doing a bit of sick in your mouth).

Why do I mention this? Because I’m pretty sure Dad and his pro-Brexit, drunk-driving, key-swapping, Baby Boomer pals call everyone under 40 a Millennial (with their smartphones, Snapclap, streaming services and shiftless apathy).

Except that’s all bollocks isn’t it?

Since Gen X, we’ve seen TWO new digitally-savvy cohorts emerge. Millennials (Gen Y); born roughly between 1980 and 1994 (making them 25 to 39 years old) and Gen Z, born from 1995 to 2012 (making them 7 to 24).

It’s Gen Z we’re going to focus on here, not just for my Dad’s enlightenment, but for any marketers out there who want to target young adults more effectively.

So here we go, 12 things that distinguish Gen Z from Millennials.

1. Gen Z’s world has always had a digital layer

Millennials saw the internet slowly creeping into everyday life bit by bit. Gen Z has never known anything else. They’ve grown up in a mobile-first, instant-gratification, Wi-Fi powered world. (Which explains why 40% of Gen Z allegedly said working Wi-Fi was more important to them than working bathrooms.)

2. Gen Z expect digital brilliance as standard

“Generation Z expects technology to be intuitive, relevant and engaging — their last great experience is their new expectation,” — so says IBM’s Steve Laughlin. He’s on to something. After all, they’ve seen their phones, web connectivity and social platforms develop faster than you can say ‘buffering’. They’ve never had to watch or listen to programs at a scheduled time. They’ve never had to tolerate average content or sluggish digital experiences due to a lack of choice.

3. Gen Z’s digital world is massively mobile

Gen Z have always had kick-ass smartphones in their hands, giving them instant access to everything. 96% own a smartphone, 68% own a PC/Laptop and only 29% own a tablet. They average 4 hours a day on their mobile, over 20 mins more than their Millennial counterparts (GWI, 2018). If you’re not thinking mobile-first, you’re not thinking Gen Z.

4. For Gen Z, research is social

According to 2018 research from Global Web Index, social is Gen Z’s top brand-research channel — above search engines. They under-index for ‘traditional’ channels like price comparison sites, while over-indexing for ‘new’ channels like vlogs. They’re wired to trust a believably raw voice over a glossy corporate one. Why? Because they’ve grown up seeing big brands make lavish empty promises in their advertising whilst serving up underwhelming customer experiences.

5. They’re an audio-visual generation

Gen Z are less likely than Millennials to be Facebooking, Pinteresting or Tweeting, and more likely to be Instagramming, Snapchatting and more recently, Tik Tokking (60% of Tik Tok users are Gen Z’ers). Why? Because these are the platforms that offer the richest audio-visual experiences, with the slickest UI, and the most privacy control. They’re on social media to fill their spare time and find entertaining, edifying, vibrant, visual content — more so than any other generation. Gen Z also spend 17 mins more streaming music per day than Millennials (GWI, 2018).

6. Social stresses them out

An Origin study released in March 2018 revealed that 35% of Gen Z felt there was too much negativity on social media, with 29% stating that it “tears apart their self-esteem.” YIKES! But Gen Z are a practical bunch, and they understand that with self-control comes contentment. 56% of US 18–23s told Mintel they were “trying to reduce the time I spend on social media”- considerably ahead of the average of 44%.

7. They’re pragmatists who crack on

According to Ryan Jenkins at INC, 77% percent of Gen Z expect to work harder than previous generations. While Millennials retain a large dose of idealistic optimism, Gen Z have seen enough data points to convince them that success absolutely does not fall in your lap. They’re an ‘if you want it done right, do it yourself’ generation, and they have access to limitless knowledge, tools and tutorials via their smartphones.

8. They’re price sensitive, but they’ll pay for utility

Gen Z is made up of students and young professionals, so they’re not cash rich yet. BUT — research from UNiDAYS (2018) found that Gen Z are willing to make in-app purchases to help them achieve personal goals and pursue passions. (66% will pay for music apps, 31% will pay for game and entertainment apps, 24% for health apps and 18% for apps that help them with utility and productivity.)

9. They prioritise adventure

Gen Z show a higher than average propensity to spend money on travel and unique cultural experiences. They assimilate these experiences into social posts designed to earn likes, shares & envious comments. According to the UNiDAYS survey, around 22% of respondents post on social media every day while on holiday, and 72% tag their location.

10. Hollow attempts at authenticity aren’t good enough

Step into any Hoxton hotel lobby and you’ll see a painfully careless stack of vintage suitcases, weathered wood and metro tiles. Scan most beauty brand’s well-lit take on real beauty and you’ll find it’s still basically, really beautiful. For Gen Z, unlike Millennials, this Insta-friendly take on ‘real’ is starting to feel deeply hollow. As a result, we’ve seen Britain’s Next Top Model Louisa Northcote launch the #freethepimple movement, Justin Bieber announcing that “pimples are in”, and Kendall Jenner hitting the 2018 Golden Globes carpet with visible acne and a war cry of “never let that shit stop you.” Amidst the digital bland-o-sphere, digital glitch is also cutting through with Gen Z. Take a look at that Tik Tok logo. Glitchy.

11. Gen Z are looking for truth

Going deeper, McKinsey conducted some killer research last year with Brazil’s Gen Z’ers (20% of the country’s population). They found that Gen Z have a unique desire for truth, valuing individual expression over labels, actions over platitudes, and meaningful dialogue over empty confrontation. Where Millennial’s self-oriented nature is more forgiving of the superficially real, Gen Z’s pragmatism and ethical bent demands a higher standard of authenticity. Great news for brands who aren’t full of shit.

12. Gen Z don’t want ads, they want meaningful interactions

While Millennials are more accepting of broadly thematic creative messages that reflect their lifestyles, Gen Z look outwardly for organisations, brands and platforms that can recognise them as individuals. That’s partially why, according to eMarketer, 43% of Gen Z will be blocking ads this year. They’re not interested in irrelevant ads, they’re looking for personalised experiences and an opportunity to be heard (not marketed at). Some brands are working that out faster than others. Adidas for example, just launched the Tango League, a football creator community powered by challenges, content and rewards. It’s brilliant.

That feels like a good place to finish. Hopefully what comes across clearly is that my Dad was way off. But also, that engaging Gen Z is about a lot more than just snappy social. They’re a generation of extraordinary depth, pragmatism and integrity. You’ll have to work harder to earn their trust, but offer them real value, real values, and real recognition, and they’ll really reward you.

As for Generation Alpha — kids being born right now — let’s leave them alone for a bit shall we?

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store