Shifts from Generation Y to Generation Z
2nd of March, 2017. A company called Snap, Inc. had its initial public offering. The core product is an app which opens up the camera on start, decorates your face with a dog’s nose and tongue and lets you select which friends to share your creation with. Snapchat — An app which perfectly reflects the values and desires of our youngest Generation. Generation Z, Centennials or Pivotals is what we call them. Born after 1995, not working full time yet but producing more content on a day then previous generations did in their entire lifetime. Brands, leaders and parents just figured out how to cope with the “ever questioning” Generation Y. Why do we need to open up another chapter to adjust our products, leadership style or marketing campaigns? Today, we witness another generational shift in the world’s attitudes and beliefs. The so called Generation Z differs significantly from the after 1980 born Millennials. The term “Millennials” is to be seen as a synonym for Generation Y in this article, even though some definitions differentiate them slightly. They seek for other values, are driven by a different motivation and come with new skills. However, the fact of having a new type of Generation is rather fortunate, than unfortunate. Not because it was harder to cope with Generation Y, but because it opens up various opportunities for innovative business models, insightful leadership and successful marketing campaigns.
After having read reports, books and articles about Generation Y and Z for research work for a Top 20 Fortune Global 500 company, I figured there was no complete overview over all the different values and attributes these generations embody. Moreover, there was no dedicated analysis towards the shift from one to another. Rather than that, the content I found was fragmented information out of the perspective of one of the following groups: brands & marketers, companies & executives, parents & colleagues. Even though this article has the purpose of fusing knowledge from different views, it will speak towards an audience of producers and marketers, since evidence for successful campaigns is most likely to be found in B2C apps and innovative marketing campaigns — Snapchat being the most notable example and a reoccurring theme in this article.
Looking at trends in society is crucial for any of the afore mentioned groups. It helps especially marketers and producers to understand the driving forces behind our society to create and communicate innovation. We better understand the success of certain products or campaigns, and we can adjust the ones we are working on. Gary Vaynerchuk, a serial entrepreneur, marketing influencer and CEO of VaynerMedia explained it in one of his interviews:
“Technology does not change us — it just exposes who we really are”.
Therefore, products need to respond to the habits, values and demands of the respective target group. With Snap’s growth numbers and user adoption they have won over Gen Z as their user base. We do not know if the founders knew how to approach Gen Z when creating the app. If they were looking at trends and reading reports (probably not) or if they were just creating something they felt the world was missing. Nevertheless, having and understanding of a society can only enhance your products and campaigns and leverage your social skills when dealing with these young individuals.
Why Generation Z matters so much
Centennials represent today’s global youth and by exceeding a population of 2 billion, they are one of the largest and most influential audiences for brands to reach. They will make up to 40% of consumers by 2020 . Not only that they carry a device with them, which can be remotely targeted at any time, but they also sit on more money than any generation before at that age. $44 bn discretionary spending per year . As McCrindle Research outlines, “Generation Z is the most materially endowed, technological saturated, formally educated generation our world has ever seen .” However, when looking at what motivates them, there is pivot rather than an increase in the core beliefs from Gen Y. They embody attitudes similar to the ones we know from Baby Boomers. Their perspective towards success, money and career advancements is therefore rather traditional. Still, their liberal core values resemble the ones we know from Gen Y. The biggest change is in how they approach the world. Optimism becomes Realism. “Whereas Millennials dreamed of changing the world — Pivotals will through a much more practical approach” . While this group might only have $16.90 a week in allowance to finance their impact , they use their voice as a proxy for making a change.
Additionally, there is another significant importance to the role of nowadays youth. As they experience an orientation phase through their teenage years, simultaneously the whole world experiences an orientation phase due to the ongoing digitalization. Therefore, “new paths that Millennials [and Centennials] take simply correlate with the waves of society.” 
When analysing the values of specific generation, it is crucial to look at parenting, technology and the economic situation in their influential years, which is between age 11 and 15. Although each individual has experienced different events that contribute to his unique mindset, it is believed that major events might have influenced most members of a generation, which in general allows for the concept of calling people of same age a “generation”.
Gen Y (influential years: 1991–2010) was left in uncertainty due to permanent global threads, such as global warming, the environmental pollution, natural catastrophes, shootings at school and fanatic terrorism. While in the eyes of Baby Boomers the future seemed bright, in the eyes of Generation X the future seemed rather discouraging. In contrast to those two perspective Gen Y fellows have asked themselves, if there will even be a future . That’s why they value the present so much and choose to life the YOLO lifestyle. “You only live once” is a common motto among Gen Y, which acts as a justification to take risks in life and promote adventure, based on the thought that there is only one life. Being raised by affluent Baby Boomers and receiving much attention from their parents, Y’ers were encouraged to pursuit their dreams.
Gen Z (influential years: 2005 until now) grows up in the Great Recession which leaves them with a more traditional mentality regarding financial liability, personal success and lifestyle. Terrorism, violence and volatility give them a feeling of unsettlement. Every generation experiences certain causes that will influence their behaviour. “For Boomers, it was anti-establishment. For Millennials, it was the environment. For Gen Z, it is human equality” . However, they witnessed many aspiring Millennials fail to achieve higher goals such as changing the world. Therefore, they try to impact the world through a much more practical approach.
Gen Z was raised by Gen X, a generation abandoned by their busy parents in their childhood. They chose a different parenting style, by giving their children much “attention, recognition and appreciation” . Same as Gen Y, Gen Z children have been over protected and massively supported so they have not had to take the hard path to adolescence. Simon Sinek explains in one interview that parents were providing them with feedback and gratification . Moreover, “Teachers were scared to grade students badly, to not have to deal with their parents. […] Bad athletes were given participation medals regardless of their performance” . Also, children were given a high influence in family decisions. For Gen Y this resulted in high demands and “entitlement”. While keeping the characteristic of high demands, Gen Z has implemented the will to work hard towards practical goals, which leaves them with a more pragmatic approach towards life. Another interesting aspect results from the fact that parents increasingly have failed to manage their work-life balance. This causes the desire for independence to be even higher in Gen Z.
Gen Z never lived without technology and is way more skilled in its usage than older generations. They depend on it, as they grew up with “Google it” or “ask Siri”. They are less impressed by new developments since they experience innovation on a daily basis. However, the continuous use of technology and social media leaves them in an even more complex situation than Gen Y. Coping mechanism for an information overload, the fear of missing out, and the constant adaption to new technologies are results of the digitalization era. Today’s young individuals are “addicted to peer connection and affirmation they’re able to get on social media” , and not coincidently it is also the place where their identity is being formed. Moreover, technology allows them to connect with people from cultures across the globe, which concurs with their cultural diversity.
What are the shifts?
In the following we will discuss shifts, increases and similarities in attributes from Gen Y to Gen Z. Following attributes are sorted into four categories:
· Motivation: What drives their actions.
· Demand: What they look for in brands, products, leadership and relationships.
· Features: What attributes they come with and what skills they provide.
· Core Values: Which values they respect in others.
Enjoying present → Future plans:
Instead of enjoying the present, Generation Z is more concerned about their future. Their perception of reality is leading them to think ahead and prepare. The adventurous lifestyle of Gen Y has changed into a more risk-averse, mature and responsible behaviour, giving YOLO a new definition. Understandably, they want to be treated as matures by brands, parents and leaders.
Brand experience → Practical products:
The famous brand-experience has changed into the love for practical products. 60% of Gen Z value a cool product over a cool experience in contrast to 40% of Gen Y, and the love for ads that create emotional connections has decreased from 31% to 20% . Gen Z’ers don’t want brands that define a certain lifestyle, but rather connect with brands that support them to achieve their goals.
Low loyalty → Low brand awareness:
While Gen Y had a low loyalty due to a high brand awareness, Gen Z still behaves very unloyal to brands. Even though they appreciate practical products and might stick to reliable brands, it is their low brand sensitivity that discourages them from doing so .
Flexibility & Freedom → Stability & Safety:
Never knowing the peace and prosperity of the 90s, Z’ers have evolved to become hard-working individuals who are conscientious and cautious about spending their money. Due to the slow-moving economy Gen Z seeks for stability in life. The big savers associate a convenient lifestyle or product experience not with the term adventurous but rather with the terms solid and reliable. While Gen Y have been looking for constant change in life to find the right way to pursuit their dreams, Gen Z rather appreciates stability and is more likely to consider staying longer at the same work place. However, the skill of being flexible when it comes to adjusting to new social environments and new technology did not change. It will be interesting to see whether the sharing economy might get influenced by the stability-seeking Gen Z.
Optimism → Realism:
Instead of illusive, optimistic beliefs of the entitled Gen Y, Gen Z has a more practical approach towards reaching their goals and living life. Therefore, they want brands to change their message from “we can get you there”, to “we can help you get yourself there” . An authentic appearance is highly valued by the realistic Z’ers. Axe for example changed their image from being the hero to playing a more supportive role. The “Axe effect” originally described the way women would be attracted to any man using Axe products. That may have appealed to the want-to-be-discovered Gen Y. “The [new] shot opened up with a close-up of a young man with an exceptionally large nose. Instead of pursuing him aside or changing him, the campaign embraced his uniqueness […] effectively encouraging young men to find their own magic. “ . The campaign therefore shows a real image of the world, and embraces the differences and uniqueness of customers, as their advantage. Also, body positivity is a huge trend nowadays and Gen Z influencers such as Lorde “remind us that it’s ok to have flaws” . Snapchat mastered this by providing a social media platform where it is safe to be themselves.
Entitled → Pragmatic:
Contrasting the entitled Gen Y, who wanted to be discovered, Gen Z wants to achieve their goals step by step and is more scarcity-oriented and down-to-earth [2, 10].
“Good things come to those who act” . They shift away from “it’s not worth it” to “you have to earn it” . They expect success rather as a matter of hard work than luck . In this context is also to be said that social media developed from an entertaining space, as experienced by Gen Y, to a performative space.
Life-Sharing → Secret Life-Sharing:
Gen Z has seen the downside of sharing their life on social media from Gen Y. Therefore, they choose apps such as Snapchat, Secret or Whisper to share their life and communicate. Recently Whatsapp, Instagram and even Skype embodied the ephemerality aspect by copying Snapchat’s story feature. Looking at the popularity of that feature, it is clear that Gen Z seeks for control in their digital environment. “Viral messages are morphing into vanishing messages” .
Creative → Pseudo-creative:
Gen Y with no doubt is a creative generation, because of their illusive way of thinking, new perspectives from travelling the world and coming around different societies and the technological tools they have been given since their youth. However, the tools they had at an early age for example were a cracked Photoshop or Movie Maker. In contrast, Gen Z possesses a “fix-it-with-one-button” Photoshop on their phone called Instagram, Snapchat or (the most recent things out there) Meitu and FaceApp. The results they produce with these intuitive tools look gorgeous and they think of themselves as being creative. “68% of teachers say digital tools make students to take shortcuts and put less effort into their writing” . Unfortunately, there is often no real effort behind the content they produce and they have no idea what happens behind the magic button. On the one side, we have people applauding themselves for their effortless work, so they will never get to know the true beauty behind mastering an art or science.
On the other hand, there is a lower entry to start producing content (blogs, videos, music, live streaming, co-creation, etc.). So once people get past a certain point, they will start to get more into the more complex theory of their field. We see this in successful YouTube Stars, who started with simple videos, and now have high-tech studios, a crew and an expertise in their field. So there is definitely a split, and we will see how creative the generation will be in total. Though, it is to be said that three out of four wish to make their current hobby to become their full-time job .
A similar split existed in Gen Y. There were the ones that have been watching YouTube, Hulu and Netflix and the ones that were producing content, co-creating for companies or even creating the platforms themselves. Nevertheless, don’t forget that Gen Z is a hard-working generation, especially, if they know what they are fighting for. Contrary, Gen Y is solely working hard if they know exactly what they are fighting for.
A novel attribute of Gen Z is the need for escapism. Anthony Turner argues that by connecting to the internet young individuals escape from emotional and mental struggles they face in the physical world . Gen Z is stressed by a highly complex, fast moving world due to rapid technological developments. FOMO and FOLO being two examples of new struggles. Further on, there is pressure in education and the job-market. Therefore, they fill up their dopamine storages with addictive games (Candy Crush), junk-food media (FB newsfeed), and affirmation on social media (Instagram likes).
→ Back to physical:
After the overload of digital and virtual connection, it is understandable that the societal-pendulum swings back to appreciating a physical world and face-to-face communication. 68% of Gen Z agree that face to face-to-face interaction is important and 14% appreciate outdoor ads again (From 9% in Gen Y) .
DIY Education: Gen Y was told by their parents, that graduation from college is a necessity in order to be successful. Instead of relying on the traditional system which often results in high debts, Gen Z is more likely to hack their education by “mixing free Ivy League school classes […] and real world education” .
Ads that include celebrities and athletes have a higher appeal to Gen Z than to Gen Y . Z’ers also experience the possibility of a more direct connection to celebrities through Social Media. Especially, apps like Twitter, Smule and Snapchat bring this onto another level.
What expands in Gen Z?
Whereas Gen Y wanted to have an impact on the world, Gen Z is actually very likely to have it, as conformed by the motto shift from “it’s not worth it” to “you have to earn it” . 60% want to have an impact on the world compared to 39% of Millennials . Gen Z is 55% more likely to want to start a business than Millennials .
In his interview, Simon Sinek explains how the Millennial’s desire for attention is caused by an overcaring parenting style . This behaviour can be reflected by their affirmation-searching behaviour on social media. There, the young individuals post “optimized” pictures, highly engaging questions or useless situation updates just to get attention and feedback. The attention-seeking behaviour has increased in Generation Z.
On-Demand → Pre-Demand:
Neither one of the digital generations has really learned to wait, so they grew up with impatience. While Gen Y was the first generation to be served information, entertainment and physical products on demand with services like Google, Netflix or Amazon Prime, Gen Z expects to be served with predictive services. They want a service to observe the web and notify them, as soon as it finds content which appeals to them. They expect platforms like periscope to collect live content of a place even before they ask for it. Looking into the near future, Amazon will be expected to predictively calculate their product usage by garbage analysis and send them what they will be missing ahead of time. Caused by this amplified demand, they expect services to be on a continuous sonar just like they are.
Feedback-Junkie → Instant gratification:
Gen Y has required instant feedback for any of their actions due to the parenting in their childhood . They were getting more and more comfortable with gratification and feedback for their actions. Now, Gen Z actually requires instant gratification. They want to be rewarded for every step they take. Looking at how brands successfully post on Facebook reflects this desire. “Always respond to comments” and “thank and reward your fans” . For every engagement with a product or brand there has to be gained virtual points. This is far beyond gamification. Shazam for examples congratulates users for every good find with a message after a few days. In the near future, even the effort to reply to a job request will be payed as the platform 21.co shows .
For Gen Y the identification with a brand and a product has been a high priority. Custom ringtones, iPhone cases and car interior decoration were only the beginning of the personalization area. Even though Z’ers seek for practical products, personalization is still popular, because it is an opportunity to embrace their uniqueness. However, their expectation of personalization is comparably high. They are used to customizing each part of a product before purchasing it. Nike ID being a perfect example. Custom Bitmoji stickers are another one in some way.
Experiencing new technological milestones in short cycles, Gen Y has already been crucial about directing their attention to innovative products and making sure to be with the latest technology. Gen Z is even more serious about being up-to-date, growing up with breaking-news innovation on a daily basis. It is understandable, why new iPhones get sold so easily year after year and that there is no discussion about forced OS updates from their side. Though, they are not excited for every new product upgrade, due to their already high expectations. Being up-to-date in this context refers to products as well as news.
Easily bored → Always bored:
As mentioned earlier, the use of social media is a way for Gen Z to get their dose of dopamine. When being disconnected from the internet, there is lack of satisfaction which rapidly results in getting into a languid mood. This is when Z’ers look for other ways of escapism. Therefore, the external perception of Z’ers to be lazy and bored is somehow understandable. A famous teenager posts states: “my hobbies: switching between the same three apps for hours, imagining myself in situations that will literally never exist.”  Eventually, the serendipity effect can be a powerful tool. As an example, a self-triggered notification from Spotify which shows the find of brand-new song, stimulates the consumer.
Short attention span → ‘No’ attention span:
Y’ers were already proven to have a shorter attention span. On the one side, this is to be explained with the characteristic of getting bored easily and on the other side, with having to deal with more information. Therefore, there has been a need to decrease the focus time on one piece of content. With the amount of content in the world increasing exponentially the attention span for Gen Z has decreased even further. Some sources talk about 8 seconds . The fact that Gen Z are micro miners, who need every piece of information to be broken into bits of information can be seen in the arise of short form junk-food media. Moreover, the popularity of Emoji and Snapchat as a faster way of communication through visuals is another proof. The app Vine, which only allowed for 6 second videos had responded to the short attention span. Personalized content is crucial nowadays, because it pre-filters the information for the consumer.
Tech-Savvy → Tech experts:
Growing up using technology in school and having Photoshop on their phones, results in Gen Z being tech experts. The fact that they try to keep up-to-date contributes to this. They help their parents with tech issues and they have significant advantages at work, compared to older colleagues and even their supervisors. This attribute is also notable, because Gen Z has multiple ways to inform themselves about a topic or for instance the image of a brand. This can achieved easily through the use of forums, social media and review sites like yelp and tripadvisor.
Multiple opinions → Multiple identities:
Gen Y was already known to mix various points of views. Gun-toting vegans and religious fundamentalist feminist being examples for this . However, Gen Y was able to merge their unique set of opinions into one identity which they would keep throughout their social media channels. Very close to a corporate identity or a personal brand. Gen Z manages the complexity of life and the duality of being liberals with traditional values by adopting multiple identities. They match their images with the different social media channels. Instagram shows their fancy, linkedin and facebook their professional and snapchat their candid side. All identities come with a custom set of values. And they are even able to change an image at any given point in time. “All it takes to change their outward identity is a simple swipe and an upload to Instagram” .
Global interest groups → Global generation:
The youth of today is not only globally connected through the internet but also more likely to travel the world through exchange programs and long distance holiday trips . Therefore, today’s social clusters are not limited by geographical limitations . Peer groups form globally and identify by having the same interests. We experience young individuals to increasingly feel associated to global interest groups. Examples for this are special Facebook groups such as “global house producers” or “UK animal lovers”. Smule for example shows you on a world map where the people you sing with are located at. Innovations, such as Ann Makosinski’s hollow flashlight, show that being a global generation is beneficial for the youth and even the whole world . A reason YouTube is the most popular platform for Gen Z is not only because they can create and be in the know easily, but because they are connected to the world, to peers with similar interests and abilities .
Tolerance → Togetherness:
Gen Z grew up as a truly global generation and in the US is the most multi-ethnic generation to date. They were not the generation to internally debate racial equality against authoritarian views. As Anna Filer explains, they have conviction in diverse races and religions and believe people can coexist in society . Gen Z is also “less attached to traditional gender binaries or linear definitions of sexuality “, as trend forecaster Lucie Greene explains . This is also a result of a certain parenting style and methods of educational professionals. As Z’ers are globally connected, they know the benefits of being around people from other cultures and are vowing on collaboration. In this context, it is also to be mentioned that “Gen Z will be the first generation that will not be defined by one culture, but many” .
What stays the same?
The top priority for Y’ers and Z’ers is to pursuit a life that fulfils them. They’re reaching out for the highest goal in Maslow’s pyramid. Freedom, as in this context defined to choose the life you were made for, is the core value people respect in others. Freedom and self-expression have been the status symbols of Gen Y rather than economic wealth and social status. Exclusive locations presented through location-tags, beautiful pictures of exotic food and a blog about travelling Australia are the Beamer, Benz or Bentley of nowadays youth. Gen Z is interesting insofar that they battle the duality between liberal and traditional values. As freedom and self-expression definitely appeal to Gen Z, features such as Snapchat’s locations-based filters allow them to brag with the exclusive locations that they are visiting. “We don’t care; we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams” is a very strong line in Lorde’s song Royals. “Even though Gen Z is driven by other values than money and they hate what the Cadillac represents, they enjoy the luxury these expensive items provide” . The study “Getting to know Generation Z” explains very well that Gen Z is still more likely to purchase brand name products that make themselves happy .
Embracing difference as the root to uniqueness is very important to Gen Z. Same as for Gen Y, their parents encouraged them that they are special and beautiful in their own way. However, they sometimes help themselves a bit to appear more unique. A special outfit is still one method to achieve this. A bit of a Paradoxon here that the realistic, mature youngsters, who look for realness and authenticity, embody. A study concluded that image still matters to Gen Z. “They would rather be considered unique than real” . Consequential, both generations do not appreciate a one-fits-it-all approach. They expect brands to embrace their uniqueness.
The term includes the fact of tolerating difference and even embracing it. Tolerance not only refers to racial equality but the acceptance and non-judgment for differences of any kind. Campaigns such as Dove Real Beauty which promote body positivity are good examples responding to this. Being open-minded is also about thinking freely and valuing new ideas and opinions. It stands for loving the unknown. Travelling, to be actively confronted with different mindsets, is Gen Z’s way of living open-minded. For targeting the Z’ers interest in other cultures, Snapchat constantly brings out specific regional location-based filters or lenses such as the Beijing lens, which transforms you into a Chinese toy. Moreover, the discovery feature acts as a window into our diverse world.
Entitled Y’ers have already had high demands on society and their workplace due to a mislead parenting style . The digital natives also grew up with technology which allowed them to master unthinkable tasks with great ease. Same applies for Gen Z. Introduction time to learn a new app is fairly existent. If there is no instant satisfaction, the app will be deleted right away. This can also be reasoned with the short attention span. For instance, Z’ers have been ready to learn Snapchat’s chaotic UI, because on start the camera already invites you to create, so satisfaction is guaranteed immediately .
Finally, Gen Y and Z are continuously connected and always reachable. 25% of Z’ers are connected after the first 5 minutes of waking up , they spend over 3 hours on their computers for non-school work related purposes , and 13-year olds check their social media on average 100 times a day .
Loyalty and attention are the currencies of the 21st century, but it takes a deep understanding of society to earn them. There is a main shift in Gen Z towards valuing stability, safety and more traditional forms of success. However, we encounter the same call for self-expression and world-improvement, that we have experienced in Gen Y .
“Whereas Millennials dreamed of changing the world — Pivotals will through a much more practical approach” .
Open-mindedness, the pragmatic approach towards their goals and a unique technical expertise are definitely beneficial attributes of Gen Z which other generations can learn from. The disadvantages of technology and an overcaring parenting style have resulted in high demands, a shorter attention span and escapism. Especially, the question about Gen Z’s level of creativity, which profits from lower entry barriers but drowns due to the simplicity of technology, is something to keep an eye on. From optimists to realists. Battling the duality between liberal and traditional values, there is potential for the pivotal generation to change the world.
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