By: Susan Sohn
I was born in 1970, smack in the middle of Generation X births.
Millennials had not emerged from Baby Boomers yet, and the zeitgeist of Gen Z right now (Stranger Things, and nostalgia for 80s vintage), was my teenage prime. For most of us in our 40s and 50s, our parents experienced both war and unprecedented economic growth. Some of us latchkey kids spent a great deal of time-consuming MTV, while our parents were out and about, experimenting with the privileges of disposable income for the first time.
Sandwiched between the most praised (Boomers) and most maligned (Millennials) generations, Gen X-ers have some notion of being forgotten, “in-between”, and just holding space for Millennials. Also, while our economic prime is now, our actual contribution is our role in creating Generation Z, those born around 1997 to the early 2000s.
I started my digital consultancy SOMO Society based on the advent of Gen Z reaching adulthood. SO (social media) and MO (mobile devices) will be critical influences and create challenges in our Society.
With many now entering the workforce, Generation Z, iGen, Screenagers or the Snapchat Generation are the first who have never known life without an internet-connected mobile device. This, coupled with being raised by some great parents has profoundly informed the habits and attitudes of these post-Millennials.
Guiding my clients through the transformative force of the prevalence of SOMO, wielded naturally by Gen Z, has been a great privilege of mine, even as I observe and help my Gen Z kids navigate teen years and now young adulthood.
Firstly, I have great respect for Boomers, and tremendous sympathy for my Millennial sisters and brothers, but… Boomers wanted to mollycoddle their deep feeling, affirmation hungry Millennials… leaving the stereotype of entitled brats who are waiting for their windfall inheritance when the Boomer generation passes to the great yonder. At least that’s how I feel.
Now to my beautiful Gen Z children.
My daughter Sophia is newly 21. I can see her easily having five careers, 15 homes, and 17 jobs. Having hopped from art school to global studies, it’s easy to see that 1 in 2 of her generation has uni degrees, versus 1 in 3 of Millennials and 1 in 4 of Gen X. Grappling with a global social conscience, and her desire to live comfortably, she is still an optimist, with an activist edge.
My son Gabriel, who has just turned 18 believes he will conquer the world, and more apt to go for the highest dollar future rather than work/life balance (Vision Critical). My sweet Ella, at 14, has the most considerable separation anxiety if she can’t find her iPhone, or God forbid, her AirPods, needing a soundtrack to her life at all times.
Our dinner table is a fascinating place, and it has been their entire life. Gone are the days of our parents raising us when it was ‘children are to be seen and not heard’. We have wanted to hear our children their entire life, and perhaps that stems from our childhood and our generation not being listened to. Our dinner conversations move seamlessly from topic to topic, including religion, finances, sex, drugs, politics, human rights and the environment.
There are 2 billion Gen Z-ers globally, and they will be a third of the workforce by 2030. As a Gen X-er, I believe we’ve raised an exceptional part of society.
Let’s look at some facts.
Looking at this data then begs the following questions:
- How do we COMMUNICATE with them?
- What does ENGAGEMENT with them look like?
- How do we sell to them?
- What does all this mean for organisations, current leadership structures, brands, companies and those who want to engage?
Hierarchical structures will struggle. Leaders who hold on to this idea must brace themselves and prepare to understand that ’the struggle is real’. Why? Gen Z doesn’t understand hierarchical leadership. It’s not out of disrespect, it’s because they don’t value it and don’t see the need for layers and middlemen. They’ve always had a seat at the table and have been asked to contribute. They have lived a life whereby if they want to connect with their favourite rapper/musician, artist, brand or influencer – they message them directly and, 8/10 times, they get a response.
If they want to buy a specific brand, they research and find the best place to purchase. They don’t look for the cheapest rather they find the site that aligns with their core values. Their brand loyalty is strong, but their platform loyalty is fickle.
How will Gen Z change the world?
They already are. Gen Z-ers ages 16 to 21 in the US, spend an estimated $143 billion a year. This data is according to a 2018 report from Barkley. They have spending power, and they are our upcoming donors. For organisations dependant on donor base, Gen Z is whom you need to understand. How do you connect with them and how do you motivate them to give beyond a one-time thing?
They are informed and have grown up caring about things like the planet. They understand that the potential of their kids and grandchildren may not be able to eat fish because by 2050. It’s predicted that the ocean will have more plastic in it than fish – scares them. They want to make a difference, which then translates into the way they will donate their money and what they will do with their money. All this matters to them.
They have been raised with sponsor children pasted to their fridge their entire lives because their parents were bombarded (as children) with successful child sponsorship campaigns of little African children. Their parents cared and tried to do what they could, so they gave – sometimes to the wrong place, but they were moved by compassion. This is the influence of a Gen X parent on a Gen Z donor.
The story they are giving to matters and how they, the donor, is treated matters because they know how to be treated. Their dollars must be valued and taking them on a journey – a user journey that speaks to them as individuals and one that isn’t a blanket message is essential because they know technology and they know you can do this and expect they expect it.
Gen Z is a fascinating group and one that deserves attention and a rich understanding of how to communicate and engage with them.
About the Author: Susan is a self confessed social media ‘maverick’ whose focus on others leads her to connect people to stories and one another.