If you thought Millennials were different, wait for Gen Z

Generation Z is diverse, independent, knowledge-craving, and socially savvy, yet channel selective.

I just spent time with one of my favorite people – she’s 12 and one of the most responsible, engaging individuals I know – and it got me thinking about Generation Z and what it means for brands.

This generation, which has no exact agreement among researchers on its age range, but generally means younger than 18, has been making media headlines, many telling marketers to shift their focus away from Millennials.

While this is not the best strategy, since Millennials will number 75.3 million this year according to the US Census Bureau, smart brands should examine and follow Gen Z trends for future marketing and recruiting efforts.

Bill Carter, partner at youth marketing agency Fuse, says brands have more than a decade to adjust marketing tactics for Gen Z, whereas Millennials still have 15 years or more of prime earning and spending power.

However, he adds that smart brands are already turning their attention to Gen Z because "they don’t want to age."

"Brands don’t want to have to rebrand themselves 10 years from now and try to become relevant," explains Carter.

And, believe it or not, researchers are already examining the post-Gen Z group born after 2010, which some are referring to as Generation Alpha.

One trend brands should keep in mind is how Gen Z uses social media differently. My 12-year-old friend, who I call Bee, told me Facebook is for old people (this made me sad), and all her friends use Instagram and Snapchat. Research shows one in four Gen Zers scroll through their Instagram feed hourly.

I asked Bee how else she uses her iPhone and iPad - she told me homework and teaching herself how to do things, such as better pull-ups or making bracelets. Carter has noticed over the last 18 months that many Gen Zers use social platforms to research for school or personal learning.

That brings up another key point: Gen Z is very entrepreneurial. The startup mentality began heating up with Millennials – look at the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world – but Carter says Gen Z associates entrepreneurism with control rather than risk.

Based on Fuse’s research in digital surveys or focus groups, 60% to 75% of Gen Z says they consider themselves entrepreneurs or want to start their own business.

They’re independent, and they were brought up in a better economy than their Millennial and Gen Y counterparts. Even so, a lot of them, Carter says, have still seen a parent lose a job or a sibling move home due to the recession, so they want to control their destiny by becoming entrepreneurs.

Gen Z is likely the most socially savvy generation, but it is also heavily focused on digital privacy and security. Research from marketing agency Sparks & Honey showed one in every four 13- to 17-year-olds left Facebook last year, turning their focus to more private platforms where content such as Snapchat and Whisper

In addition to not wanting to be tracked by family or government, Gen Zers don’t have the #FOMO mentality. Bee doesn’t follow a lot of classmates on Instagram because she doesn’t care what they’re doing on the weekends. She follows pages on things she’s passionate about, such as animals, swimming, and food.

According to research firm Frank N. Magid Associates, Gen Z is also the most racially diverse of any generation in the US, with 55% Caucasian, 24% Hispanic, 14% African-American, 4% Asian, and 4% mixed-heritage. Bee’s mother is Puerto Rican-American, her father Italian-American. She’s been learning Spanish from her first-generation Puerto Rican grandmother since she was a baby.

In addition to racial diversity, many Gen Zers are liberal and supportive of all individuals, including members of the LGBT community. More than four out of five Gen Zers aged 12 to 19 in the US and UK don’t care about people’s sexual orientation, and almost half of US respondents strongly agreed same-sex couples have the right to wed, according to a trend report by J. Walter Thompson’s Sonar research unit.

Even Bee, who is in seventh grade, told me one of her friends identifies as gay. She doesn’t care what he – or anyone – wears to school, and she’s defended him when other classmates picked on him.

Gen Z is growing up fast, and this diverse generation is independent, knowledge-craving, and socially savvy, yet channel selective.

Brands still have time to flesh out full marketing and recruiting strategies, but they need to keep an eye on the young group’s emerging trends now.

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