Move over Millennials; the Centennials are taking over.
‘Centennials’ (more broadly referred to as ‘Generation Z’) are the generation of people who were born around the turn of the century, in or after 1995. They are not to be confused with ‘Millennials’ (or ‘Gen Y’), so-called because they were old enough to actually remember bringing in the new millennium, having been born between 1980 and 1994.
For digital marketers, it’s important to understand a subtle difference between these two cohorts – while Millennials matured alongside modern technology, Centennials are maturing knowing nothing but an always-connected, seamless, multi-device world. With new browsing and shopping habits and a shift in the way they consume content, Gen Z—especially with their newly found financial freedoms as they approach adulthood—are set to redefine our understanding of both B2B and B2C digital engagement.
For many years now, marketers have revered Gen Y as vanguards of technology. With ingrained memories of the recession and no shortage of new technologies to build into their lives, these Millennials (currently aged 21-36) are a generation of people who grew up around the advent of the internet and are driven by a need to make their lives more efficient. Their comfort with technology has seen them take to mobile internet, dual-screening, cloud-based services and the ‘Internet of Things’ like ducks to water.
But with 27% of the global population represented by Gen Z (more than any other generation) and the first of these Centennials now turning 21, there is a sense that wide-eyed amazement at these technologies is a thing of the past. There is now a mere expectation of digital added-value and innovation – and even discontent at the few remaining areas of life that are not seamlessly enhanced through connected technology.
This complex cohort are already racking up an impressive number of names, each focusing on different defining traits:
Gen Z represent a diverse range of views. It has been said that Gen Z adopt more ideals and values from people half way around the world than they do from their local peers. They are truly the first ‘global’ generation.
From adolescence through higher education, Centennials flocked to apps like Snapchat, Twitter and Vine where a high volume of information is delivered in short updates. They use these platforms to get their news and entertainment from a multitude of sources, driving individuality bolstered by the hyper-personalised experiences that the technology has always offered them.
If you want to engage iGen, you’ll need to diversify your outreach, content marketing and publishing strategies to slip into these highly personalised feeds.
Remember coming home to dial-up internet? Remember when 3G rolled out? Well Gen Z don’t. They are accustomed to effortlessness and high-speed access to information, including brand experiences that flow across devices, websites and offline media. They simply expect a seamless journey.
Gen Z have grown up in a connected world and are impatient towards disjointed online/offline models that are older than they are – and this group will not adapt.
Duncan Southgate, Kantar Millward Brown
Attention spans are being pulled in more directions too. At school, Gen Z may have been taking notes on a tablet or laptop while researching on their phone and having a cheeky flick through Snapchat while they were at it. After school, they may have been watching TV while browsing on a tablet, doing homework on a laptop and talking to a friend on FaceTime. Dual-screening is child’s play compared to the multi-screen environment that this ‘iGeneration’ have grown accustomed to.
This ability to multi-task and switch between screens will likely impact the dynamics of the workplace. Older generations might not be able to keep up unless they learn to adapt.
Millennials remember the September 11 attacks in 2001, being at least 7 years old at the time. As anyone who remembers it can attest to, 9/11 changed everything. It is therefore widely regarded as the last major defining event for Gen Y.
Centennials on the other hand are more likely to hear about it for the first time in a history class.
Other major defining events for Millennials include the Great Recession of 2007-09 and the dawning realisation that it may already be too late to reverse many effects of climate change. Most Millennials feel like they watched the world around them destabilise, creating a feeling of uncertainty – they can remember a time before 9/11 and the Great Recession when things seemed better.
The so-called ‘Post-Millennial’ worldview of Gen Z is slightly different. They are maturing into a world where threats of terrorism, the surveillance state, impending financial collapse and unpredictable climate events are simply the facts of life. These things are not ‘news’ – they are just problems that need fixing…
Growing up with an unprecedented awareness of global issues and concerns has understandably instilled Generation Z with feelings of unsettlement and insecurity. Having inherited these problems as a result of the actions (and inaction) of the generations before them, this so-called ‘Founder Generation’ appear to be the most proactive in standing up and finding solutions.
The need for positive action seems to have percolated through their world-view and sense of realism. This is unsurprising considering that they have grown up in the shadow of their parent’s financial stresses while absorbing global news stories from such an early age.
Studies have repeatedly shown that Gen Z is is a cohort of loyal, compassionate, thoughtful, responsible and determined people. They may be judgemental of older generations, but they are noble in their aspirations for the future of society.
Unlike the older Gen Y, they are smarter, safer, more mature and want to change the world. Their pin-up is Malala Yousafzai, the Pakastani education campaigner, who survived being shot by the Taliban, and who became the world’s youngest ever Nobel Prize recipient.
Harry Wallop, The Daily Telegraph
New Wave Conservatism
Gen Z seem to be maturing with more conservative political and fiscal standpoints than their left-leaning Gen Y predecessors. A return to traditional values seems to be underway as this new generation seeks to undo the damage done by Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y.
A survey by The Gild showed that Gen Z are the most financially responsible youngsters since the ‘Silent Generation’ (born between 1925 and 1945), preferring to save cash rather than spend frivolously. Indeed a high percentage of Centennials chose to start their careers at 16 years old, forgoing a costly education which they see as frivolous in today’s highly unstable economy. This is a generation of motivated and hungry self-starters who don’t want to wait around, choosing to build wealth now rather than make ‘risky investments’ in their future.
Faced with a growing income gap and a shrinking middle class, Gen Z are striving to avoid the money stresses that they saw at home growing up. They feel a burden to make it on their own and want to be given the opportunity to do so. They seek the reintroduction of more traditional political and economic structures to stimulate entrepreneurship and business growth while protecting their future from the ‘banksters and bubbles’ they have learned about through post-recession media and entertainment.
Interestingly, while Gen Z are largely a liberal cohort, a surprisingly high percentage of respondents to The Gild’s survey actually held very conservative views on issues such as transgender rights, gay marriage, tattoos, cannabis legislation and gender roles. One current theory suggests that this might be a rebellion against ‘lefty liberal’ Millennial parents, so the jury is still out on whether these views will stick with them into adulthood. After all, they are (arguably above all else) a deeply connected generation, highly aware of social issues and injustices and sensitive to the plight of other people the world over.
Only time will tell. Plus the right-leaning politics of today will no doubt reshape the opinions of tomorrow. While the first Centennials are now turning 21, there is a still a large segment of Gen Z who are still in their formative years, so nothing is quite set in stone yet. One thing is for sure though… to underestimate Gen Z as simply a more extreme version of Gen Y would be a mistake. This is an entirely new and unique generation who don’t identify with those who came before them.
Your old strategy might need a rethink.