10 things everyone gets wrong about Gen Z

Millennials have been the most sought-after demographic for marketers for the past few years, but now brands are turning their attention to the next generation of consumers: Generation Z.

It can be tricky to get your head around Gen Z’s defining characteristics as there is so much contradictory information online, so we decided it was time to dispel some of the most frequent myths and misunderstandings. For more insights on Gen Z from the people who know them best, click here for all the info on our upcoming event, YMS18 NYC.

1. Millennials and Gen Z are the same generation

WRONG! We always cringe a bit when we see someone saying that ‘Generation Z’ is just another term for Millennials. Actually, Gen Z is the generation AFTER Millennials. While Millennials were born between 1985 and 1995, and came of age in the new millennium, Gen Z were born in 1995 or later.

The two generations have loads of differences due to the fact that they grew up in different times. While Millennials reached adulthood expecting the same privileges as their Baby Boomer parents, and got a shock when they struggled to find stable careers, Gen Z expect to work hard because they grew up in a recession. Growing up in a time of uncertainty has also affected Gen Z’s behaviour and beliefs around money, health and the environment.

2. They don’t like socialising in person

WRONG! The typical image of teens today is that they’re glued to their phones, and it’s true that most of their social communications take place online. However, Gen Z actually prefer to socialise in person, according to influential researcher Danah Boyd’s book It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. The problem is, due to a lack of mobility and parental concerns about safety in public places, opportunities to hang out in person are limited. Teenagers are obsessed with their phones because social media and messaging apps allow them to connect with their peers and be part of a social group.

3. They aren’t into the brands their parents like

WRONG! Today’s young people are cautious spenders, which means they like to buy from trusted global brands and established names, who they can rely on to offer quality products. According to research by Wunderman last year, 82% of teens surveyed said they prefer quality over “cool” products. Some of their favourites include Amazon, Apple and Starbucks. Find out more about Gen Z's shopping habits in our Future of Retail panel at YMS SFO.

4. They care more about playing on their phones than working hard

WRONG! Most of Gen Z may still be at school, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t already working towards a bright future. They aspire to work in creative, interesting and rewarding roles, and recognise that they need to work hard to achieve this goal. Therefore, many teenagers have developed an entrepreneurial spirit, and are creating their own companies, creative projects and community initiatives, even before they graduate. A 2014 report by Millennial Branding and Randstad found that 17% of Gen Z want to start a business and hire others, compared to 11% of Millennials.

5. They aren’t prepared for the business world

WRONG! If you’ve worked with members of Gen Z you may have found that they struggle with some business skills, such as a professional phone manner and email etiquette. However, they have many other valuable skills that give them an edge over older employees, such as technical knowledge and creative vision. They may not even realise that their hobbies, such as running a fan account or creating memes, could help them get a job that they love. Combined with a drive to succeed and earn more money, these abilities make Gen Z very appealing to forward-thinking employers. Some of the most inspiring young entrepreneurs will be speaking on our Kids That Are Changing The World panel at YMS SFO.

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6. They prefer a digital lifestyle to physical possessions

WRONG! Millennials are known for prioritising experiences over ownership, spending their money with companies such as Airbnb, Uber and Deliveroo, but research has found that Gen Z have a different perspective. According to Deep Focus, 60% of Gen Z prefer a cool product to a cool experience. Growing up in a time of financial uncertainty means they like to save money and dream of owning their own home in the future. For US teens, home ownership is considered the most important part of achieving ‘the American Dream.’

7. Their idols are just ‘famous for being famous’

WRONG! Older generations may struggle to see the appeal of YouTubers such as Zoella and PewDiePie, who seem to simply be famous for being themselves. Indeed, the most successful digital influencers have created a cult of personality through being relatable and charismatic. However, these stars’ teenage admirers view them as skilled content creators and digital marketers. Teens who look up to social media stars aspire not to be ‘famous for being famous,’ like the reality TV stars loved by Millennials, but to be appreciated for their talent, innovation and creative work.

8. They don’t watch TV

WRONG! In 2016, Piper Jaffray found that YouTube and Netflix had both overtaken cable TV in daily video consumption among US teens. However, we shouldn’t see this as Gen Z rejecting TV, but creating a new relationship with the format. Serialised programmes, from 13 Reasons Why to Ru Paul's Drag Race, remain popular but Gen Z are watching them through services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime.

9. They don’t have much money to spend

WRONG! Regardless of how much pocket money or allowance individual teenagers receive from their parents, they influence a much larger amount of annual spend. According to a HRC Retail Advisory report, 93% of teens say they have a say over family purchasing decisions, and Fung Global estimate that over $800bn was spent on Gen Z in 2015. This includes money spent on food, clothing, household goods and more items that teens and children are increasingly consulted on. Therefore, getting the approval of this discerning and demanding demographic is key for brands of all kinds.

10. They don’t care about politics

WRONG! Young people are becoming increasingly disenfranchised when it comes to politicians - 77% of Gen Z believe that political leaders do not have their best interests in mind, according to a 2016 survey by Wunderman. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t passionate about political issues. There is a new generation of voters ready and willing to be engaged by leaders who stand for causes they believe in. 84% would like to have a “big impact in their local communities”, tackling issues such as helping the poor, saving the environment and ending homelessness. Other issues they feel strongly about include human rights, diversity and gender equality.

We hope you’re now as excited about the future of the planet in Gen Z’s hands as we are. Want to find out more about today’s teens and young adults? Tickets are available now for our upcoming event, Youth Marketing Strategy (YMS), taking place this October in Brooklyn. YMS18 NYC will feature cutting edge insights, a chance to network with industry leaders, and the key tools you need to futureproof your youth marketing strategy and connect with the most lucrative and important demographic around. Find out more.