Gen Y vs. Gen Z: How apps impact, engage, and appeal to youth users

How can app developers tailor their products to a new generation of digital natives, who value social responsibility, personalization and efficiency? YMS18 NYC partners Blue Label Labs share their insights...

App developers must consider their target audience when creating products. This can be difficult when the expectations of users are always changing.

This is partly due to the fact that different age groups tend to want different features and experiences from a mobile app. Developers who’ve focused on creating products that appeal to younger Millennials (also known as Gen Y) must be ready to adapt to the tastes of Generation Z.

Now is the time to start. The following tips will help you better understand how Generation Z differs from Generation Y. With these in mind, you can better develop apps that users in this emerging market will embrace.

What Makes Generation Z Unique

It’s worth pointing out that there’s no consensus on exactly when someone must have been born to qualify as a member of Generation Z. That said, the general perspective is that members of this generation were born post-9/11. In other words, they grew up with access to the internet, social media, and a digitally connected world.

That already presents a unique challenge for app developers. It’s not easy to impress customers who have been using these types of products for most of their lives, let alone those that can barely remember a time before they existed.

That said, this can also present development teams with a unique opportunity. Users who aren’t naturally impressed with the technological innovations of mobile apps still have expectations from products and brands. Rather than trying to simply outrun the competition technologically, developers (and their marketing teams) can identify what does matter to Generation Z and design apps accordingly.

For example, a recent study of 3500 young consumers aged 14 to 19 reveals that social responsibility is a trait they value in brands. Sixty-five percent of respondents indicated that it’s important to them that a brand give back to the community in some form. Releasing apps that appeal to this desire for social impact gives development teams the chance to create products that stand out to younger customers.

Personalization is Key

The digital age has given businesses more customer data to analyze than ever before. As a result, advertisements and consumer experiences have become more personalized. Members of Generation Z are used to brands communicating with them in this manner.

They also expect it: A Google study reveals that younger digital customers are more likely to consider a product “cool” if it appears to offer a personalized experience.

That’s why developers should always consider what steps they can take to offer this quality in a product. For example, equipping an app with AI to constantly review user data, and therefore deliver a more personalized experience, can result in an app that is more appealing to a member of Generation Z. 

Image source: Digiday

Image source: Digiday

An example of this is Diane von Furstenberg. In a recent major rebranding effort, DvF set up an algorithm-based discover feed on their mobile site that leverages AI to make better recommendations to users. By analyzing user behavior and personalizing the product feed, DvF offers each and every user recommendations that are tailored (no pun intended) to their specific tastes.

Optimize Effectiveness & Efficiency

Research indicates that Millennials have an average attention span of 12 seconds; for members of Generation Z, it’s a mere eight seconds. Developers need to design mobile apps that deliver content as efficiently as possible if they want to avoid losing a younger user’s interest.

One study also found that design flaws and bugs are one of the main reasons Generation Z users uninstall apps. That means it’s more important than ever to rigorously test an app before releasing it.

Shifting Social Media Mindsets

Millennials embraced social media because it gave them an opportunity to stay connected with family and friends more conveniently than ever before. It’s easy to assume this would also be the case with Generation Z.

However, it may not be. A recent study reveals that members of Generation Z are more likely to use a social media platform as a means of finding entertaining content or staying occupied during spare time.

Image source: Her Campus

Image source: Her Campus

Staying in touch with friends and family ranks lower than these two goals, and statistics confirm this. To speak to this, some of the most popular apps among Generation Z are Youtube, Instagram, and Snapchat, all of which give users opportunities to find entertaining or valuable content.

This means developers creating social media apps must shift their focus. Instead of looking at them as communication tools, they should look at them as content discovery tools. Focusing on this element of the user experience will yield a more popular product.

Creative Interactivity is Important

Apps that have been particularly successful with Generation Z (aside from those mentioned above) include, Bitmoji, and VSCO.

Each of these is different. lets users create and share short videos, like Vine. Bitmoji lets them create cartoon-like digital avatars of themselves. VSCO mirrors Instagram by letting users share photos with a community, while adding editing features that give them far more control over the look of the picture.

What they have in common is creative interactivity. Each one lets users express their personalities and skills, sharing their creations with the digital world. Trends like these indicate apps that integrate this level of interactivity are growing in popularity with Generation Z.

Privacy Matters

Again, members of Generation Z aren’t easy to impress when they’ve grown up with digital apps. However, growing up with constant access to these products has made Generation Z surprisingly practical about their security.

A major IBM survey indicates that less than one-third of teens feel comfortable sharing their personal information (aside from purchase history and basic contact info) with brands. That said, nearly two-thirds indicate they would be more comfortable sharing this kind of information if they felt certain it was going to be stored securely. 

App developers should keep these concerns in mind by providing the most up-to-date security information and protection that’s easily accessed within the app. Also consider providing a privacy statement clearly when the user first opens the app so as to inspire greater confidence. 

While the information here will help development teams create the kinds of products that Generation Z customers will love, it’s important to constantly monitor their habits. User expectations shift rapidly in the digital age. 

Developers that create successful apps are those who prioritize staying abreast of these shifts. Keeping these points in mind when you design your next product will help you achieve this key goal.

Meet Blue Label Labs in person and discover more insights into Gen Z and Gen Y's digital behavior at YMS18 NYC. Tickets are on sale now.