5 Things You Need To Know About The Next Generation of Consumers

Each summer we hire a large group of interns from all over the country and for three months the agency is buzzing with full-of-hope teens and 20-somethings. Last summer, in particular, they not only made me feel older and less cool than I already do, but they also facilitated an in-depth study to help our Insights Team get smarter about the next generation of consumers – Generation We or Generation Z, as it’s also called. The study included observational research, one-on-one interviews, and analysis of secondary studies and databases such as Iconoculture, MRI and Mintel. Gen We is the generation born between the early to mid-’90s and 2010, and they’ll be entering the work force in the next few years. To put the differences between, say, my generation (Gen X) and Gen We in perspective, consider a few things:

* They don’t knock on doors like we do – they call or text to say “I’m outside. Let me in.”



* If they wave a hand in front of an old-school manual paper towel dispenser in a public restroom and a paper towel doesn’t magically emerge, they’ll assume it’s broken and walk away.

* If they’ve heard music played from a CD before, they probably don’t remember it. Much less a cassette or vinyl record.

* They’ve never had or seen film developed, and they’ve never seen an answering machine. 

* If you asked them to make a call from a rotary dial phone, they wouldn’t know where to start.

Why should you care? Because there are 62 million of them and they already have nearly $143 billion in buying power. And they will have even more by the time you finish this article. In fact, we found this generation important enough to our business to form an additional practice group focused on marketing to them. So here are five things you, brand marketers, need to know to be successful with this generation.

1. They’re Not Brand Loyal

Unless you happen to be Apple, endearing your brand to Gen We for the long term won’t be easy. They left MySpace for Facebook. They abandoned Guitar Hero for Angry Birds. And they dropped “High School Musical” like a bad habit when “Glee” came along. 

They’re more concerned with value and function than brand because they were molded by the largest global recession in recent memory. Where my generation wore Abercrombie & Fitch because of the brand, this generation will buy from a brand only if its products meet their economic and functional needs.  

The point is: keeping a brand relevant to this audience is tough. To do so, you will have to evolve with them, demonstrate value to them, and market yourself in non-traditional ways. 

2. They Expect Brands to Fit Their Mold. Not the Other Way Around.  

A great example of this is characterized by how this generation responds to technology and information architecture. My generation was willing to learn to click the “start” button to shut down our computers (remember Windows 95?), even though it made no sense to do so. 

Not this generation. They won’t blame themselves or stick around when products and brands don’t perform the way they want or expect them to – they will blame the brand and go elsewhere. 

Just look at 10 mobile phones owned by Gen We’ers. You’ll see 10 completely different wallpaper schemes, 10 different collections and configurations of apps, 10 different ringtones, 10 different cases, and the list goes on.  

Tailor your brands and products to them, or allow them to do so. They won’t be okay with doing it your way. 

3. They Care About the World and What Your Brand is Doing For It

This generation grew up with Dora the Explorer and Diego, and is the first generation to experience “green” in the mainstream. They’re not going to be a group of tree-hugging hippies, but they do care about the world and want to associate themselves with individuals and brands that care as well. 

Consider the 13 year old that started his own manly scented candle business – ManCans (featuring scents like Bacon, New Catcher’s Mitt, and Campfire). He makes his candles in soup cans and donates the soup to a local food bank. He’s received thousands of orders.

Or the 12 year old who wanted to do something about obesity and started a mobile dance studio in an old school bus. On afternoons after school, Amiya's Mobile Dance Academy travels to kids who couldn’t otherwise afford dance lessons and teaches them everything from ballet to hip-hop.

Consider how your brand treats the world, because Gen We will.  

4. They Expect You to Entertain Them

Conditioned by things like ToonTown and Club Penguin, this group expects to be entertained – even by brands. They have much shorter attention spans than previous generations, and an uncanny knack for processing massive amounts of information. 

For example, when I rode in my mom’s car as a child, I looked out the window. I might have even conversed with my mother. Not this generation. They watched cartoons on the SUV’s video system, played with their DS’s or played with Mom’s iPhone. And the more tech savvy of them probably played Toyota’s “Backseat Driver” app – which uses GPS to create a virtual driving route that mirrors the actual road and integrates real world landmarks into the game.

The point is, this group has always been entertained. And they will expect entertainment from you if you hope to connect with them. 

5. They Actually Listen to Their Parents

And vice versa.

While my generation was characterized by movies like “The Breakfast Club” and “DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince Parents Just Don’t Understand,” this generation is close to their parents. They listen to their parents, even when it comes to brands.  

Gen X parents and Gen We kids are watching the same TV channels, wearing the same clothing brands and playing the same video games — often together as a family. This group has been invited to have a voice in family decisions, and they’re willing to listen and even copycat their parents’ purchasing habits. So don’t ignore Mom and Dad. 

It’s going to be fascinating to watch this group become adult members of the workforce over the next few years. As employees, they’re going to push us. They’re native to innovation and change, and their perception of what’s possible is likely a great deal less limiting than it was for our generations. As consumers, they’re going to force us to think differently in order to connect with them. But one thing is certain – the next decade will be every bit as interesting and challenging for marketers as the last. 

7 comments about "5 Things You Need To Know About The Next Generation of Consumers ".
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  1. Rufus Dogg from DogWalkBlog, June 22, 2012 at 10:02 a.m.

    Wow. The first generational prognostication I agree with. I must be getting really old. #boomer

  2. Lolo Robison from Capital Area Transportation Authority, June 22, 2012 at 10:34 a.m.

    I'm a Boomer with children who were born in the '80s and one who was born in 1996 -- a Gen We-er! Your post made me laugh out loud with its dead-on description of characteristics. Insightful post. Thanks!

  3. Judith Brower fancher from Brower, Miller & Cole, June 22, 2012 at 11:11 a.m.

    I love this post and found it informative and fun. However, I always wonder how much of a generation's behavior is related to their actual age at that time. As a Gen X person, David, do you remember that you used to be permanently angry because you were told you wouldn't be as rich as your parents are? I don't see that in Gen Xers at their current age.

  4. David Young from Slingshot, June 22, 2012 at 11:59 a.m.

    Thanks for all the comments.
    @ Judith -- I think you have a valid POV. My personal perspectives have changed as I've aged. Though there are some intrinsic qualities of GenX that seem to remain regardless (i.e., self reliance and independence).

  5. Mandy Hjellming from Total Beauty Media, June 22, 2012 at 12:58 p.m.

    Love this post! I laughed out loud at the knocking on doors vs. texting comment.

  6. Steve Smith from Firehouse, June 22, 2012 at 6:07 p.m.

    Great post, David. We too have six interns this summer. Definitely things that ring true.

  7. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, June 22, 2012 at 6:56 p.m.

    Interesting post with some fun insights. My own sense, though, is that these behaviors aren't long term - they're really more about the age than about dramatic revamping of the human animal. Where I fully disagree with the analysis is the idea that their "brand loyalty" is any different. Because of their age, brand loyalties are massively emotional while loyal. Do they shift any more often? Probably not. Byron Sharp's work tells us that at ALL ages brand loyalty shifts quickly. The idea of a constant brand loyalty is marketing mythology. Working from some of Sharp's suggestions, we need to start understanding that today's brand loyal (of all ages) is tomorrow's brand jumper. So it's wasting money to invest based on some mis-guided idea that brand loyalty is forever.

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