Gen Zs will be the first generation with a stream of data tracking them from cradle to grave. From sleep monitors to calorie and location trackers, parents will be able to monitor their child’s every move. There are some clear benefits to this: Peace of mind that your child is healthy and developing at a normal pace, and knowing your child is not in the wrong place … whatever “normal” and “wrong” may be.
Clearly, these kids are online and connected in a way that was only imagined in science fiction movies just a generation ago. They log into Xbox and Minecraft, they text, they create Musical.lys, they text again, they watch Netflix … and with all these interactions, they are logging into accounts while profiles are created and data is tracked and collected.
As marketers, the question for us is what does all of this mean? Does someone’s tracked data define them as a consumer? Or as a person? Does this data stream allow us the opportunity to study and understand a lifetime of consumer behavior?
Let’s look at this in two ways: If data is knowledge, then we have a ton of knowledge to use and build relationships with these consumers. But with that knowledge comes expectations; we rely on brands to know our name, where we live, some of our likes/dislikes. But with our friends we expect more; they know our quirks, our idiosyncrasies…the things that make us unique. Now that marketers have a ton of this personal data,
Now that marketers have a ton of this personal data, consumers, in turn, have raised their expectations of brand interactions based on their knowledge of us. We expect online marketing to offer us products and services that make sense, yet banner ads continuously retarget us with irrelevancy after a quick random online search. So what does the future of that interaction look like?
No surprise, our research has found this newer generation far savvier and skeptical than previous generations and already uses technology differently. As channels become more fragmented, the possibility for false news being pushed and misused, and data increasingly being pulled, Gen Z truly values real-world connections, action and transparency. In a recent survey, only 23% of college students said they like being tracked, a whopping 61% keep a close eye on what they allow and 10% feel it is an outright invasion of privacy.
Nor are they early adopters; 81% of college students jump on new devices but only after old ones give out and/or they wait for friends to give the thumbs-up before replacing. And when it comes to connecting with people, Gen Z appears to be embracing the old-fashioned way -- through friends, at bars/clubs, campus activities/Greek life. Fewer appear to be connecting thru dating apps -- and when they do, only Tinder really registers.
Gen Z’s data stream will leave them subject to marketing nurture and drip campaigns that last for years. Data will be retrieved and served up to marketers from devices used near birth, like tablets, to the internet-of-things refrigerators automatically ordering fresh chocolate milk. This world of big data will place Gen Z at a new intersection of active and passive data points. But as Gen Z ages, tastes, and experiences life, all this previous data changes in a micro-second.
Marketers will need to adjust their algorithms and models to determine whether current investments are truly worth it. If a 15-year-old girl walks into a store in five years from now, does her 10-year-old self’s obsession with Rainbow Loom mean anything? Does the Pinterest board from her 7th-grade friends group matter anymore? Brands may be able to find macro trends that help move this cohort through the family of brands; keeping interest and building loyalty through knowledge and data that has never been possible before.