Gen Z: Throwback Thinking In A Digital Age

The newest insights on Generation Z aren’t stemming from this demographic’s status as digital natives, the ease with which they leap between apps and platforms, or their lightning-fast swiping talents. It’s often overlooked that for all their techno-savviness, this generation — 25% of the U.S. population alone — is also navigating similar economic and global political questions as the ones faced by their great-grandparents. The high value they place on relationships, along with consumer savviness and a willingness to take on hard work are the results of the pressures they face, possibly putting their parents’ generation to shame.

It’s more than connection — it’s kinship. Maintaining strong connections with friends and family is their primary reason for digital dependence, explaining why a whopping 86% of college students we surveyed recently cited social media — which deliver dialogue anytime, anywhere — as their most-used apps. Music and messaging, loved for its immediacy and privacy, tied for second-most-used at about 75%. Music and video clearly deliver on two fronts: much-needed downtime as well as social currency — being up-to-speed on Orange Is the New Black, The OA or the latest from Kendrick can be make-or-break party chatter or hip classroom analysis. Gaming apps slid from 63% to 53% of students using them. Netflix remains the go-to programming source, used by 71% of students, with a slide in general cable from 42% to 25%,



Finding More Fun In Real Life. Gen Z also values the three-dimensional world for experiences that connect and de-stress. Brick-and-mortar is holding its own against online shopping, with 54% saying they actively prefer it over online shopping, as Gen Z enjoys getting out and about. Once at the register, 65% use digital coupons, and 50% carry $20 or less, preferring credit, debit or Venmo. This younger generation continues to be increasingly food-savvy, as well, going out with friends and cooking more for themselves, with the number of GenZs cooking three to four times a week rising this past year from 26% to 32%. Retro is cool, not only in music and movies, but in creative pastimes like cooking and crafts that allow for a much-needed break or can be shared with friends. Brands that may have given up hope of connecting to a digital generation are finding new, loyal customers simply by showing teens they offer fun and relaxation in the real world.

The Value of Hard Work. This need for relaxation is real. The children of the Great Recession are keenly aware of issues like debt and are far more practical in thinking about money and careers than Gen X or Gen Y. Gen Z values their paychecks and expects to work hard to earn them. They are more inclined to take part-time jobs to earn money than seek out unpaid internships. In fact, 15% of college students we recently surveyed are already working full-time.

When they graduate, about half of our college students want to work for a mid-sized company with between 51 and 500 employees. Those seeking to work for smaller companies declined slightly, as did those considering starting their own businesses. It could be that even though students want a workplace that feels more personal, they are also risk-averse, so mid-size employers are ideal.

Brands that see in Gen Z a modern-day echo of those who lived through the Great Depression and the climate of the World Wars better appreciate the “why” behind the impact this generation already is having as consumers and as employees. They are among the early winners with this audience, and will continue to be leaders in teaching other brands the value behind throwback thinking in the digital age.

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