Generation Z, comprised now of young people between the ages of 14 and 23, has already eclipsed Baby Boomers and Millennials in size, and it will soon be the cause of a major disruption of media as we know it today.
Gen Z has grown up in a connected world where access to information is readily available online, and they are the youngest adopters of smartphones and other mobile technologies. Also referred to as “founders” by MTV, this ascendant generation relies heavily on mobile devices for everything from social media and communication to news sources, dating apps, and online banking and utilities.
It should come as no surprise that large media conglomerates are already feeling the effects of the evolving behaviors of this massive group given that they ingest more media via their mobile devices than through television and OTT combined. This marketplace disruption is having an impact on major content providers like ESPN, which continues to lose subscribers after having already lost 12 million subscribers over a six-year period.
This hemorrhaging of customers has ESPN’s parent company, Disney, working tirelessly to come up with new solutions to meet this demographic’s needs. Recent talent layoffs at ESPN and rumors of Disney exploring the ad-tech space — trying to figure out more effective ways to reach Gen Z consumers — demonstrate that they are shifting their focus and positioning themselves to compete with Google, Facebook, and other major players in digital media.
Verizon can also be seen chasing the opportunity to become a top digital media provider, evidenced by its slew of acquisitions ranging from AOL to Yahoo and its reported deal talks with Comcast and Disney, among others. The behaviors of Generation Z have signaled a paradigm shift in media consumption, and for today’s media leaders to keep up, they will need to re-position themselves before the momentum of Gen Z becomes overwhelming.
One area where the shifting behaviors in media consumption can be clearly recognized is retail, an industry that depends on media advertisements as the lifeblood of its sales. With Gen Z’s annual spending power of $44 billion, the consequences of effective media marketing are monumental. The key behavioral change of Generation Z with regard to retail is a preference for speed and familiarity. While previous generations were driven by finding the best deal and the most appealing in-store experience, the shopping experience of a Gen Z member can be boiled down to a few clicks on a mobile device. And as Gen Z focuses more and more on who they consider to be peers and what their peers will think of their purchases, massive celebrity endorsements are falling out of fashion in favor of micro-influencers on social media platforms.
These trends are merely the first signs of a drastic change in the media-retail relationship. Recognizing the importance of the all-powerful device in the Gen Z consumer’s pocket, retail outlets will be forced to focus on how to make their products as appealing as possible in short bursts of attention. Is it any wonder that two of the most significant social media platforms impose hard limits on user content? A single tweet can be no longer than 140 characters, while a successful snap tells its story in 10 seconds or less.
These restrictions force content creators to distill their message to the most compelling, concise version, mirroring Generation Z’s preference for efficiency. The demand for efficiency is already proving itself in retail performance and entrepreneurship: mainstream fixtures like the grocery store, an institution that has remained unchanged for a century, are now giving way to convenient alternatives like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh as efficient, user-friendly experiences become the driving force behind purchases.
“In with the new” means “out with the old,” and the disappointing recent retail earnings season demonstrates the stakes of resisting change in the fight for Gen Z customers. Media formats that used to work for retail marketing, things like the 30-second commercial, direct mail and weekly newspaper inserts, must be reinvented into branded digital content in the quest for creating new brand-loyal consumers. Whether it’s the sponsored Instagram post of a micro-influencer or a 10-second video placed on a popular website, the media choices that drive retail sales will need to be as short as possible and as targeted as possible.
The sooner media companies and retail businesses fully realize what the changing behaviors of Generation Z mean for their business models, the sooner they can adjust and respond to what will likely be their most important customers for the next few decades.