Generation Z

How Generation Z impacts companies today – an insightful evening with Chloe Combi

Globeone hosted colleagues and friends in an informative evening about Generation Z with published author, Chloe Combi. Chloe’s first book Generation Z: Their Voices has gained wide critical acclaim and is currently being turned into a Netflix series. Not only is she a sought-after speaker, but she has worked as a special counsel for a previous Mayor of London, has founded her own charity organisation, and has written for The Daily Mail, The Times, Guardian and Huffington Post, just to name a few. She is now engaged in the largest study about Generation Z in Europe to expand on her initial research.

Generation Z’s, also known as digital natives, are the first generation to be born into a world with internet and social media. Never will they know a time where the only way to call your friends and make plans is over the landline, nor will they ever hear the piercing melody of dial-up internet.

For them, a world without instant access to information is inconceivable. They are currently the world’s largest demographic, making up roughly 32% of the global population and they are changing the rules. While one cannot paint a whole generation with a single brush, there are some distinctive characteristics that can be identified, and Chloe conducted roughly 3000 interviews in the UK to do exactly that.

What makes Generation Z distinctly different?

According to Chloe, this generation has dropped the rates of what is known as typical teenage behaviour, such as promiscuity, alcohol and drug abuse, but has witnessed an unprecedented rise in stress and anxiety. Unlike previous generations, Generation Z experiences the majority of their social interactions online, thus allowing to experience the world, unfiltered, from their room. However, it also exposes them to the world at unparalleled levels.

Generation Z

Teenagers, who are generally predisposed to being very sensitive to their peers’ opinions, are terrified of a picture or video circulating on social media of them drunk or high, so much so, they police themselves. Furthermore, the decrease in what we consider typical teenage behaviour has been countered with a rise in interest in experience-oriented activities. In particular, they want to engage in activities that will look good on their social media, since that is where their social interactions take place. Simultaneously Chloe highlighted that due to most of their social interactions being online, they are less likely to go out and actually experience the world, resulting in more conservative values than previous generations. However, conversely, they are also more aware and more sensitive to social issues than any previous generations.

What does this mean for companies selling to this demographic?

For companies and brands targeting this demographic, these differences change the rules of the game considerably. Beyond just having a social media account, companies must step up their games to find a way to engage with Generation Z. Coke, for example, led a very strong campaign with the “Share a Coke” personalized bottles. Teenagers flocked to stores to try and find their name and post on their social media about it. This strategy was successful because it tapped into two key elements that appeal to this demographic. Firstly, it was a very personalized product, thus creating a connection to the identity of the holder. Secondly, it provided an experience for teenagers to post on social media about. In turn, Coke generated significant revenue from unpaid advertisement.

Furthermore, what really attracts these teenagers to brands is companies that take a stand and have a meaning. For example, Nike standing with Colin Kaepernick was a powerful message about where the company stood regarding the issue black lives matter and kneeling during the US national anthem. Based on her research Chloe believes they are interested in using brands that reflect their values and make them feel good. However, brands must be very careful and aware of how they attempt to take a stand because if done carelessly the backlash can be detrimental.

What does this mean for those hiring from Generation Z?

The eldest of Generation Z are slowly entering the workforce and bringing with them their alternative world view. On the heels of the me-too movement, Generation Z brings with them a new sense of accountability. Chloe expected that this sense will permeate into the corporate culture, as well as a relaxing of the hierarchies. The effect of their changes might not be visible in the corporate world yet, however it is becoming evident in the social media spheres. Social media empires have been notoriously slow about imposing censors and policies on their users and content, but with the pressure mounting from the younger user base, there have been some changes in their attitude recently. The most stark example is when the social media empires flexed their virtual muscles and removed and banned long-time controversy Alex Jones, the alt-right YouTube personality, from all social media channels.  With Generation Z entering the workforce the greatest struggle companies are facing isn’t the attracting of talents, but rather the retention of them. On this front, Chloe’s advice is that companies need to make jobs more attractive by laying out clear development paths and training opportunities. Give the young generation a chance to grow with their job, and most importantly give them a fair liveable wage. While it isn’t as big a problem in Switzerland, in the UK this generation will be the first generation to earn less than their grandparents (after having accounted for inflation). Companies must put in more effort to retain their young talents.

While we discussed many of the possibilities of the future, and what outcomes we can expect from Generation Z, ultimately the only way we will truly know what change this generation will bring is by bearing witness. But one can definitely assume it will be interesting to watch how the coming years are formed and influenced as more of Generation Z enters adulthood and a new generation redefines the role of teenagers after them.