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“What are the kids into these days?”

As marketers, we get this question a lot. Not always in this exact format, but there’s no denying that brands across every industry are constantly searching for new ways to reach America’s youngest generation of consumers. But, who are these “kids” anyway?

The majority of people might say, “Millennials.” And the majority of people would be incorrect. Contrary to popular belief, Millennials are not America’s youngest generation, and they haven’t been for quite some time – since 1996, to be exact. If brands are trying to reach a younger audience, the demographic these brands should be targeting is Generation Z, not Millennials.

Let’s start with one of the biggest differences – age. According to Pew Research, Millennials were born between the years of 1981 and 1996, making them approximately 22 to 37 years old in 2018. While there’s some debate about where Millennials end and Gen Zers begin, The New York Times officially starts the Gen Z timeline at 1995, comprising people who are approximately 23 and younger. With a nearly 40-year age gap between the oldest Millennials and the youngest Gen Zers, it’s easy to imagine quite a few differences in interests, personality and buying behavior between the two.

Next, let’s discuss personality traits. In 2013, Time Magazine referred to Millennials as the “Me, Me, Me Generation,” and the title seemed to stick. Millennials got this rather egoistical reputation based on a series of scientific studies conducted by researchers at the National Institute of Health. According to the surveys, millennial college students scored 58 percent higher on the narcissism scale than college students of the previous generation. The data also indicated that Millennials were moralistic, fame-seekers and, because they were simply rewarded for participation as children, now expect promotions every two years. It’s true that many Millennials grew up in households that made an extra effort to boost self-esteem through affirmations and understanding. For this reason, Millennials are considered entitled, overconfident – and maybe even a little bit cocky.

Millennials are the oldest of the two generations, so, naturally, they were the first to experience major cultural events, like the birth of the Internet. Pew Research notes that Millennials were the first to incorporate technology into daily life through features like Tweeting and texting. The generation has continued to stay at the forefront of early tech adoption and, today, more than 9-in-10 Millennials own a smartphone and 85 percent are on social media. But, as we learned in our podcast episode, “Who in the Gen Z Are You?” we can’t talk about social media without mentioning Gen Z.

Millennials were around for the advent of social media, so they have witnessed the enthusiasm and excitement that came with this new invention. More than anyone else, Millennials have personal experience with the social media’s original purpose and intention: convenient connectivity and communication with friends and loved ones. Gen Zers, on the other hand, have a far more jaded perspective when it comes to social media. They grew up surrounded by tech, so in a way, they are immune to its charms. Instead of using social media to talk to friends and post life updates, Gen Zers perceive social media as just another way to kill time. This also speaks to another typical Gen Z trait, the need for round-the-clock entertainment, which social media often fulfills. According to Global Web Index, 45 percent of Gen Zers primarily use social media to “find funny or entertaining content” and, as indicated by We Are Social, the majority find this content is on YouTube (84 percent), Facebook (80 percent) and Instagram (63 percent).

But, what does all of this information have to do with buying behavior? Well, a lot, actually. Social media, especially, plays a huge role in reaching Gen Zers because the majority are on their smartphones 24/7. Take influencer marketing, for example. This social media-based marketing tactic employs “influencers” or people with large social media followings, to promote certain products and services. As indicated by Global Web Index, over 40 percent of Gen Zers “say they’re easily swayed by the opinions of others,” so it makes sense that they primarily discover new products through influencer vlogs, endorsements or updates on a brand’s social page. When Gen Zers find this content, they are more likely to share and engage with fun, compelling, “bite-sized” posts that stand out from the “noise.”

Gen Z also values speed and seamlessness online. Marketing Dive notes that 75 percent of Gen Zers prefer to shop online out of convenience and The National Retail Federation uncovered that over 60 percent of Gen Zers will not use an app or website that is slow to load or hard to navigate. That said, Gen Z doesn’t sacrifice speed for quality. The NRF notes that Gen Zers will scour online review sites and will even go to brick-and-mortar locations to determine a product’s quality. They are also conscious of how they spend their money, with 65 percent actively looking for deals, discounts, coupons and rewards programs.

Contrary to their hyper-digital counterparts, Millennials prefer a more traditional “brand-to-consumer” approach. While Millennials also follow influencers and brands on social, they are driven more by price than trendiness. According to research published by CouponFollow, the majority of Millennials claimed to follow brands on social media to get discounts and two-thirds said they would “switch brands if it offers a discount of 30 percent or more.” As noted in Forbes, Millennials spend an average of three minutes searching for coupons prior to making a purchase, practically an eternity in Gen Z years.

When it comes to economic outlook, again, we see big differences between Gen Zers and millennial consumers. As noted in the 2018 Deloitte Millennial Survey, Millennials feel pessimistic about the motives and ethics of today’s industry leaders. To Millennials, businesses need to adopt and promote cultures that support forward-thinking, inclusivity and diversity. Interestingly, Millennials look to business leaders to make significant, positive change in the world – even more so than religious and political leaders. In contrast, Gen Zers have a more glass half-full perspective. According to the study, Gen Z has an overall optimistic view of global market growth and anticipate being happier than future generations. This comes as no surprise considering Gen Z is proving to be the most entrepreneurially minded generation yet. With social media opening up revenue doors, we’re seeing more Gen Zers taking the self-made route to success as opposed to Millennials who are looking to new markets, like the gig economy, for future job security.

Let’s get one thing straight, Millennials are not Gen Zers and Gen Zers are not Millennials. They’re very different generations with unique characteristics, interests and habits. However, brands looking to optimize their marketing strategies should target both audiences to maximize success and brand value. Millennials are currently America’s largest generation, with over 75 million people, but Gen Z’s numbers are on the rise, projected to surpass the millennial population by 2019. Together, these generations will have the strongest impact on the global marketplace, so they both deserve personalized brand attention.

Looking for ways to reach millennial and Gen Z consumers? Contact Orange Label. Our portfolio spans captivating, engaging work that has generated results for clients in nearly every industry. Click here to learn more.

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