When we think of the future of marketing, what comes to mind? Social media, technology, and millennials. Many companies, especially those dipping their toe into the pool of online media, are studying everything “millennial” – what they like, care about, and want to put their money in.

Much research has been done to study this generation to determine how to target them and get their attention. We have found that they value experiences more than products, which is why companies like GoPro, Uber, and Coachella are on the rise in this experience economy. But while we know what this generation wants, are we sure we know who they are? True millennials as those born between 1981-1996, making them adults under 40. So why are they so often looked at as “kids”? If millennials are all adults, then who is the next generation we should have on our radar?

Meet Gen Z

The up-and-coming generation we don’t focus on enough is Gen Z, those born after 1997. As a Gen Z’er myself, I wanted to explore more into what makes my generation tick. My brother and I just missed the millennial mark, having been born in 1998 and 2000, respectively. It’s a tricky distinction between these two groups, but it has been said that Gen Z’ers have never known a world without technology. Apple created its first ever iPhone in 2007 and Facebook became accessible to non-college students in 2006, making most of my life technology-centered. But don’t be so quick to group me and my soon-to-be 21-year-old brother with tweens and toddlers; we still remember the days of the landline.

What’s The Difference?

So what are the differences in cultures? Organizations have been studying millennials because they need to know what they want in a product or service. How can we understand what’s to come?

While most millennials lived through hard social times, they have proven to be a much more optimistic generation than their younger counterparts. This is likely because they grew up in a time when the economy was on the rise. Even though most millennials are poorer than their Baby Boomer parents (largely due to student loan debt), they still show a generally optimistic outlook. Generation Z, on the other hand, is having to grow up too fast. They have become aware from a young start of the trouble families are having in the modern-day economy. Being born in a time of financial strain, this group is more pessimistic about the economy and the job opportunities they will have.

A Fear of Higher Ed

Because Gen Z is forced to be cautious about money and debt, the group is hesitant on big purchases. We are seeing a decline in the amount of younger people attending elite, expensive colleges, or skipping tertiary education altogether. While millennials dove right into university post-graduation, believing the reward of education would outweigh the debt they’d incur, Gen Z’ers are not so confident. This group has learned how to “cheat the system” and be more autonomous in their learning. Sources like CrashCourse and other online mediums have become increasingly popular with younger students, who often opt to learn on their own for free. They have also zeroed in on YouTube to make money by becoming social influencers, thus skipping the traditional path obtaining a degree and a career.

What Do They Look For in a Company?

Millennials have always been very brand-focused. This group grew up in times of economic prosperity and thus values brand names and logos much more than Generation Z. Companies like Polo Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, and others were very popular during the 90s and early 00s. Pressure to fit in with the crowd and own expensive clothing was very important to this generation.

Gen Z, on the other hand, is not so worried about the status quo. This group has different values with regards to the companies and organizations it involves itself with, such as:

  • Your brand should be steeped in social responsibility
    Teens, young adults, and even young children are extremely wary about the state of our planet and way of life. They care about organizations that take part in economic, environmental, and social issues.
  • Your brand should help express originality
    Unlike their elder cohort, these individuals do not care so much about flashy names and logos (unless they’re worthy of Instagram clout, including fashion statements like Gucci Belts, and Supreme labels). They would rather purchase from discount and thrift stores to save a buck and express their originality.
  • Your brand should have a technology-first approach

Having been always surrounded by electronics and the World Wide Web, Gen Z’ers tend to do a lot of their shopping online. 74% of them spend upwards of five hours a day on the web, so if organizations want to target this generation, you’ll most likely find them behind a screen. This makes it extremely important for brands to be found online and have mobile-optimized sites that younger people will be drawn to.

While the cutoff years are not an exact science, the differences between the generations are clear. For marketers and business execs, this is important to note. Knowing your audience is crucial to making a profit, but knowing their demographics is only half the battle. It’s important to also note their generational group, thus discovering who they truly are and what they want.