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Generation Z 101 – What You Need To Know

Keep an eye on this generation as it comes of age.

Generation Z—we’ll call them Centennials here—were born beginning in 1996, and, while there’s not a fixed end date to the cohort yet, researchers believe we’re already past it.

As the oldest Centennials are already 21, they’re beginning to explore options for their future—options like higher education, military service and even joining the workforce without college.

Early research shows they have a conservative approach to financial decisions and personal success, a vibrant work ethic, and an entrepreneurial spirit. But, the biggest differentiator is that this is a generation that has never experienced life without fast Internet service and cell phones.

Can you imagine what that would be like? I certainly can’t.

The industry is still gathering information about Centennials and will be for some time. But, here are a few things we already know about this generation as a target market:

They consume media in at least one surprising way.

Overall, Centennials are spending less time with media than older generations. Of the time they do spend, they interact most with mobile web and app content. They rely on web search to help research a problem, prove a point, or learn new things through how-to content.

Apply this: Search marketing is very important for this group. Web search is second nature to them, and this generation is very comfortable with voice search, as well. They expect search to quickly lead them to helpful content, with video and image content highly preferred.

They effortlessly filter out some brand messages but embrace others.

Centennials embrace diversity in race, gender and sexual identity. They expect brands and companies to support diversity in much the same way—and to do so honestly. They will call out brands they feel are getting it wrong, sending the wrong message, or insincerely taking the high road (think Dove and Starbucks controversies).

Don’t forget: This generation also credits brands for taking a stand on social issues and sticking to their guns. Corporate social responsibility must be imbedded in all communications, and it must be intrinsic to the company culture.

They value referrals and word of mouth—including from celebs—above all else.

Centennials frequently seek input before making a decision or purchase, and they prefer word-of-mouth recommendations from average joes, friends or family above all else. While Centennials are more responsive to celebrity or online influencers than Millennials, they prefer unpaid testimony. They want a brand that lives up to its advertising and are looking for validation of its claims.

Takeaway: The importance of brand authenticity is not going away—rather, it is being magnified, as Centennials want advertising that is less aspirational and more about real-life situations and benefits. They use brands to inform their own identity by choosing which to align with.

They want fewer ads and more conversation.

This generation wants more of a two-way conversation with brands. Feedback mechanisms, like the opportunity to leave a review or chat with a brand in a familiar platform, are expected and important. Social media is a great place to engage in these conversations, with the proper platform strategy.

Take advantage of this by: Adapting social media strategies to Centennials’ specific use of each platform. Facebook is used passively by this group, mostly for the collection of news and information. Instagram is a more aspirational reflection of self and where Centennials go to feel inspired. Twitter and Snapchat are used for tracking what’s happening right now in a casual way—messages on these platforms don’t need to be highly designed.

They define success…the old fashioned way.

Centennials are a generation that was raised in unstable economic times, so it’s no surprise they are driven more by financial stability and traditional notions of success than the recognition and praise that drives Millennials. Many are already working part-time or as freelancers and expect to work through college, too.

Keep in mind: This is a competitive, bootstrapping generation. They are most responsive to brand messages about how a product can help them help themselves.

There is still so much we have yet to discover about Generation Z. As more Centennials come of age as adults, their behavior as a group may continue to shift, particularly their media consumption habits. But as there is always some degree of overlap across generations, brands should begin focusing on Centennial preferences now in preparation for their future.

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