Ziba

Insights & Trends

January 3, 2017

Gen Z Report

Foreward by Eli Goldberg, 17 and Blu Midyett, 17 (Ziba Fellows)

It’s daunting to try to speak for one’s generation, but it feels important to have the opportunity to explain ourselves, to offer insight into our intentions, our interpretations of GenZ and our personal motivations. Because ideas and news are shared so quickly, already, Gen Z has a lot of influence on contemporary culture and consumerism. We’re receiving and sending 24-7. It’s tempting for many to feel like anyone with the technology can access our generation on demand.  But when everyone’s talking at once, who can discern the signal from all the noise? 

What stands out from working with Ziba on the Gen Z themes is how much agreement in the world there seems to be about past generations; perspectives far and wide in fashion and consumer products, technology, buying power, decision making, and values. Opinions on what makes a Millennial a Millennial, or a Boomer a Boomer. How accurate can those generalities ever be; from where did they surface? We ask because our generation resists generalization, because Gen Z accepts there’s never just one point of view. So many people in our generation are ready, willing and able to share their opinions and tear down systems. No one can just keep their head in the sand, anymore. Everything is so quantified–likes and shares and views–you can’t help but be aware of what’s going on. Ignorance is a choice, not an excuse, for people individually and for brands. 

Consumerism is universal and Gen Z can’t escape it. While brands are listening to our generation; more importantly, they are engaging with us and involving us in what gets made, beyond just new stuff specifically targeted at young people. That’s a change we welcome. We appreciate being part of the action, instead of just reacting. We also understand that real life is complex.  We recognize that mistakes are going to happen - it’s almost impossible not to screw up at the speed we move. We have a big appetite for messiness. What is judged however, is not the mistake - it’s how you handle the mistake, whether you’re a business or a community or a single person.

We’d like to think our generation is in agreement that change is needed, even if we disagree about exactly what to change. We’d like to think our generation feels like you can’t take a stand one way or the other, unless you understand both sides. The capacity to acknowledge (and hopefully accept) fault in yourself or your ideas–that’s a Gen Z thing. We’ve lost our innocence early, and once you’re aware of something, you can’t will yourself back to being unaware, no matter how hard you try. 

Being involved in the research and discovery phase of the Ziba report for us, is an ongoing exploration of our values and opinions. The opportunity to engage in this conversation has broadened our thinking and furthered our recognition that our generation has many voices, and many perspectives. And yet we are in agreement when we say, “don’t label us” and “include us in the conversation.”

Eli & Blu
Ziba Fellows Eli Goldberg & Blu Midyett

Gen Z: The Builder Generation 

It goes without saying that any brand or organization looking to stay relevant in the future is going to have to understand what makes Gen Z–born between 1997 and 2015–unique. What might be less obvious is how near that future is... for most of us, it’s right now. As Millennials move into the middle of adulthood, the generation that follows is more than just ready to step out of the shadows. In fact, Gen Z has been actively shaping the way the digital and physical worlds look for several years now. 

The rise of ephemeral communication tools, like Snapchat? That’s largely a Gen Z phenomenon. Or how about the increasingly multi-faceted identities we’re seeing in our pop stars, fashion brands and popular media? That’s heavily driven by Gen Z, too. In fact, we believe Gen Z has potential to rival the 1960s Flower Children for world-shaking angst and idealism. They’re unprecedentedly autonomous, digitally virtuosic, politically engaged and already wielding tremendous spending power. Anyone selling anything ignores Gen Z at their peril.

It’s a mistake to think of this group as “like Gen Y, but more so.” There are differences of kind as well as degree, and a few of them are so fundamental that they require rethinking some basic assumptions. This is the most diverse generation in history, first and foremost. They grew up digital, navigating multiple online identities as a matter of course. It’s a generation of makers that thinks no real world experience is complete without digital connectivity. And it’s a deeply ethical generation that expects corporations to respect privacy, humanity and the earth, and has ‘live and let live’ inscribed in its DNA.

Design researchers and insights experts at Ziba have spent over a year talking to and living with Gen Z all across the US, and while there’s not enough room here to tell you everything we learned, there is enough to lay out the basics. We’ve even come up with a name, to add to all the other contenders: the Builder Generation. Here are five key insights into what sets them apart. 

WE CAN MAKE IT OURSELVES

thanks for making a mess of the world / now step aside so that we can fix it

People have been making things for all of recorded history, but never so many things, so enthusiastically, with so little standing in the way. The Builder Gen grew up with YouTube, Soundcloud, Minecraft and open source everything. 

With a host of powerful, accessible tools and a culture whose heroes are innovators and entrepreneurs, the kids think they’re ready to reshape the world now, with joy, curiosity, and a level of technical fluency that previous generations could only dream of. Give them a better tool, or a new way to celebrate what they’re already making, and you’ll have an army of allies.

IDENTITY / IS / FLUID

labels are only temporary / every label is available  

Gen Z is the most ethnically diverse generation in US history. More than two-thirds believe gender does not define a person. And so many of them are growing up in ‘non-traditional’ households that it calls into question whether the one-mom-one-dad-one-house upbringing is even typical anymore.

For a generation like this, identity is an ongoing project, with many possible outcomes and no end point. Gen Z believes it’s possible to be many things at once, as well–everyone’s a ‘slashie,’ now. Successful brands will support and extend this tendency, rather than clinging to outdated notions of static identity and demographic certainty. It means looking for opportunities to cross your brand with something from left field, and embracing new interpretations as they arise from users. Gen Z wants to do unprecedented things with your brand and use it as part of their own rich stew of identity signifiers… make it easy for them.

IN FAIRNESS WE TRUST

substance, not surface / we know the difference

One side effect of constant connection is that you tend to see the whole world as your neighbor. Gen Z has an ingrained sense of social responsibility that goes beyond ideology. They believe in doing right by the world and fellow human beings and they can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t. 

So in addition to volunteering, starting environmental clubs and campaigning for human rights, Gen Z expects brands to share their concerns, without charging a premium for it. They know what greenwashing looks like and what naive marketing sounds like, and they’ve got no time for either. They want to see real, positive impact–so go make some. If you show them that sustainability and social responsibility are a natural part of what you do, they might also pay attention to something you’ve got to say.

PRIVACY IS OURS

respect it like a possession / responsibility is a two-way street 

People like to say that Gen Z doesn’t care about privacy; those people are wrong. Gen Z was born after the launch of Facebook in 2004, which means often their entire childhoods were posted online. Growing up multiply connected, they see privacy as a commodity to be protected, treasured, and–sometimes–traded for something of value. They know all about net neutrality, but they see it as just a first step towards real digital democracy. They assume constant surveillance, but they know how to get around it. They know anything said publicly could stick around forever, so they learn fast how to say things in private.

The smartest brands respect all this savvy and give  Gen Z back the keys to their privacy, which  returns the favor with trust and loyalty. Privacy is becoming as valuable as money, so be like the bank.

EXPERIENCE THE EXTREMES

best of both worlds / right place, right time 

For Gen Z, technology is always on and always has been, which means it might be losing its punch. Rather than drawing interest away from the physical world, constant connection has made real life experiences something to treasure. For the Builder Gen, however, real life is always complemented by digital (However; pics or it didn’t happen.) If something is wholly, natively digital, make it good and compelling in it’s own right; the same goes for something staunchly analog. Make the most out of the format you choose, whichever it is, and never try to force a format or function onto a media that doesn’t suit.  

In the end, it’s not a matter of digital replacing physical or vice versa–they’re both great, and they’re both necessary. Gen Z seems to love hardcover books and vinyl records, but this could be simple reactionary teenage rebellion against their all-digital parents. Regardless, Gen Z’s interest across the entire array of digital and analog is good news for many traditional brands– just ensure experiences are relevant, emotionally rich and designed to fit their format. 

For more information on this Perspective and to contact our Insights and Trends team, email us at connect@ziba.com.