Global warming, extreme weather events, resource scarcity, food and water crisis, instability of financial institutions – these are all interconnected global risks that we are facing today and that require us to act as fast as possible as they have major systematic impacts. But do you ever wonder who is going to solve these issues? Is it governments? Or companies? Or non-profits? Or regular people? I'm afraid I don't have the answer, but here's an interesting suggestion – it might be a whole generation.
Meet Generation Z – the bold rebels with the cause to save the world.
In many ways, Gen Zers are the opposites or extreme versions of Millennials, aka Generation Y – the previous generation.
In an article for Forbes Emily Anatole says that while Generation Y are optimistic, Generation Z are realistic, resilient and pragmatic. They know how scary, volatile and complex the world can be as they have grown up post 9/11 during a serious recession; they have seen or experienced poverty and violence and they have witnessed their parents and older siblings struggle.
Inc calls Generation Z "humble, informed, optimistic, and hugely entrepreneurial." It even goes on to say that this is the most entrepreneurial generation of all, largely due to the fact that they have been surrounded by DIY education and crowdsouncing, made possible by the world of digital and social media.
Gen Zers are independent, driven and in control. As much as they love to shop (and preferably online), they are cautious with their money with 57% too, preferring to save it – impulse purchases are relatively rare.
They are also influential at home and at school. Their opinions matter.
Gen Zers are motivated and determined to make a difference with 40% agreeing to the following statement: "I will invent something that changes the world."
They are worried and they are interested – 75% say they are "concerned" about world hunger and man's impact on the planet.
They are also inspired to make the world a better place. 60% of Gen Z want to have an impact on the world with their jobs (compared to 39% of Millennials) and 26% of 16-to-19 year-olds are currently volunteering.
So, if Millennials are "the sustainability generation", then Generation Z are the "natural sustainability generation" who have sustainability ingrained in their hearts and minds.
I have strong hopes that they will be the ones to make sustainability a reality – and save the world.
What does this all mean for brands and communicators?
Well, one thing for sure – traditional channels are irrelevant. If you want to reach Generation Z, digital is the only way, because they have digital, social and mobile in their DNA.
Furthermore, your communication and messages need to be bite-sized, i.e. 140 character, clear, shareable, quick and highly visual.
Gen Zers increasingly communicate in symbols with emoticons and emojis, replacing text with pictures (there's now even an app that turns any image or personal photo into a custom emoji!).
They are masters of Instagram, Snapchat and Tumblr; Facebook is just the normal.
They actually use social media as a research tool for school and projects.
Generation Z embrace every new network with rapid speed, meaning that you have to adapt and adjust with them and meet them where they are.
"Quick" is a key word here because the attention span of Gen Zers is getting shorter and shorter (8 seconds as an average attention span), turning them into the "ultimate consumers of snack media". Therefore, getting and keeping their attention is extremely challenging.
This is why offering them 360-degree experiences, with 3D and 4D, video and many visual elements is key. What's more, don't neglect second-screen media experiences as Gen Zers are device-multitaskers.
Don't forget that their social circles are global. They communicate and co-create globally. And they suffer from FOMO ("fear of missing out"). So, collaborate with them to feed their desire and curiosity, don't underestimate them or downgrade them.
Another thing to bear in mind is that traditional gender roles are extinguishing with self-identity being less constructed by gender as it has been for past generations. Target all people as equal individuals, not as boys vs. girls.
Most importantly however, Gen Zers demand a better future. They want to make a difference and a lasting impact.
Your organisation has to have social responsibility at its core. Generation Z and you will have to evolve together and make the world a better place.
To do so you will need to prove that you are reliable and trustworthy, that you "walk the talk".
Gen Zers expect messages that reflect reality as it is, they expect evidence and documentary-strong storytelling – entertainment is less important as it cannot help them solve problems. Story characters need to be ordinary people who rise above all challenges as they have an innate responsibility to help society.
Generation Z have a whole new world view. They are already challenging the status quo.
How will your brand respond? What will you do? What will Gen Zers do?