The iGeneration a/k/a Generation Z
The demographers, business analysts, writers and sociologists are still toying with what to call the newest generation that is now emerging after the Millennials. There are a few names being tossed around — Generation Z, plurals, Generation Wii and iGeneration. iGen seems to be leading the pack. The exact cutoff date between Millennials and iGens varies from 1997 to 2001. But, basically all infants, toddlers, adolescents and practically all teenagers today are iGens.
Already some are concerned that this little “i” label does not describe properly the qualities and characteristics of this newest generation. First, what is the “i” supposed to represent? Is it Internet? Interactive? International? “i” as in I or me, implying a certain preoccupation with self? There really is no consensus yet among pundits on meaning or name. After all, iGens have yet to come of age and are still being shaped by the social, economic and political events unfolding now and those to come. So how can one define what is still being molded? Yes, this newest generation is certainly an Internet-savvy, technology-driven generation. It is also a social-media connected generation that is experiencing human interaction in an entirely different way than any generation before it. They are redefining what it means to be ‘connected’. And it is perhaps the most global generation in the history of the world given how much easier international travel and communication is and how interconnected the global economy is. So in many ways, the “i” does apply. As for what else the label may come to mean - that is still evolving. Here is what is known so far about this youngest generation.
A Generation Emerging
Like many generations before them, iGens see themsleves as very different than the Millennials and Gen Xers before them. But, unlike previous generations, most of the iGens’ parents and grandparents do use technology and social media. To iGens (perhaps we can call them iKids for now?), Gen Xers are “old” and Baby Boomers are ancient, and anything that a Gen Xers or Millennial uses or does is, by definition, passé and not cool. There is nothing unique about that. Younger generations have perceived themselves as more in vogue and trendy than their predecessors since long before Enlightenment thinkers saw themselves as more intellectually evolved than their forefathers. However, there are already certain qualities and characteristics emerging about iGens.
1. iGens are realistists.
Having grown up in a post 9/11 world and in the wake of the Great Recession as well as countless reports of school violence, wars and a growing refugee crisis, this generation understands how scary the world is, not just far away but also at home. In fact, in a survey, nearly half of children ages to 7 to 13 felt that school violence and shootings will have the biggest impact on their generation, greater than the invention of social networking and the election of the first Black President. They’ve seen the effects of a troubled economy and violent society firsthand. These dark events are surely shaping them to be more cautious and security-minded.
2. iGens are doers, fixers and problem solvers.
While more cautious, iGens also seem to be driven to want to improve the world in real ways. Their early loss of innocence has made them resilient and pragmatic. Instead of complaining about the world issues, they want to find solutions. The Globe and Mail gave some examples of this in a September 25, 2014 article on how Gen Z will save the world. “Linda Manziaris, 14, a jewelry entrepreneur from Toronto, gives half of her profit to charity. Ann Makosinski, 16, from Victoria, created a flashlight that is powered by the human hand. Shawn Mendes, 16, from Pickering, Ontario, went from posting Vine videos online to international pop stardom. Hannah Alper, 11, an eco-blogger from Toronto, has addressed stadium-sized crowds across North America.” This generation is looking to make the world a better place.
Thus, iGens will be looking for products and messaging that reflects their reality, rather than idealistic and utopian fantasies. Serious storylines that highlight complex situations with realistic solutions will appeal to them. They want scenarios that show genuine, problems faced by real people who then rise above them or overcome them to create a better world. iGens desire empowerment to defeat difficult circumstances and change the status quo.
3. iGens want / expect to easily access to quality information.
A study by Schneider Associates (SA) and The Pollack PR Marketing Group (PPMG) found that iGens want access to information ‘on demand’ all the time. That makes sense given that they’re growing up with smart phones, tablets and laptops in hand since childhood. In this age of ubiquitous technology, even young children are being given access to massive amounts of data about most any topic imaginable at their fingertips. They are also multi-screen-users, accustomed to consuming media from multiple touch points at once. An average iGen teen might stream music from her smart phone while doing Algebra homework on her laptop. She is getting the math problems from her Nook eReader which gives her access to her math textbook online. In the midst of all that, if she gets stuck isolating a variable, she can use the Algebra Touch app to touch and drag X’s and Y’s to either side of an equation. But this is not just true of older iGens. Even before they can walk, iGen kids are using cell phones to play games that teach them colors and shapes, take selfies, and swipe through screens on their parents’ Android. For businesses, the challenge will be to “be” in all the places where iGens surf, and making sure that the technology works and keeps up with the latest trends in design, speed and functionality. Businesses will also need to invest in providing iGens with lots of valuable information. More than ever, content will be key.
4. iGens are distrustful of anything coming from the status quo.
One might say that iGens are skeptics, less trusting of authority figures, organizations and companies than generations past. In fact, they trust the advice of friends, and even strangers, more than those in power, organizations, and brands on social media. This can be a daunting obstacle for any society that wants to instill the values of order, structure and rule of law in future generations. For businesses, it poses a challenge of defining and marketing a brand in a way that connects rather than alienates. After all, if iGens trust nothing that a brand says, how do you market to them? Marketers need to understand that iGens will turn to social media first to learn about new products before buying them. That means public perception of a company’s brand and products will matter even more in the future. Word-of-mouth will carry more weight than ever before, and the validity of others’ opinions will be more important that ever before. Perception will matter even more than reality. Therefore, building brand reputation and biz buzz will play an increasing role in marketing efforts.
5. iGens expect personalized attention.
In a world where so much of a person’s personal information is public, iGens expect that contact and communication with the outside world should and will be personalized to them. That means that instead of addressing an email as “Dear student” or “Dear Customer”, they expect to be addressed by name. They want brands to “know” them… their interests, hobbies, music, sports, lifestyle preferences, etc. Companies will be expected to know more about their customers and use that information in their marketing more than ever before. While this is increasingly true of people of all generations, iGens will shun any business that falls short of that measure. Marketing segmentation will be key to reach iGens.
6. iGens are frugal.
Like the Silent Generation who watched the GI Generation before them go through the Great Depression, iGens watched their parents and grandparents suffer through the Great Recession and saw their older siblings struggle to find meaningful jobs even after college. They understand ‘tough times’ and will likely be more careful in how they spend money. They are also likely to avoid debt and impulse purchases. Instead, they’ll likely be on the prowl for good investments and the best buys. Marketers and retailers should expect iGens to research products before buying and testing or trying out items before buying. Imagine iGens being somewhat like today’s cautious seniors who think carefully before they buy. That means that testimonials and product information will be highly valuable in marketing to iGens too.
Despite what surveys may say about the iGeneration so far, they are simply still a work-in-progress. What traits are true about them today could change radically as the world changes. Still, it helps to keep a finger on the pulse of this emerging group. With so much information at their moment-by-moment disposal, this is the generation that looks poised to solve problems, make things better and perhaps bring the collective wisdom of the world to bear. Even though this generation is much smaller than the Millennials and smaller than Gen Xers, what this cohort lacks in size it may make up for in how it is wise.
Quote of the Week
“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total, of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.”
© 2015, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.