Deconstructing Gen Z

— Heather Scott, WE 

We’ve talked about millennials for nearly 20 years. Now, it’s time to start thinking about what or really who is next. Gen Z is stepping into the spotlight. Today, they represent 28 percent of the U.S. population and that number is growing rapidly: In four years, it will be a staggering 40 percent. Savvy brands are closely watching the way this group operates because soon — very soon — Gen Z will be highly influential in how we all behave and consume.

Over the next six weeks, we’ll share some key insights about this growing generation and how they’re disrupting everything that came before them. 


Just who is this generation waiting in the wings to unseat those entitled millennials?

Let’s get a few things straight: The specific age range of Gen Z is hotly debated, but we’re defining them as those born from 1995 to the present, meaning those 21 or younger. Yep, toddlers, tweens, teens and this year even some recent college grads.

They’re one of the most ethnically diverse, connected, educated and sophisticated generation ever. They’ve already witnessed a wide swing of breakthrough moments like the first African-American president and the legalization of gay marriage. They’ve also seen firsthand the impact of economic distress, hearing their Gen X parents talk of financially challenging times like the dot-com bust and the recession, and watching millennials struggle with sky-high college tuition and the prospect of debt after graduation.

Gen Zers were born into a crisis period of terrorism, recession, climate change and school shootings. This made them realists, with a very practical perspective on what they want and need to accomplish in life. They don’t love polished, perfect situations because they believe in what is real and authentic. They seek out that which reflects the real world they live in.

Gen Z is distinctly unique, unlike any generation that’s come before. Here are four things that separate them from the pack:

1. They’re digital natives. Unlike digital-adapter millennials, who were introduced to smartphones later in life and learned to adjust, Gen Z was raised in the digital era and doesn’t remember a time before social media.

2. They prefer mobile. Of all devices at their fingertips, cell phones are their gadgets of choice to access anything and everything — from recipe hacks like banana splits cooked in foil over a campfire to playing games like “Monument Valley” or “Dumb Ways to Die.”

3. They’re wicked information filterers. Gen Zers are expert at filtering content quickly and to their liking.

4. They’re empowered influencers. This group invests and believes in creating a dialogue with brands and products they consume. They have significant online interactions with brands and expect to be heard.  When the Daily Mail posted photos of “Game of Thrones” actress Maisie Williams at a charity event for the National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children with a headline that spoke more to her going braless than her support for the charity, she was quick to defend herself. The 19-year-old promptly posted an alternative headline on Twitter for the world to see. That’s just one of a million examples of Gen Z’s brand engagement.

Gen Z is a global, social, visual and technological generation. They’re the early adopters, the brand influencers, the social media drivers and the pop-culture leaders. They don’t just represent the future, they’re creating it.

Ready for Part Two?

Stay tuned for next week when we talk about Gen Z’s spending power. Cha-ching!


A bit of background on the author, Heather Scott:

Heather Scott
What I do:
I read a room. I understand behavior. I process human nature, culture and values. More importantly, I don’t put relationships or brands first, I put people first. If programs that are based on insights, trends and strategies are your things, then I’m your gal. I’m a planner, not a Day Runner.

Why it’s important:
Do you believe in magic? Because a great idea is just a great idea. A strategy by itself doesn’t leave a lasting imprint. Insights and trends are fascinating, but not much more on their own. The integration of all three is where the magic happens.

The coolest thing I’ve done:
At Indiana University, I was the all-campus backgammon champion.

When I’m not working:
I’m looking for snow-covered trees and mountains for my next downhill, cross-country or snowshoe adventure.