Deconstructing Gen Z: Part Four

— 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 (according to Iconoculture) 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 coming weeks, we’ll share some key insights about this growing generation and how they’re disrupting everything that came before them. Welcome to Week Four, Part Four. For Part One, an introduction to Gen Z, click here. For Part Two, digging into Gen Z’s spending power, click here. Part Three talks about the independent, entrepreneurial spirit of this generation.


Anyone born before 1982 was in awe watching millennials multitask across two screens. But Gen Z has trounced that dexterity, easily switching back and forth between up to five screens.

Labeled as having the attention span of a gnat, Gen Z finds little distinction between their digital and physical worlds and seamlessly engages with both. They’re the first real digital natives — raised on devices such as the smartphone, desktop, laptop, tablet and TV to communicate and digest information instantaneously. But, be warned, they can still be easily distracted.

Older generations struggle to understand why they spend so much time online. But unlike generations before them, Gen Zers are under immense pressure to simultaneously manage their personal and professional brands to help them fit in while also standing out.

Gen Z feels the need to be social, with 81 percent of teenagers on social media. They also have an emotional dependence on their digital connections, which play a defining role in their lives. On a personal level, Gen Z seeks immediate validation and acceptance through social media, since that’s where all their peers are and where many of the important conversations happen. They curate different social media personas to please each audience and minimize conflict or controversy.

In 2014, Under Armour launched I Will What I Want, an innovative digital campaign that went viral, empowering female athletes to succeed even in the face of  haters. It celebrated the deliberate choices women make in life to succeed. It was a bold move and defined the way the brand would speak to females. And it paid dividends leading to a 28 percent sales increase for the brand.

Because they’re technologically proficient from such a young age, they have a “less is more” mentality and they expect any communication to be incredibly concise — considering whole conversations can be achieved with a single image thanks to emojis and emoticons. They’re the ultimate consumers of snack media, communicating in bite-size morsels. According to research studies from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine research suggests their brains have evolved to process more information at faster speeds and they’re cognitively more nimble to handle challenges. But getting and keeping their attention is challenging.

To put it mildly, they’re digitally engrossed.

Tune in next week when we talk about the voice of Gen Z and their expectations to be heard.


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.