Getting Ready for Gen Z (Part 1)


Content, action and activity of companies will drive Gen Z purchasing, the author says. (Image licensed by Ingram Publishing)

Steve Kallenbach |

Coming generation will require new kind of engagement, author says

LOS ANGELES — For a number of years now, our industry has been talking about moving our marketing, sales and customer experience strategies toward the communication modes of Generation Y buyers, now referred to as millennials. 

As with other industries, we are working our magic to be able to reach this new buying power via social media, using emotional and social branding to bring purpose-driven customer experiences to the new base of purchasing power in America.

Gen Y millennials were born between 1982 and 2004, the oldest of whom are now 35 years old and are currently assuming the seat of power in American purchasing. Now that we are all riled up, trying to catch up to this new and exciting buying experience, let’s shake it up a bit more.

Introducing Generation Z. This lively new bunch is just now entering college, getting ready to embrace the workplace in a few years (the youngest of whom are still in middle school). They have already lived through the “Great Recession,” and some have watched their parents and family friends struggle financially. They have seen college costs spiral up and witnessed acts of terrorism through the media. 

They expect the worst, because they have seen it. In some ways, they have actually had to grow up faster than previous generations, especially with the speed of information across many new communication channels. This generation has already been taught resilience, and their view of themselves, and the world, is pretty sober. 

As a result, this new and upcoming generation of buyers will require a different kind of engagement. They are cost-conscious and practical. They look for quality, not just “the cool factor.” They know where to search for what they want—they were born into the information age—and certainly know how to “Google it.” 

This generation knows technology, and they are skilled and savvy in it. There was no conversion from previous modes of research. Modern communication technology is all they have ever known.


It appears that while Gen Z buyers look at true “cost” (not just price), studies by The Journal of Brand Strategy show that they search for whether the product they are evaluating helps them to reach their specific goal. They look at purchases as investments, and they do their research. Gen Z’ers are practical—62% of new college entrants say they are going to learn special skills and not just to chase a passion. Surprisingly, and contrary to many millennials, this new group wants to work to make money and not just find a good place to join a culture.

Just think, we have a whole new group of folks who literally grew up getting what they want, when they want it, with things that most of us still marvel at, like Netflix and Amazon. 

But don’t be mistaken; this new generation is not just chasing the dollar. They have purpose. They want to make the world a better place, and in doing so, they are clearly setting out to develop the needed skills. Their “can-do” attitudes are a result of the resilience they built up surviving the crazy world they were born into. 

A recent study of this buying group by The Journal of Brand Strategy suggests that they don’t trust brands. It’s not just the name that counts anymore. It’s the content they see, and the actions and activities of their favorite companies, that drive them to buy. 

They search for information via social media—YouTube, to be exact. It’s their favorite “channel.” Social media branding is evolving to what is now referred to as “e-lationships” (a relationship with someone you do not really know, but who feels as real as a person you see every day). At its simplest, it is testimonial advertisements via social media video. This group wants to buy through “real” people, not supermodels or perfect actors. These kids are truly unbiased in race, gender, religion and orientation and want the world around them to reflect this neutral belief system. 

While millennials learned the elements of social media as it developed, there were hard lessons along the way. Postings last forever and propagate if they are interesting. Gen Z is much more cautious as a result of these lessons and considers privacy a core value. Gen Z won’t just sign up. They expect real value in return—in the information you give them. That’s the social contract we are heading toward.

Read the conclusion Thursday about what Gen Z means for the industry.

About the author

Steve Kallenbach

ADI American Dawn

Director of Market Solutions

Steve Kallenbach is director of market solutions for ADI American Dawn in Los Angeles.


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