Understanding Generation Next

A quick Google search for images of Millennials comes up with groups of ethnically diverse, casually dressed young people hanging out and using smartphones. However, with the oldest of the Millennials (also known as Generation Y) turning 35 this year, perhaps images of bleary-eyed parents or proud home-owners would be relevant too. Millennials are the most researched generation to date, but the following generation is very different.

While there is no definitive start point for Generation Next, often known as ‘Generation Z’, most definitions describe this generation as those born from about 1997 onwards – today’s young adults and teenagers. This generation is set to be a significant proportion of the population (even more so in emerging economies) and it is vital we understand what they look like as citizens and consumers. While a full picture of this generation is still developing, we have observed three key traits.

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GENERATION RESPONSIBLE

Despite how they are portrayed in the media – as selfish and narcissistic, too busy Snapchatting inappropriate pictures to care about society – this generation are much more responsible than their parents. They are engaging in less risky behaviour, such as smoking, drinking and drug taking, than previous generations. They are also more inclined than previous generations to believe that being successful in life is down to passing exams, getting qualifications and going to university, rather than luck, or your family background.1Ipsos MORI Young People Omnibus, 2007 & 2014

Generation Next is a conscientious generation with worthy aspirations – role models for Gen Next-ers include Angelina Jolie, for her work to make rape a war crime, and Malala Yousafzai, the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, for her human rights and education activism. Those seeking to reach this generation may wish to consider playing to this worthiness – a good example of this is the Always ‘#LikeAGirl’ campaign, which this year encouraged girls and young women to share messages of how they were unstoppable, or “bad ass” as President Obama put it.

Like any generation, they are not serious all the time. Other role models for this generation include Kylie Jenner – the reality TV star and youngest of the Kardashian-Jenner clan. Appealing to their fun and playful side – as Evian did with their dancing babies campaign – also works. While it is often convenient to label generations as this or that, we shouldn’t forget that we are all many different things – often contradictory – all at the same time. Yoga clothing brand, LuluLemon, conceived a campaign flexible enough to span the many and varied motivations of their consumer base, encouraging them to Instagram their lives in LuluLemon active wear tagged #TheSweatLife. Some images were serious and worthy, others were fun and irreverent.

Which brings me on to…

GENERATION INDIVIDUAL

Gen Next place a high value on hard work and individual achievement – 84% of 12-16 year olds agree that it doesn’t matter what background you are from, anyone can be successful in life if they try hard enough.2Ipsos MORI Young People Omnibus, 2012, 2,757 children aged 11-16 They are sceptical that big institutions are the best solution to problems and aspire to be entrepreneurs, rather than to work in big organisations. This individualism is seen in other ways too. Wanting to stand out from the crowd (and wanting to belong within their tribe) is a story of teenagers from all generations, but what sets Gen Next apart is the proliferation of tribes they can identify with. In my schooldays in Melbourne, I had limited choices – goth, nerd, sporty, grunge – now there are forums for every conceivable interest, from the sublime to the hilarious – and the web spreads these far and wide. From different ways to wear your hijab, to Hunger Games fan fiction, to ‘Shipping Larry Stylinson’ (fans willing One Direction members into a fictitious gay relationship to cope with their unrequited love) – there is a forum for every voice, and every sort of identity you can imagine (and some you could not).

Brands wishing to engage Gen Next can offer opportunities for consumers to make an individual contribution, sharing their voice. The Google Chrome ‘It Gets Better Project’3http://www.itgetsbetter.org/ – which aims to reduce gay teen suicide – harnesses the power of personal, user-generated videos. Posts from LGBT adults to teens tell them ‘things do get better’. With more than 50,000 videos, five million views and contributions from politicians, activists and celebrities such as Lady Gaga, Ellen DeGeneres and President Obama, the project has now become a global movement. Similarly McDonalds’ ‘Channel Us’ invites young people to get involved in turning around projects such as making short films and designing skate parks in 72 hours.4https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQyc-nENA6ciuxRiy5i57vg?gclid=CPvwuMG74sgCFRKeGwodR9YNPQ Whether the message is about community, or individual industry, the idea hits the same note.

GENERATION OPEN

This generation is less concerned about immigration and more socially liberal and relaxed on issues such as gay marriage than their parents. Above all, this is a generation who believe that, because of the equalising power of the internet, anything is possible. They have grown up in the era of talent shows such as The X Factor and overnight internet sensations. You can start a fashion blog in suburban Illinois and end up sitting beside Anna Wintour at New York Fashion Week, or become a J-Pop sensation from your bedroom in the Isle of Man, or earn millions from your YouTube clips of video game commentary – just ask Tavi Gevinson,5http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-3147464/TAVI-GEVINSON-world-s-influential-teenager-fashion-feminism-getting-sound-advice-list-friends.html Rebecca Anne Flink6http://beckii.co.uk/ (aka Beckii Cruel), or Felix Kjellberg7http://www.techtimes.com/articles/99097/20151024/how-pewdiepie-gained-40-million-followers-and-became-emperor-of-the-internet.html (aka PewDiePie).

While no brand can promise success, fame and fortune to every young person, they are marketing to millions with that aspiration. Organisations need to understand where this generation is coming from and then focus brands, products and services that support those aspirations.

WHAT NEXT?

Will they stay the most liberal generation ever, dreaming of making it big and become markedly disillusioned if they find well paid jobs and home ownership eludes them? Or will we see them converge with older generations as they get married and start families? We’ll be watching.

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