How Millennials and Gen Z Are Shaping the Future of Digital

In our previous blog post, we outlined some of our favorite takeaways from the 2017 WP Engine Summit. One of which focused on the future of the digital experience by generation, gender, and geography.

Jason Dorsey, Co-Founder of The Center for Generational Kinetics, led a discussion on the ways each generation interacts with technology and what their expectations are. The results were pretty interesting — not only do generations use technology differently, but they have different expectations of what tech experiences should be in the future.

Here are some of my favorite takeaways from Jason’s presentation.

DEPENDENCY ON THE INTERNET VARIES BY GENERATION

As a recap, here are the breakdowns of each generation by birth year:

Gen Z: 1996 – Present (ages 21 and younger)
Millennials: 1977-1995 (ages 22 to 40)
Gen X: 1965-1976 (ages 41 to 52)
Baby Boomers: 1946-1964 (ages 53-71)

It’s important to understand these breakdowns because dependency on the internet today, and the role of the internet in the future, varies by generation. Gen Z is the most dependent on internet access today, while Baby Boomers are the least dependent. Jason’s team found that going without internet for just one hour can actually be anxiety-inducing for Gen Z, and they are more likely to skip over long blocks of text to watch short videos instead. As marketers, it’s important to know your generational audience and tailor your strategy to fit their consumption habits.

Chubbies, a men’s shorts startup who’s here to “take men everywhere back to the pure shorts awesomeness of the 70s and 80s,” is killin’ the game with Gen Z. Almost all of their Facebook posts contain a short, branded video with a five-word caption and a link to their website. Their Instagram page contains a ton of user-generated content, framing their customer as the hero. With 1,685,549 Facebook page likes and 341,000 Instagram followers, they’re speaking to Gen Z in a way they understand on the platforms they use most regularly.

traditional advertising outlets like TV spots and print remain most effective with Baby Boomers

Baby Boomers are, in fact, active on social media, citing Facebook as their favorite platform. However, traditional advertising outlets like TV spots and print remain most effective with the age group. In stark contrast to Millennials and Gen Z, Boomers don’t mind reading longer bodies of text and possess longer attention spans. Pharmaceutical brands Humira and Lyrica spent $366 and $331 million on advertising in 2015, and TV spots still dominate media spending.

FOR YOUNGER GENERATIONS, AUTHENTICITY IS KEY

Gen Z wants to know how an item or a decision will fit into their lifestyle before they purchase

Gen Z, who are more active on social and dating sites, want to know that who they are talking to is a real, authentic person (especially on dating sites like Tinder and Bumble. No catfishing here). In retail shopping experiences, they desire to see themselves in items they’re interested in before purchasing. Jason cited teenagers FaceTiming their friends from retail dressing rooms to make sure they’re making the right clothing choices before checking out. They want to know how an item or a decision will fit into their lifestyle before they purchase — making authentic brand storytelling more important than ever.


Photo: @Bumble

THE FUTURE IS FUELED BY THE INTERNET AND PERSONALIZATION

Most people believe that everything will be connected to the internet by 2022

One of the biggest themes of Jason’s discussion was that the future will be fueled by the internet and personalization. Most people believe that everything will be connected to the internet — including clocks, refrigerators, vacuums, dishwashers, and other appliances — by 2022. That means brands could have even more outlets to reach their audience. Currently, you can order groceries, listen to your Spotify playlist and send personalized messages from your Samsung refrigerator. You can check the status of your laundry and begin a new cycle from your smartphone with GE WiFi Connect washers and dryers. Typical appliances are becoming smart, convenient and completely personalized to your taste — which is where the rest of tech is headed.

FOR MILLENNIALS, INTERNET LEADERS ARE JUST AS IMPORTANT AS POLITICAL LEADERS

Jason’s team found that Internet leaders are just as important as political leaders for the Millennial generation —they actually place the lowest level of importance with political leaders relative to other generations. This is crucial in understanding how Millennials are influenced and thus, how our culture is shaped.

Houston Texans’ J.J. Watt, known for his Twitter presence (and for being one of the best defensive players in the NFL), set out to raise $200,000 for Hurricane Harvey relief. He ended the fundraiser after raising an astonishing $37,097,298 in just under two weeks. He called on his social media following in Houston’s time of need, and they gave him their trust — and their money.

With likability comes trust — something that young people of today just don’t find in politicians — except maybe that Bernie guy.

How did J.J. manage to raise such a colossal amount of money in such a short amount of time? It could be because he’s relatable and seems like a genuinely good guy. His Twitter is filled with humor, shoutouts to other athletes, and photos of his family, and he regularly engages with his fans online. With likability comes trust — something that young people of today just don’t find in politicians — except maybe that Bernie guy.

Similarly, Lin Manuel Miranda raised $2.5 million for Puerto Rico relief in just 24 hours with one email. Manuel’s Twitter presence is strong and overwhelmingly positive, and his email gave a thoughtful, personal glimpse into his life and the life of fellow Puerto Ricans. He gives a face to the cause, adding a human component to a crisis that his readers may otherwise be removed from. Politicians have yet to reach this level of familiarity with a younger generations.


Photo: Sports Illustrated

YOUNGER GENERATIONS VALUE UNLIMITED INTERNET ACCESS MORE THAN THEY DO A COLLEGE DEGREE

Many college students feel that although they received a solid education, they graduated lacking skills in the latest technology. Silicon Valley is pumping out new tech at a rate that traditional colleges and universities can’t necessarily keep up with. That leaves graduates leaning on outlets like YouTube, Lynda or Skillshare to learn the latest tricks and techniques necessary for them to perform their job at the rate their employer expects. The Internet is a valuable teacher, and younger generations have unlimited access to knowledge at their fingertips.


Photo: Skillshare

THE INTERNET COULD BE A BETTER CALCULATOR OF MILLENNIAL DEBT RISK THAN A CREDIT SCORE

The final — and possibly most intriguing — point Jason’s team made was that in the future, the internet could be a better calculation of Millennial debt risk than a credit score. Historically, parents of Millennials have advised them to use debit cards for purchases to avoid getting into credit card debt. (Contrary to popular belief, Millennials aren’t in more credit card debt than their parents — it’s actually the opposite). That means their credit histories are either non-existent or very young, making it hard to accurately predict debt risk. In the future, risk could be more accurately calculated by analyzing a person’s internet patterns and consumption habits.

For example, consider a person making $40k annually who doesn’t have a high credit history; in what other ways could a loan officer assess their risk? With access to the person’s internet records, the officer could see that they regularly spend $200 per month at the grocery store, $100 per month dining out, $100 per month on transportation, and not much else. That person could be seen as less of a risk than, say, a person making the same amount annually but spending double each month on dining out, entertainment, and retail purchases.


Photo: Forbes

Whether we’re communicating with Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X or Baby Boomers, it’s important that our marketing strategies are tailored to the way they use technology. The future of tech is much closer than we think.

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