6 Forces Driving the Next Generation of Your Business

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At 2 billion strong, Gen Z is rewriting the rules for how we live, work, and play.

2015 will be an extraordinary year; it’s the first year that Gen Z, individuals born in 1995 and beyond will begin entering the workforce.

At two billion strong globally Z is the single largest cohort to ever sweep through civilization. Hyperconnected, wielding extreme social influence, and ignoring virtually every obstacle in their way Z is going to rock your world, and forever alter the way you do business.

Gen Z is going to slam a whole new set of behaviors onto the table; behaviors, built on technologies, such as social media, wearables, implants, augmented reality; behaviors that seem strange and alien to older generations, which ironically built the technologies that have shaped Gen Z’s behavior.

These behaviors are driving six forces that are shaping the future of business; pay attention and you will seize the opportunity of the century.

1-Hyperconnecting

This is the defining force driving Gen Z. Soon every person, machine, and object will be connected–creating a near frictionless engine of innovation. Consider that by 2100 we will have 100 times as many computing devices as there are grains of sand on all the world’s beaches. Unimaginable? Not that long ago so were the ten billion computing devices (7 billion of which are mobile) that we today take for granted.

What this Means to you: If you can’t use the abundance of data and sensors to intimately understand a customer’s behavior and personalize every interaction something is very wrong with your business.

 

2-Breaking Generations

By 2100 there will be a global 1:1 ratio of toddlers to 65 year olds. In 1950 that ratio was 10:1. Today it’s 3:1. The result of this shift in population distribution will disrupt virtually every business and social institution, locally and globally. Learning to deal with and leveraging this disruption will be the most critical factor for the success of all businesses (yes, yours as well.) in the 21st Century.

What this Means to you: If you can’t get beyond generational labels you end up with generational chasms that will devour your business.

 

3-The Shift from Affluence to Influence

Your advertising budget is no longer the most critical element in influencing the decisions of Gen Z. Z-ers are powerful influencers and they respond to meaningful conversations and personalized messaging. They have a built-in media channel to billions in the form of the Internet. And they know how to mess things up if they don’t get what they want–just ask former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak

What this Means to you: Listen to Z and respond meaningfully or get ready to be sacrificed on the altar of social media.

 

4-Slingshotting

The fifth force, and perhaps the most invisible, is slingshotting, which is what happens when the vast majority of a potential audience suddenly takes up technology that was only available to a select few. For example, people who had sworn off of PCs are now diving into the deep end of the technology pool by going directly to a tablet and mobile technologies. Within the decade any human being, without regard to geographic or political location and economic status, will be able to connect to the Internet. The result will be the single greatest period of value creation and innovation humanity has yet to experience.

What this Means to you: Ignore this force and your business is ignoring the single greatest opportunity to connect with and co-create with Gen Z.

 

5-The World as My Classroom

Massively Open Online Classrooms promise to disrupt higher education and create a globally educated workforce. With the next decade we are likely to see more graduates of online education than in the entire history of traditional classroom education. Gen Z expects that if it’s worth learning it’s online, it’s free, and it’s a lifelong process.

What this Means to you: If you don’t have at least a YouTube video explaining your product or service then you really can’t expect anyone to take you seriously , right?

 

6-Lifehacking

The final force is one of the most powerful shifts in how Gen Z values and views the world. There is a deep sense of purpose that drives Gen Z to game the system in whatever way is best suited to make it serve their view of what is fair, sustainable, and socially conscious.Z despises the protection of intellectual property, believes that innovation should be boundless and instantaneous, and access to capital should be democratized and available to all good ideas. In short they believe in the ultimate efficiency of a free market unfettered by the constraints of the past.

What this Means to you: If you’re unable to connect with the deeper purpose of your marketplace, ultimately you’re just a hindrance to progress–and Z will find a way around you.

 We are All Z

These six forces are not subtle generational shifts. Instead they challenge some of the most basic beliefs about how we build and operate our businesses. Collectively they fuel a revolution on a scale unlike anything the world has yet experienced. It’s disruptive, powerful, and often frightening, but here is the good news; we are all Z if we choose to be. Generations are no longer about age but about behaviors. Better yet, the leaders of this revolution are already giving us the playbook with all of the rules we need to survive and thrive–you just need to pay attention, and, of course, it wouldn’t hurt to read the book.

Tom Koulopoulos is the author of ten books and founder of the Delphi Group, a 25-year-old Boston-based think tank and a past Inc 500 company, which focuses on innovation and the future of business. 

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Move Over Millennials — Here Comes Gen Z

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What Marketers Need to Know About the Next Generation of Consumers

Over the past few years, marketers across all industries and categories have been obsessed with millennials — how to reach them and build meaningful connections with their brands. This captivating generation has a unique sense of self and a nontraditional approach to life stages, which has made marketing to them a challenge.

But perhaps even more challenging is the next generation on the rise — Gen Z. If marketers thought they threw out the playbook with millennials, they need to know that Gen Zers aren’t even playing on the same field.

Gen Z Defined
Gen Z consumers range from ages 2 to 19, though the target range for marketers lies from ages 11 to 16. Gen Z is the most diverse and multicultural of any generation in the U.S. — 55% are Caucasian, 24% are Hispanic, 14% are African-American and 4% are Asian.

Gen Z Beliefs
There are a few key beliefs native to Gen Z that all retailers must understand. First, Gen Zers are the least likely to believe there is such a thing as the “American Dream.” They look for products and messaging that reflect a reality rather than a perfect life — an important distinction for struggling retailers like Abercrombie & Fitch who still market their products by projecting a flawless, carefree, perfect world. Gen Zers simply don’t respond to these traditional notions of beauty or a projected image of perfection like past generations have. They respond to independence and entrepreneurialism, self-direction and a spirit of ingenuity. Brands like Free People (independence is implied in the name) are targeting Gen Zers with messages along these lines and a bohemian aesthetic, and it’s working. The brand continues to grow with sales up 25% in the first quarter of fiscal 2015.

Millennials expect success; Gen Zers make their own
Millennials are the generation of customer service — such as the creation of the Apple Genius Bar — to solve problems at any moment. They design their own, unconventional paths, yet they anticipate consistent success (and hand-holding) along the way. Gen Z is a generation of highly-educated, technologically-savvy, innovative thinkers. They look for solutions on their own. They set out to make things on their own.

With this level of self-direction and purpose, it’s no surprise then that Gen Zers also want to form their own style. They challenge traditional ideas of use, form and function when it comes to all facets of style and design. Brands should market their fashions and products with an understanding that Gen Zers will want to make each piece their own, and a message that that’s exactly how they intended it.

Retailers must create products and marketing that empower these teens to be their best selves. They must also create places — stores, websites, online communities — where Gen Zers feel welcome walking in and logging in, and feel just as wonderful walking out and checking out. Brands that offer goods and an experience that help Gen Zers define and express their individuality and lifestyle will succeed with this group.

Millennials have embraced technology; Gen Zers are digital natives
Yes, millennials grew up with computers in their homes. But Gen Z is the first generation born into a digital world. They don’t know a world without PCs, mobile phones, gaming devices and MP3 players. They live online, sharing details of their lives across dozens of platforms and dictating what they like and dislike with a tweet, post or status. And Gen Zers expects to virtually engage with their favorite brands in doing so. So brands can’t simply “embrace technology” as millennials have. They must act digitally native, too, creating a seamless and strong overarching brand experience across in-store, digital and mobile. It is shocking how few retailers have achieved this. To reach Gen Zers, it is paramount to reach them through two-way conversations, which are initiated online. An authentic digital and social presence as well as a slew of complimentary digital experiences in which Gen Z fans can engage with and share their brand allegiance is perhaps the best currency a retailer could generate.

Generation Z is open-minded and adaptable, not a group known for fixed opinions or inflexibility. And, with an estimated 72 million people in this demographic, brands would be wise to broaden their horizons to include Gen Z in their thinking. Brands that build careful marketing strategies that connect with the values of the younger set and offer a better digital experience both online and in-store will be successful among this new, young, powerful generation.