Written by Dr. Bonnie Knutson:
Call them Gen Z, Centennials, the iGeneration or just iGen. Whatever it is called, this generation follows the infamous Millennials (Generation Y). While there are no exact dates for when a generation begins and ends, in general, demographers and researchers use about a 20-year time frame for each cohort. Typically, then, iGens are said to have been born between 1995 to 2005, putting them still in school with leading edge finishing up their college years.
But if you believe your business doesn’t have to think about them yet, think again. Although this cohort is still relatively young, they influence about $600 Billion of what and where their family spends its time and money – i.e. that’s about 70% of their parents’ spending. By 2020, they will represent 40% of the world’s consumers. Within the next five years, they will become the fastest growing group in both the marketplace and the workplace.
Since iGen is still in its formative years, no one can accurately predict how its attitudes, values, and activities will impact the marketplace. But we do have a glimpse of that future because we do know what has defined them as a generation: They saw how the Great Depression of 2008 impacted their parents with downsizing, outsourcing, job cuts, and the housing crisis. They watched as skyrocketing educational costs burden their older siblings and friends with debt. They embraced an expanding definition of diversity and inclusion with the legalization of same gender marriage, validation of medical marijuana, passage of the Affordable Care Act, the #MeToo Movement, a growing focus on immigration, climate change, and the election of the first African-American president.
Of course, the biggest marker that define this generation is technology. They have never really known life without the World Wide Web and 24/7 Internet access to information and social media, giving them instant connectivity to family, friends, brands, as well as what is happening globally or in their own back yards. They are truly defined by Apple, Amazon, and Alphabet. Perhaps the Center for Generational Kinetics says it best: “Technology is the core to how [iGen] operate[s] in the world.” It affects and will continue to affect every aspect of their lives, from education to health care to shopping and even to dating.
For them, it is mobility, first, last, and always with smartphones being their favorite way of engaging anyone and anything at any time. They have grown used to moving seamlessly between physical and digital spaces, and they’ll expect a flawless experience wherever they live, work, play, or shop. While this may mean you need 5G Internet service today, who knows when it will become 6G or 7G or even 10G down the road. It also means paying more attention to your website and presence on Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and Facebook and whatever other communication platforms become “hot” in the future. Today, it is mostly Snapchat and Instagram because of their photo and video-based content. These will be your starting points – i.e. they are communication necessities, not luxuries. After all, 90% of these young people say their buying decisions are influenced by what they get on their social media platforms.
And remember that, for the first time in history, there will be five generations in the marketplace as well as the workplace. This fifth iGeneration is expected to be larger, wealthier, and more demanding than any of the four that preceded them. They will redefine many industries to fit their needs, including yours. So, while iGen is just now beginning to collect their degrees, move to a new city, and find their apartment, you should start thinking about their impact on your business today because iGen will be customers and employees tomorrow. And tomorrow will be here before you know it.
Your bottom line will thank you!
Dr. Bonnie Knutson professor in The School of Hospitality Business in the Broad College of Business. Widely known as an authority on emerging lifestyle trends and creative marketing strategies, she often consults with business leaders who want to understand and take advantage of changing consumer demands. Her work has been featured in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and on CNN. She has also had articles appear in numerous business publications, and is editor of The Journal of Hospitality and Leisure Marketing.