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Marketing Moments | Look out! Here They Come

Marketing Moments
July 16, 2021 4:00 PM

Sales and Marketing

Marketing content shared with Michigan Business Network by:

Bonnie J. Knutson, PhD

The School of Hospitality Business

Broad College of Business

Michigan State University


In the early 1990s, generational historians William Strauss and Neil Howe determined that a generation lasts about 20 years, which is the length of time of one phase in a person’s life. They also determined that people in each generation will always be connected because they shared life-defining experiences during their formative years, i.e. world events, natural disasters, economic conditions, politics, technology – and yes, pandemics. These common events are called markers as they create bonds that tie individuals of a generation together into cohorts with similar attitudes, values, and life skills that affect everything including how they spend their time and money.

Today, the belief that you must promote to different age groups differently is generally accepted as a marketing truth. Businesses who use the principles of generational marketing to understand the factors that influence the values and buying motivations of consumers (and employees) stand a much better chance of spotting trends to reach more revenue in new ways.

For the first time in history, we have five generations of consumers, each with its own set of characteristics, values, and “hot buttons” -- the Traditionalists – which Tom Brokaw called the Greatest Generation --, the big Baby Boomers group, Generation X, the smallest cohort, and the infamous Millennials, or Gen Y, which is the largest and most-consuming generation in history. At least so far.

So just when you think you have the Millennials figured out, hold on to your hat, because here comes the 5th generation -- Generation Z. Because they share some characteristics with the preceding cohort, they have also been called Millennials on Steroids. So let us look at three ways their views have been shaped and how that will affect your business in the future.

First Gen Z are digital natives, less in sync with the ABCs and more in sync with the three As – Apple, Amazon, and Alphabet. Coming of age with anywhere-anytime connectivity, they are defined by a higher degree of “now-ism” than are their older counterparts. They have a shorter attention span and retain less knowledge because they can always “google” the vast amount of information available to them with just a few clicks. Technology is their life; social

media is their constant companion. Such reliance has resulted in a generation that reads less, has fewer social skills, is less prepared for adulthood, and is less happy and certain about the future than their predecessors. Yet with the all-encompassing hold that technology has on their lives, they crave human interaction above and beyond Zoom, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, and TicToc (email is passe for them). Recent data show that they spend an average of 11 hours a week on mobile devices and stream about 23 hours of content every week – more than any other generation. About 75% communicate with others more digitally but they still appreciate being face-to-face. To paraphrase the futurist, Alvin Toffler, The more technology invades our lives, the more we need the human touch. See the opportunities for your business?

Second, their formative years were inundated with cultural changes brought to them live and in living color on small screens. Brexit. The Arab Spring. The 2008 financial crisis. Me Too movement. The Supreme Court ruling on same-gender marriage. Pro-athletes taking a knee. And more recently the issues of social justice. All of these have made this generation skeptical of the institutions around them. At the same time, it reflects the variations in diversity, equity, and inclusiveness in their many forms. This generation understand the contradictions fostered by these changes, so it is flexing its voice and economic muscles to drive change. And, oh yes, did I mention that Gen Z wants – make that demands – instant feedback! See the opportunities for your business?

And third, these young people are driven by individualism with strong heads, strong values, and a belief that they can make a difference. Gen Z are self-starters and love to find innovative ways of solving problem because they are open to all different people. At the same time, they also realize that these transforaminal issues are too big to be solved by them alone. In this way, they are very much like the Traditionalists who faced world wars, the Great Depression as well as social disruptions. Their mantra seems to be: Let’s work together to address this issue. See the opportunities for your business here too?

Whether called rebels, rule-brakers, disrupters or just plain troublemakers, it is the young people – i.e. the next generation – that has always driven change. “Gen Z’s influence in the workplace, economy, and society will be increasingly felt in the coming years.”i It will be exciting to watch your business embrace it and grow with it.

Your bottom line will thank you!

i Plan Z: 4 takeaways for organizations

Marketing Moments, hosted by Dr. Bonnie Knutson. With her wit and entertaining style, Bonnie, a frequent speaker at business and association meetings takes her perspective and brings it to our broadcast platform. She shares decades of knowledge and brand awareness, and gives us all a new lens on marketing for business.

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