Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, Gen Z — the list of generations marketers are looking to understand just keeps growing. But, does the typical framework we’ve been using to understand the different generations even make sense anymore?
Today, nearly all age groups are embracing technological innovations and adopting new digital behaviors at an incredible rate. This is reshaping how we see and interact with the world, and subsequently how we need to look at each generation. It’s time to establish an entirely new framework for defining generations, and we have our newest generation to thank for this revelation: Gen Z.
Like each proceeding generation, Gen Z has unique characteristics that set it apart from the others. Gen Z is comprised of so-called digital natives — people who were born into a digital world and have been immersed in daily use of innovative technologies since they could move their fingers. They’re defined primarily by their dependence on technology and are a generation that can roll with the rate of technological innovations more naturally than any other as they continuously pivot from platform to platform (from Snapchat to YouTube and back again).
Still, while Gen Z may be quicker than other generations to adopt new technologies with ease, it’s clear that everyone is becoming more and more digitally savvy, from 86 year olds winning Twitterto the 58-year-old mother whose YouTube tutorials on quilting get 50 million views a post. Everyone now has the ability to pivot seamlessly among technologies. While young people will likely always be among the most reliable early adopters, there is an ever-rising floor of digital literacy among all generations. Marketers need to be fast and flexible, not just to keep up with Gen Z, but to stay ahead of every demographic.
As technology has smoothed the way for a world of shared content and perceptions, different generations are increasingly sharing similar cultural viewpoints and interests. TrendWatching reports that in the UK, there’s a 40% overlap between the list of the 1,000 favorite artists for 60 year olds and the 1,000 favorite artists for 13 year olds.
Clearly, rigid definitions of generations just don’t fit anymore. There needs to be a new definition of generation, one that’s made up of subgroups, or tribes, that stretch beyond age.
Gen Z is also a generation that has been able to, thanks to easy access to social media and online communities, shape their own identities and use their own voices — regardless of age — on platforms like Instagram, Twitter, eBay, Etsy, and Yelp. As this tenderfoot generation grows into adulthood and muddles through adolescence, it’s experiencing the world with an independence that no other generation has possessed.
For example, shouldn’t it make sense that a Gen Z teenage girl who identifies as a gamer will have more in common with the Gen X 36 year old whom she’s playing with on Xbox live than with another teenage girl who has no interest in gaming? Generational lines are becoming less black and white and are fading to grey. Today, marketers’ reliance on age brackets to group individuals is not an accurate measurement of consumer behavior.
Gen Z has established a completely new lens through which marketers need to look to understand current and future generations. The way that this newer generation interacts as digital consumers is a strong indication that marketers of the future will need to target not generations but tribes, sub-generations, and even groups resulting from cross-generational pollination.
Marketers and brands will need to address these various tribes and formulate values and ideals with which tribes and sub-groups can attach to and identify. As is evident with Gen Z, modern technology has allowed for individuals to build more pronounced personas and identities and marketers need to be in step with those changes and adapt to these new set of insights. In the future, the question may not be, “What generation are you?” but “How do you define yourself?”