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10 Things You Need to Know about Selling to Generation Z

But a new generation is on the rise and the first step to communicating with them, is understanding they aren't just another Millennial.

Pamela La Gioia, - The Ultimate Guide to Making Money in College

I am a generation X, born between 1965 and 1980.  No one really cares about us. We are neatly sandwiched between the baby boomers and the millennials. The boomers were a product of the post-war spike in libido and were strongly influenced by the counterculture and revolution in the social norms of the 1960s -  Beatlemania, Twiggy, JFK assassination, Woodstock, Cassius Clay, the Cuban missile crisis, a man on the moon, Vietnam and Jim Morrison.  Time named the Baby Boom Generation as its 1966 "Man of the Year". How could we compete with that?  Time, on the other hand, referred to us as the "unsung generation, hardly recognized as a social force or even noticed much at all".

There is, however,  another generation that not many people are talking about. They are laying the groundwork to change the world forever. This is the generation born between 1995 and 2015.  Generation Z is the offspring of generation X. Companies would be well advised to get inside the minds of these young devils. You would be wrong to think generation Z is simply an extension of the millennials. If your business strategy is predicated on this assumption, you are heading for a massacre. It would be like sending the three musketeers back in time with rocket launchers to fight Hannibal and his herd of pachyderms. In this case, the generation Z are the musketeers and the misguided corporations are Hannibal and the pachys.

To better understand generation Z, do not look at their older millennial siblings.  You need to look at their parents. This is our time to shine. The time has come for Generation Xs to grab that pair of red underpants, thrust them over their slim fit jeans, tattoo a red S on their chests, and swoop down to save humanity. We can give you a good insight into this new generation. The first step is to understand what shaped generation X. We are products of the stress and turmoil of the seventies and the eighties. We had Nixon leopard crawling down a government passage with a flashlight between his dentures, the collapse of the Berlin Wall, assassination of Indira Gandhi, Chernobyl, the Challenger explosion, the launch of Fox television, and the Exxon Valdez oil tanker belching 240,000 barrels of oil into the ocean. Socially, the 1970s saw a spike in divorce rates. The confluence of all these factors created a cynical, pessimistic and hardnosed generation. This has had a profound impact on our kids.

Ten Things You MUST Understand about Generation Z Thing

1: College is Compulsory

We Xs lived through the elimination of high paying blue-collar jobs in the 1980s, the stock market crash of 1987,  the Asian financial crisis of 1997, the Russian financial crisis of 1998,  the crisis of 2000, the great recession of 2008, and the coronavirus in 2020. The Dow Jones Industrial Average Index came into existence in the mid-1880s – back when Bernie Sanders was in high school. In the 100 years to 1980, the index moved from 40 to 800. It gradually trucked higher in a straight line. Over this period the market was as exciting as kissing your hairy aunt Mavis. 

In the 1980s, all hell broke loose and we entered into a new phase of wild swings and volatility. We went from kissing our aunts to jumping into a Jacuzzi with an epileptic Edward Scissorhands and French kissing an Alaskan walrus.

In the 40 years to February 2020, the Dow moved from 800 points to 29,200 points and this did not happen in a straight line. Over this period, the market corrected 37 times (a correction is defined as a decline of more than 10 percent). In March 2020, the Dow lost 10,000 points on the back of the coronavirus pandemic.

This volatility has made us jumpier than a heroin addict who has just pawned his last kitchen appliance. Generation Xs have inculcated in their kids the need to stay away from drugs, stay in school, go to college and open a 401K. 

According to Pew research, generation Zs are on track to be the best-educated generation ever, and this is largely thanks to all the paranoia and anxiety that has been passed down from their parents.

Thing 2: Tougher than a Goats Knee

Millennials are wimps. You give them the evil or stink eye and they burst into tears. The Zs have skins thicker than sperm whales because they learned from the best. We Xs tough things out – we power through. So what if your boss is a verbally abusive and is sexually aroused by cats dressed in fishnet stockings.  Generation Xs will ride him out in the same way that a cowboy rides out a steroid injected rodeo bull. Eventually, the frenzy of hooves, horns, and hormones die down into a quiet whimper.

Millennials give up on their jobs too easily. Unless they feel personally and financially fulfilled in the first minutes weeks of their new job, they log onto LinkedIn looking for greener pastures.  The Zs don't need the same affirmations. There is no need to remind them they are champions every time you meet at the urinal.

Thing 3: They Know their way Around a 12C Calculator

Millennials are a nightmare in front of a financial calculator. A 2015 PWC survey showed that only 24 percent of millennials have basic financial knowledge and only 27 percent seek financial advice on saving and investing. In the history of mankind, there were village idiots in the middle Ages that were more financially literate.  The Zs, on the other hand, are displaying more sly and cunning on the financial side. They are more financially literate at a much younger age than previous generations. This is thanks largely to the financial anxiety that we Xs have passed down. The Zs are also more likely than millennials to save a good chunk of their change. They are more likely to use budgeting apps like Mint and Acorns. They also stay out of debt. They would rather rent assets than buy them.

Thing 4: Not as Wild as the Millennials

This same financial discipline and austerity are manifested in their social activities. The Zs are not a wild bunch. You will not find them passed out on the couch at Keith Richard's annual vodka and anthrax party.  Bryan Gildenberg, the chief knowledge officer at Kantar Consulting, says that Generation Z is a "very old group of young people." They drink less, take fewer drugs (except for pot, which they don't view as harmful) and have less sex. Again, there are parallels here with their Generation X parents, many of whom saw sex and drugs as dangerous due to the AIDS epidemic and Mrs Reagan's "Just Say No" campaign.

The wildness of the millennials is explained in part by their hippie upbringing from their baby boomer parents. The boomers wanted it to be easier for their kids and they succeeded.  They spoiled the little buggers and created a strong sense of entitlement in them. The Xs have tried to raise a different type of kid – that appreciates the genius of U2, the Cure, Pearl Jam and Nirvana; and instilled in them a solid protestant work ethic and spirit of capitalism (Mr. Weber – your royalty check is in the mail).

Thing 5: Eternal Entrepreneurial Flame

For all their caution, the Zs do have an entrepreneurial streak, but this may be more due to necessity than to an inherent flame that burns within their chests. Technology is replacing humans and formal job creation is on the decline. Nearly three out of four high school students say they want to start their own business someday, according to Millennial Branding, a research and consulting firm. This, in turn, could help the Zs become the most financially free generation ever.

Thing 6: Pass the Rhubarb Leaves

The Zs are cutting meat out of their diets and piling up on the greens and veggies. They are more than twice as likely to classify themselves as vegetarians, vegans or pescatarians than their Gen X or Boomer parents, according to a survey by Bloomberg News and Morning Consult.  Even the less restrictive are cutting back: twenty-six percent said last year they are trying to eat less animal protein, more than both millennials (22 percent) and the nationwide average (19 percent), according to market research company Mintel.  This trend is being born out in the menu of universities and colleges. Foodservice professionals are experimenting with tofu, lentils, kale, and chickpeas – yummy.

Thing 7: Frugality is their Religion

Consumer businesses will need to coax the generations Zs into spending. They would be well-advised not to make any sudden movements and they need to use the correct vocabulary.   Music to the ears of the Zs are words like "value for money", "responsibility" and "sustainability". Cartier owner Richemont introduced Baume, an affordable sub-brand of watches that focuses on using recycled materials to make timepieces customized to the purchaser's taste and sold online. The Zs are not just looking at the product, they are also looking at the company that stands behind the product. They are asking the following questions: Are they really delivering value to society? Are they transparent? Are they promoting diversity and inclusion?

Thing 8: They Love Second Hand

If I was an apparel maker with an ounce of self-awareness, I would be more nervous than a New Zealand sheep after the All Blacks have just won the World Cup rugby final.  Frugal Zs are attracted to sustainability. That’s one reason startups focused on resale and sharing services have hit pay dirt. Japan’s Mercari Inc., a flea market app connecting consumers to sellers of used items, has 11 million active users, half of them in their teens and 20s, according to a 2018 survey. 

The Zs are starting to recycle clothing. They are not going to 5th Avenue and buying a Lacoste sleeveless polo for $100. They are going to and buying it second hand for 25 bucks. In the U.S., one in three Gen Z consumers will buy used clothing this year, compared with one in five boomers or Gen X consumers, according to a report from fashion resale company Thredup. Secondhand apparel is on track to become bigger than fast fashion within a decade, it said.

Car companies are also scrambling around trying to understand the Zs.  Detroit is doing a crap job in connecting with the new generations – any of the Kardashian "women" would have done a better job as high school woodshop teachers.   They stalled on millennials, rolling out gas-sipping subcompacts earlier this decade just as fuel prices plunged and SUVs became the wheels of choice. Now they are switching gears again. They are exiting the sedan market and putting all their chips on high-profit SUVs and trucks. This is at a time when cash-strapped Zs are showing a preference for compact cars.

In defense of the automakers, connecting with the Zs is not easy. If one had to liken it to Olympic diving, it would have the same degree of difficulty as a reverse backward triple summersault in the pretzel position after a couple of nasty tucks from the Russian mafia the night before. In the same way that Zs are buying used clothes, if they do decide to buy a car in a moment of weakness, they are going for used compacts and mid-size sedans.  My bet is that the Zs never even enter the new car market and rely on shared services.

Automakers are living in a state of denial. They are holding onto the antiquated belief that there is still exists a love of owning a car. There is no love in owning a car – there is love in driving a car. Car ownership opens your life to a world of complications – pushy car salespeople, rapid devaluation, hidden fees and costs, insurance, taxes, gasoline, maintenance, repairs, fines, and parking. In a world where there is a plethora of renting and sharing options, who in their right mind would you want to buy? I am not saying that you avoid all these complications when you rent or share.  You only pay for the time you use the car and not when it is gathering dust in the garage. The Zs are going to convert many automakers from prize show animals into a lily-livered one-eyed prairie dog foraging through McDonald's garbage at midnight.

Thing 9: Kings of Pot

Pot is going mainstream. California legalized pot at the same time the first batch of the Zs were rolled out of the operating room swaddled in a blue or pink blanket. For them, pot is as normal as same-day delivery and smartphones. Pretty soon, those young retractable thumbs are going to be rolling joints with the same ease as the boomers unclipped brassieres at Woodstock.  It is always hard to generalize about an entire age group, but early signs suggest it will be a generation of marijuana consumers, embracing legal pot to kick back and treat ailments like anxiety, insomnia, and erectile dysfunction. Not only the Zs will be puffing the magic dragon. Arthritic boomers, anxious Xs, and entitled millennials will also be partaking in the wonderful weed. Hell, even the silent generation might drop a couple of drops onto their tongues to take the edge off before jumping into bed next to their snoring partners. The usage rate of pot could eventually be similar to alcohol.

Thing 10: They Don't Care about Brands and Labels

The Zs don't care much about brands, or labels or corporations. They are ethnically diverse, socially tolerant, globally-connected and environmentally aware. One nickname for the Zs is  "philanthroteens". They don't make much use of e-mail or Facebook. They prefer Instagram and YouTube. They are into thrift-shopping and internet influencers. They sure as hell do not watch advertising on television. They prefer word-of-mouth (preferably through meme or post or video) when it comes to enlightenment about what to buy. What's better than learning about a product or service than through a friend?

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