Long read: Generation Z is not that different from other generations, they just raise the bar for the market research industry

Long read: Generation Z is not that different from other generations, they just raise the bar for the market research industry

Generation Z is not that different: how so?

Except for their shiningly bright young age, Gen Z youngsters are not so different from older generations. First of all, being born between 2000 and 2019, they are not that different in numbers. In Belgium, there are 2570000 Gen Z consumers, compared to roughly 100 000 more consumers in each of the 3 other major generational cohorts (Gen Y, Gen X and Baby boomers).

Secondly, YOUNG CONSUMERS are not that different from older generations in terms of adoption of digital products and services. Yes, you will probably see differences in your age break for adoption & usage frequency of technological devices & social media, but the real insight is that “Digital adoption by Youth is an early indicator of what will also happen in older Generations”. In other words, they are like the sneak preview of what will happen elsewhere. Young consumers are just the first to adopt and explore. Other generations often adopt and buy later. Exploration and deviant, rebellious behavior fits with the hormonal patterns of this age segment (cf. VERBONDEN – De Biologie van menselijke relaties, Peter Bos, 2020).

Gen Z is not that different. Like in other generations, they are human beings with emotions, beliefs, worries and hopes. You could say, “Gen Z is physically younger”, yes they are, but it’s mental age that matters most today for marketeers. Also the older generations can have a young mental spirit! We live longer. Longevity is 81 in Belgium: 84 years for women and 80 years for men (Source : https://statbel.fgov.be/). Baby boomers do not want to be addressed as “old people” in advertising. The older people get, the younger they feel. A Gen Z consumer will say that people of 50 are old. Baby Boomers believe that old age starts at 75. People get better with age and consequently, people of age believe more & more that they are ageless.

A “young age” has become a symbol of “having a young mental spirit”, and anyone can have a young mental spirit. A young mental spirit means: being creative, curious, entrepreneurial, daring, open for different opinions, eager to learn new stuff, etc.… When you use young people in your communication, you are talking to ALL generations.  This is positive, because Gen Z is not yet interesting as target group for many businesses: their spending power is still low. Gen Z may represent the future, but the future is not here yet!

To conclude: Gen Z is not that different from Gen Y and Gen X but their young physical age and explorative mindset are strong symbols of a young mental spirit for all age groups

So what does this mean for how we can contact them as market researchers?

Reaching out to Generation Z: is digital first the only way to contact them?

All contact methods can be categorized in 3 types: face to face contacts, texting & chatting and calling.

Each contact method addresses a different set of senses: face-to-face contact is about seeing & feeling the other person, texting via chat or e-mail is about writing & reading, calling means ‘talking and listening’.

The art of life is to combine these senses and contact methods to maintain & expand your relations in your network. And if you study the channel preferences for youth, yes, the “Digital first” reflex of youth certainly exists. Youth prefers text & chat, face-to-face contact ranks second and calling is the horror for them. Does this make Gen Z different? No, this has always been the preference ranking of contact methods for young people of any generation

Gen X also preferred to send an email to avoid making a phone call. The big difference for Gen Z is that the intuitiveness and user friendliness of current digital communication tools make face-to-face and (certainly) telephone contact seem obsolete and redundant…until they will have to use these contact methods too! When Gen Z will enter the workplace, they will have to make calls occasionally (including video calls).

Texting may be the winning contact method, but do not forget the power of face-to-face contact amongst the young generation. The paradox is that today, young consumers may love face-to-face contacts with their friends even more than other generations, even though written chat is their preferred contact method. There is a positive and negative reason for this:

The positive reason is that it is so easy for youth to stay in touch with social media and texting technology, that they can save the face-to-face contacts for the truly meaningful moments. A digital organization of your life allows better focus on the precious face-to-face moments.

The negative angle to look at the paradox is that a growing number of youngsters are confronted with the “digibesitas” phenomenon, and try to reduce their smartphone usage by investing more in face-to-face contacts.

To conclude: it’s not because you have state-of-the-art digital research tools that youth will participate in market research. Maybe more than any other generation, they value the power of face-to-face contacts (which can happen over video calls as acceptable compromise). If you want to attract youngsters to participate in market research, you need to convince them that you are worth their time, just like anyone else. That’s what the next chapter is about.

How to regain trust from young consumers?

Response rates are a good key performance indicator of trust in market research. Response rates tell you something about the relevance and attractiveness of your market research projects.

I believe that young consumers are the canaries in the coal mine for what is bound to happen in older generations too. Response rates in market research are dramatically low, even approaching zero percent, certainly outside paid panel research. A growing number of young consumers only use e-mail as an access key to digital services, while the inbox is rarely read. The digital mailbox – filled with e-mail invitations to surveys – becomes a straight pipeline to the thrash bin.  And the reaction of surveyors to this low response trend only makes things worse. A typical example: if someone sends out 1000 invites and receives only 20 completed surveys, the reaction is often “Hmm, 20 completes is insufficient to create a report, let’s send out another 5000 to make sure we reach n=100”. Obviously, this solves the response rate issue for that particular project, but adds to the overall response rate crisis.

The way out? 5 golden rules:

  1. Check whether you can not already find the answers to your questions by analyzing the 3 other major data sources (observations, desk research and database analytics). For example, if you want to know how much allowance (zakgeld) Gen Z receives from their parents, just click this link for relatively recent data for Belgium. Interesting data, offered for free by Argenta bank. Desk research at work!
  2. When you deploy conversational market research and want to interview youngsters, make it fun and interesting. It starts already with the recruitment process? What is your elevator pitch to convince young consumers to participate? What will you give back? And it continues with the interview guide or questionnaire: take your best copywriting skills and turn the questionnaires into conversations. Empathic market researchers know what I mean. The survey should feel as a dialogue, not as a script. After all, the purpose of the market research industry is ‘the art of asking the right and right amount of questions’
  3. Think about what you give back in return for the time they spend on your survey. Young consumers have plenty of time and are low on cash reserves. They want cash incentives, no lotteries or goodies. They want to be paid for the time they invest in you. This does not mean that the incentive needs to cost a lot. Make the amount relative to the monthly/weekly allowance they are used to receive (which is around 10 Euro per week for 14-15 year olds 20 Euro per week for 18-19 year olds, as explained in the above mentioned study). So 5 euro is probably more worth to them than for you.
  4. Understand the relation between the youngsters and their parents. If you want to approach the youngest generation as marketeer or as market researcher, you have to fully understand the intertwined relation with the parents in the decision making process regarding certain products & services. The switch to high school is a pivotal moment in the children parent relation. The exact moment of this turning point depends on whether it’s the first, second, third child … and on the character of the child. Over the years, parents switch from “I KNOW” to “I THINK” attitude when they talk about consumer choices made by their child
  5. Curiosity is a fantastic motivator: the ability to learn something new during an interview or survey is an excellent trigger to motivate youth to participate in market research.

If you want more information about our Gen Z study, reach out to us via the contact page

Erik Luijts, April 20 2021