The opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
The way we experience things is constantly changing, and you need to adapt to build a future-proof business. If you want to look ahead, the best option is – and always will be – looking to the younger generation.
Generation Z (ages 10 to 25) and our younger generation Alpha brethren (not all of them born yet) already make up a third of the US population. Some of us already know how to earn our own money, while many of us still depend on our parents – but we all know how to spend it. Meeting us is a smart move.
So let’s start with Generation Z, which is my generation. Here is some necessary information:
Related: Two Influential Gen Zers Explain How to Market to Young Consumers
Generation Z: a brief guide
Empowered with influence:
We are the first generation to be born completely post-internet. Ninety-five percent of us have had smartphones since age 12 and we spend a large part of our lives on social media. The platforms we love – Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok – are so much about creating how they are consuming.
As digital natives, our first instinct is not just to be observant, but to engage with the brands we care about. We know that the world now works on the internet, so with any mobile device you can join the game. This means that you must not treat us as passive consumers. If you get us involved and we rock your product, we become your brand advocates.
Cynical but understanding:
Most of our parents are members of Generation X. We are masters at detecting BS in the digital world because it’s our territory. So anything that looks fake or inauthentic will be discarded.
We’re not as touchy or impractical as you might think we are. We understand that all people and all brands make mistakes. We care about what you do as a business, and if you make a mistake, we expect you to own it. If you are authentic and transparent, we will know and respond. Our dollars are votes, and when we buy your product, we see it as a reflection of our values.
Independent but community-oriented:
Because our lives are digital, my generation is also the most socially isolated. All of us who have had to stay home from school during the pandemic have obviously struggled. We learned to do it ourselves, but we also yearn for community and the experiences we missed out on.
This is a double-edged sword for potential employers. On the one hand, the workplace is a community and can be a draw. On the other hand, my generation is mastering the art of the show and side hustle. It’s much easier to run your own business in the creator economy.
This means work-life balance is non-negotiable, hybrid working must be the norm, and workplaces need to be somewhere we want to hang out. Perks like free meals are a plus, but also the chance to develop and grow long-term (in a way we couldn’t do it ourselves online) could very well be a clincher. My Gen Z friends fall into two categories: those who are job hopping and those looking for the best opportunities. No one is just settling down.
Thinking about the future, but nostalgic:
If you noticed the #y2k hashtag popping up and wondered why, it’s because we Zoomers aren’t all forward-looking. Maybe it’s because of an idealized view of the good old days, but the early 2000s is – for whatever reason – a time period that fascinates us.
Companies have managed to capitalize on this nostalgia by bringing back retro styles and products such as camcorders and flip phones. I must admit, I recently realized that wired headphones are better than AirPods. Not everything new is better. You may also have heard about how demand for Ugg boots increased by 525% when one TikToker posted a video of a pair she had modified.
That’s decentralized R&D courtesy of Gen Z. Do that and keep an eye on how people are using your product.
Not digital, but phygital:
Just as we’re not all future-oriented, we’re not just online either. Unlike millennials, who are less about “things” and more about experiences, we like tangible objects. In a world where digital often equals free, non-digital has a more valuable and exclusive vibe. It’s also easier to stand out when you have something that can’t be copied at the click of a button.
When it comes to day-to-day shopping, we buy online, but we will go to physical stores for meaningful and luxury purchases. If you are going to make a significant investment, it makes sense to check it out in person. So brick and mortar is not dead – at least under our supervision. You can ask any luxury watch retailer, but most of them are sold out.
Related: 3 Marketing Lessons I Learned From My Digital Native Kids
Generation Alpha: What do we know?
People are curious to know what changes the next generation will make to the game, myself included. I think it’s a little early to judge, as the majority of Generation Alpha are still just kids, and their priorities will likely change as they grow up.
That said, there are a few things we can follow:
Your parents are millennials: Unlike older generations, millennials probably won’t need to rely as much on their kids to guide them digitally, and are already savvy enough to control what they can do or what they’re exposed to. We can see age-old habits and preferences being passed down, and some of the above trends reverse. So don’t throw away your old market research – it could be valuable again a few years from now.
They will build the future: I mean that literally. Gen Alpha, like my partner Danny’s son Tyler, has built many virtual worlds in Minecraft and spent a lot of Robux. Gen Alpha will come of age when technologies like AR, VR and blockchain take world building out of the realm of gaming and into the mainstream economy. Danny and I are working to help companies prepare for that future. And its future builders will be directed towards Gen Alpha.
They like the outdoors: Just like shopping, not everything is going one way. Gen Alpha is, of course, logging some serious screen time (about 4 hours and 44 minutes a day). But just like all the kids before them, they also love to play outside. So while they are experiencing things that previous generations never thought of, some things never change.
Has all this got you a little confused? I’ll break it down for you. Gen Z and Gen Alpha were forced to become more independent by circumstances beyond their control and are deeply immersed in their games and entertainment. We welcome changes and expect updates to our products and services.
Embrace the change, welcome the future, and be ready for what’s next. The Beta Generation is coming.
Related: 4 Unconventional Ways to Market Better to Gen Z