Connecting With the Connected: Tuning In to Gen Z

By 1stFive Archives
Cover image for  article: Connecting With the Connected: Tuning In to Gen Z

For those in media and advertising there has been an intense focus on Millennials, but there is another group that is literally at their heels: Those born in and after 1996 and currently known as Gen Z. Unlike their older siblings and cousins, not much is known about today's kids and teenagers as a cohort. However, it is critical that brands learn to understand and honor Gen Z's defining attributes and values if they want to connect with and better activate against a demographic that is already changing the face of media and our culture.

With that in mind, iHeartMedia connected with Gen Z teens for an extensive primary research study. We dug into their attitudes and motivations in an effort to deepen our understanding of this powerful and already influential group of trendsetters. During our seven-month study we discovered some original insights and we also learned why radio can be a key way for advertisers and brands to connect with this dynaimc demo.

Before we can understand what makes Gen Z unique, we must understand exactly who they are. As the children of Gen X, they currently comprise 74 million people or 23% of the U.S. population, which makes them roughly the same size as both Millennials and Baby Boomers. They are a group that has changed the nature of race in America by being the most ethnically diverse generation we have ever had -- one that is 55% non-Caucasian and three times more likely to reject one racial label.

They are also less likely than any other generation to grow up in "traditional households." One in three households with children is headed by a single parent and, more likely than ever, a single father -- a number that is up 301% versus 1980. Gen Z'ers are also more diverse in sexual orientation and, having grown up in a post-marriage-equality world, they are more accepting of differences. Their generation says "don't label me" about three times more than their elders.

Even as just teenagers, Gen Z is already powerful: Mashable estimates they have contributed approximately $44 billion to the U.S. economy and a YouGov study found that parents of 12- to 17-year-old kids report they significantly influence household purchases for themselves and their families. They are also very tech-savvy, even when compared to Millennials. Eight in 10 teens we surveyed agreed that technology defined their generation. They have never known a time when people were not constantly connected and able to share their point of view with "the world." As the first truly digital native generation, they could swipe before they could even walk.  

This online access has influenced their view of the world and their view of themselves. Gen Z'ers proudly consider themselves to be open-minded and creative non-conformists. Nine in 10 members feel all people should be treated equally regardless of race or gender, and that same number has friendships with people of different races. For them, being different is a good thing. They possess an internal confidence that leads to being comfortable standing out and, as a result, authentic uniqueness is extremely important. And that need for originality factors into how they spend their days. The Cassandra Report found that 89% of 7- to 17-year-olds spend their free time doing productive or creative activities instead of just hanging out.

On the surface they may seem like mini-Millennials, but it would be a huge mistake to apply the same marketing strategies to both groups. A shared love of technology and social media are two of the few things that Gen Z and Millennials have in common. Unlike Millennials, Gen Z'ers are fiscally conservative because they have grown up during the Great Recession. Loyalty is a core value, which means brands can perhaps expect greater loyalty from Gen Z than either Millennials or Gen X. However, obtaining that loyalty won't be easy. Teens today are much more private and selective about who they let in, and getting through to them means you need to be authentic. They are put off by labels because they have grown up in "non-traditional households" and in a world that defies traditional gender stereotypes.

These attributes mark Gen Z as an exclusive group that can be exceptionally hard to reach -- but advertisers can connect to them in a big way with radio.  Radio is the No. 1 mass-reach medium for teens, reaching 9 in 10 teens. Of those we surveyed, 81% agreed that radio will always be a part of their lives. They view radio as a source of discovery that keeps them in the all-important know, which can allay FOMO (the fear of missing out). More than three in four Gen Z'ers hear about new music by listening to the radio and two in three also hear about new things like products, movies and events on the radio.

Radio fills both Gen Z'ers values and their media behaviors and needs. It is interactive thanks to call-ins and social media; it is inherently mobile because it is available on everything from phones to cars; and radio DJs fill the desire of Gen Z'ers for authentic heroes by being funny, passionate, local and relatable. Furthermore, radio provides a pathway for universal connections, including their relationship with their parents. They are a pro-parent generation -- 96% of teens say they get along with their parents -- and they praise radio for featuring a diversity of genres, which they view as the perfect background for enjoying time with others from friends to siblings to parents.

For brands looking to utilize the unparalleled power and reach of radio with today's teenagers, there are key ways to turn these insights into action. We'll explore those methods more fully next week.

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