Connecting With Gen Z: 6 Things Digital Publishers Need to Know

By NativeAI / May 28, 2019

Our earlier post on the best digital publications for Millennials is already very popular among publishers and brands, but there is a whole new generation that is entering the addressable market and here's our look at it.

Just as publishers were starting to wrap their heads around Millennials, along comes another young, transformational generation: Gen Z.

This cohort, comprised individuals born from the late 1990s/early 2000s onwards, is reaching adulthood en masse and is set to dramatically impact everything from how content is consumed to which types of ads are most effective.

What should publishers be aware of when it comes to Gen Z? How are this generation's habits and beliefs different from those of other generations? Which broad experiences make the group distinct? What should organizations keep in mind about this audience when crafting editorial, marketing, and advertising strategies?

Here are six key things publishers need to know about Gen Z:

  • Gen Z Is a Large and Powerful Demographic

The exact size of Gen Z is unclear because there's still a debate as to where the generation begins: the Pew Research Center puts the first birth year of this group (which it calls "post-Millennials") at 1997 whereas others pick earlier or later years. The most common start year is 2001 since it was both the beginning of the millennium and when 9/11 occurred.

What is clear is that the demographic is huge: A Bloomberg analysis of UN data, which used 2001 as its start year for Gen Z, found the generation now comprises 32% of the global population. This makes it larger than the Millennial generation (31.5% of the global population). According to Nielsen data, Gen Z already accounts for 26% of all Americans and is the largest audience segment in the US.

In 2019, the individuals born in 2001 will turn 18, and the number of adult Gen Zers will start to steadily grow from there. Given that, it's essential for publishers to not delay in crafting strategies to connect with this generation.

  • Gen Z Is Both Different From Past Generations and Traditional

While it's always tricky to assign universal traits to millions of individuals who happen to be in the same age range, there are some broad characteristics that seem to hold true for Gen Z.

The most notable is that for this group diversity is a reality, not a buzzword: Frank N. Magid Associates estimates that among the 60 million members of Gen Z in the United States, 54% are Caucasian, 24% are Hispanic, 14% are African-American, 4% are Asian, and 4% are multiracial/other.

Moreover, only 66% of Gen Z self-identifies as exclusively hetrosexual, and the group tends to have much different views on things such as gender and sexuality compared with older generations.

However, it's important to keep in mind that Gen Z grew up in a time of turmoil, with events such as September 11 and the Great Recession having a major impact on their families and their communities. That's in part why the generation prizes old-school values such as hard work and frugality.

For publishers, this mix of a different upbringing and traditional values is important: Gen Z has a unique lens through which it views the world and that should be kept in mind when developing content.

  • Gen Z Is Comprised of Digital Natives

There is nothing new about things like the Internet, smartphones, and mobile apps to Gen Z. This group is the first 'digital native' generation and that makes it truly distinct.

According to data from Google and Ipsos, a typical member of Gen Z got their first smartphone at age 12, uses a phone more than any other device (computer, TV, etc.), grew up with ecommerce (88% of those age 13-17 purchase online), and spends 3+ hours a day watching video on a digital device.

And while Gen Z uses the Internet in many of the same ways as older generations, it also has unique behaviors. This can be seen most clearly in social media usage: US teens are much bigger fans of visual-first networks such as YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat compared with older social media users.

The centrality of digital to the lives of Gen Z could have a huge impact on publishers: As this group starts to engage with content more deeply its unique behaviors and preferences will increasingly need to be accounted for.

  • Gen Z Has Different Views About Advertising and Branded Content

When it comes to advertising and branded content, there's good news and bad news for publishers.

The good news is that Gen Z is a more receptive to ads online: A Hulu study of 15-25 year-olds found this group inherently gets the tradeoff of free/low-cost digital experiences in exchange for marketing and is more open to seeing ads compared with older generations.

The bad news is that most organizations will have to change their ad strategies and formats: This generation is often more trusting of messaging that comes from celebrities/influencers rather than from marketers directly. Also, it grew up with features such as YouTube's skippable video units and expects this sort of control when seeing ads.

So, while Gen Z presents a lucrative opportunity for publishers looking to monetize via online ads, it's a mistake to assume that the same old approaches will continue to work.

  • Gen Z Is Skeptical About News Organizations

Here's a sobering section from an Atlantic article entitled "Trump Has Changed How Teens View the News":

"A series of focus groups with 52 people between the ages of 14 and 24, conducted by Data & Society and the Knight Foundation, found that many young Americans believe the news is biased and are skeptical of its accuracy. 'There was no assumption that the news would convey the truth or would be worthy of their trust,' the study reported."

Combine this with the fact that most members of Gen Z get their news from social media, and there's a lot for publishers to worry about. Not only will organizations have to find creative ways to reach younger audiences, but even when they do it's by no means certain that these individuals will trust the intentions or accuracy of journalists.

  • Gen Z Is Not the Same as the Millennial Generation

Finally, when thinking about Gen Z it's tempting to simply lump in the group with Millennials and use the same approaches when trying to engage both.

Don't do that. The two generations are very different, with a range of distinct preferences, including the social networks they use, the content formats they favor, the devices they utilize, the ways they spend time on the Internet, and the things they share.

Ultimately, organizations cannot just treat the members of Gen Z as younger Millennials. Only by truly understanding the unique beliefs and behaviors of this group will publishers be able to craft the right strategies and connect with this increasingly powerful demographic.

Written by NativeAI / May 28, 2019