Next man up: Generation Z will save the world but probably kill television.

If you are tired of society’s obsession with Millennials (no more so than Millennials
themselves, I assure you), then Generation Z is here to rescue you. Born between 1996 and 2010, postmillennial Generation Z has more in common with their GenX parents than with their Millennial counterparts, though it can be tempting to lump them together.

I work in Higher Education marketing, and our industry has been tracking Generation Z for quite some time. I also happen to be the parent of a GenZ-er who turns 16 today. Although about half of GenZ (including mine) still has some growing up to do, here’s what we know about this generation so far:

  • They are their parents’ children. Generation Z shares many of the characteristics of their GenX parents. They are often described as pragmatic, self-aware and resourceful. Their childhood included a Great Recession and near constant war. Just like Mom and Dad, there are no rose-colored glasses on this crew.
  • GenZThey are special snowflakes (in a good way). If Millennials are known for their collaboration, the pendulum swings back with GenZ. This generation is highly individualistic and competitive, so put those participation trophies away. They want recognition for their specific achievements.
  • They want to change the world. There is a reason why the “The Hunger Games”’ and “Divergent” series were such a hit with this crowd: that’s pretty much how Generation Z feels. Like the generations that came before, they feel they’re inheriting a world full of problems created by others and that it’s up to them to fix it. Sixty percent of Generation Z wants to have jobs that have a social impact the world, and 26% of 16- to 19-year olds currently volunteer.
  • They’ll be the most educated generation. Or they won’t. As college became more accessible in the last half of the 20th century, each generation has been more educated than the one before. The trend could break with GenZ. This generation got a front row seat to the student loan debt crisis, and it’s got them (and their parents) questioning the value of college. Seventy-five percent of Generation Z believes there are other ways of getting a good education besides going to college.
  • They want to work for themselves. GenZ-ers are true digital natives. This access to technology has allowed them to produce and create from a young age and has stoked a strong entrepreneurial spirit. Moreover, they are not afraid to fail, and view failure as an opportunity to learn and try again.
  • They are brand influencers. Generation Z doesn’t remember a time when social media didn’t exist. Their networks are established and highly engaged. And with $44 billion in buying power, it’s no wonder brands are desperate to make inroads with this generation. For many brands, this means a shift in strategy to appeal to a generation who values authenticity, transparency and personal interaction—and who doesn’t really respond to traditional marketing and advertising.
  • They’ll kill television. Not television as in the-device-that-sits-in-your-living-room-plugged-into-the-wall. That’s been dying for years. I mean television as in content, Netflix included. This generation is not watching it. To them, it’s content from old people who think they know how to talk to young people. It feels fake and forced and GenZ isn’t having it. They’re watching real people do real things on YouTube. According to a Defy Media study, YouTube is the must-have service for 67% of consumers 13-24, while only 36% feel that way about pay TV.

Generation Z at Work

As the first wave of GenZ enters the workplace, it may be easy to confuse them with Millennials. They too want a sense of purpose to their work, favorable work/life integration and flexible office arrangements. But the similarities fade when it comes to communication styles (short and visual for 8-second GenZ attention spans), salaries (GenZ highly focused on earning and saving) and job-hopping (only 16% of high school seniors say they anticipate frequent moves throughout their career).

And perhaps the biggest surprise from the generation who is growing up with a smart device within reach at all times? They prefer face-to-face communication.

So Boomers, GenX and Millennials: consider yourself on notice. Get ready for the next complex generation to enter the workplace. And enjoy Game of Thrones while you still can.

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