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Lately it seems we’ve been bombarded from all angles about millennials. Marketers are tripping over themselves to cater to this highly influential crowd and businesses everywhere are looking to hire these digital native crowd for their tech skills and their determination to make a difference – and not just to the company’s bottom line. Now, we are getting ready for yet another generation – Gen Z (or centennials) that will be entering the workforce in just a few short years. Generation Z, born between 1994 and 2010, are still too young to be a major influence – the oldest of them about to finish college and the youngest barely out of diapers, but once they come of age, their numbers will be far greater than the current millennial generation. When they do join the workforce, what can we expect from them? Will their characteristics resemble millennials or will they be alien to us? Will they have the same entrepreneurial spirit? How will they affect the workforce?

Millennials gave us Miley Cyrus, Lena Dunham and Mark Zuckerberg – all highly influential in their own way, have helped define a generation described as brash, narcissistic and, to some, entitled. So, what will Gen Z be like?

These are all questions that marketers and brands out there are struggling to define as we speak. However, people shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss Gen Z’s just yet just because they’re young. According to census data, Gen Z’ers will outnumber millennials by nearly one million, putting their numbers at 60 million in the U.S. alone. In order to begin to understand what Gen Z can offer, here are a few starting points:

They’re digital. While millennials were considered the first true “digital natives” and were defined by iPods and MySpace (cue chuckle), Gen Z’ers will be the first generation to be fully raised in the smartphone era. They might be defined as the “Internet-in-its-pocket” generation. Some millennials might remember dial-up, Gen Zers can’t remember a time without technology at their fingertips.

Also, both generations devour online reviews for everything – from restaurants, to apps, to places to go, shop and where to go on vacation.

View entrepreneurship as a way to success.  Entrepreneurship is in a Gen Z’ers DNA. Whereas previous generations were content with working summer jobs at a variety of fast food joints (and nothing wrong with that), these younger generations, would rather create an app that will further revolutionize social media and have a direct impact on people’s daily lives. They’d rather create their own business just like those who’ve made it big. In fact, 28% of Gen Z’ers and millennials combined said they want to start their own business, according to the third-largest staffing agency in the U.S.

Want information instantly, but lose interest just as fast. Basically, Gen Z’ers have a rather small attention span and marketers have taken notice of this. In an era of emojis and eight-second Vines, how do marketers get the attention of this generation with a purchasing power of close to $200 billion annually? (source: Mintel) By figuring out ways to communicate in five words and a big picture. Otherwise, they will not reach this generation.

Online personas. While millennials were quick to jump into the Facebook bandwagon, many on Gen Z prefer to gather at more anonymous social media platforms, such as Secret, Whisper, and SnapChat. They also prefer the intimacy and immediacy of personalized online shopping; whereas millennials still prefer to gather at the mall.

Failure might be an option. No one likes to fail. I think we all get that, but these kids are so young that if at first they don’t succeed, rather than wallow in self-pity – like most of us have done, they’ll just dust themselves up and try again knowing full well they have the rest of of their lives ahead of them; therefore, more opportunities for success. Basically, they’re not afraid to fail. It’s a great quality to have.

What The Rise of Gen Z Mean For Brands

The ease to which Gen Z is able to access technology presents both advantages and challenges for brands that want to reach them. On one hand, the digital footprint this generation leaves behind is rich and plenty and companies have the luxury of having all the necessary information to target them with at their fingertips. As a result, companies know their likes, dislikes, purchasing predilections and everything in between. On the other hand, many companies are at a bit of a loss as to what to do with that information, mainly because of the elusiveness of this new generation, but also because they are so young and will more than likely change their minds as they grow older. Elusiveness and unpredictability are not things that make business people happy. But try to reach them you must.  

While their purchasing power is currently slightly lower than their generational counterparts, brands are currently waging war on these teenagers now for their brand loyalty. They believe the sooner they can lock in that brand loyalty, they’ll have a leg up when they come of age and fully enter the workforce. And since their numbers will be bigger than millennials, the purchasing power will be greater as well.

In order to reach this generation, brands need to learn how to use the technology Gen Z’ers use. It’s a matter of “adapt, change or die.” This is a common theme with me. It’s the right way to approach business, regardless of which generation you’re trying to cater to. If you’re stuck with ideas from the past, you’ll never move forward. It’s that simple.

Brands also need to stay ahead of any potential negative comments and opinions that customers express online -- always!  Companies need to invest in more resources towards social media management in order to build awareness and increase exposure for their brands. It wouldn’t hurt to hire a brand ambassador that spoke directly to that audience and helped create a conversation between the brands and the customer. Also, if the ultimate goal is to win the hearts and minds of Gen Z, retailers must offer cool tools that put these teens and tweens in charge of the development process and must also counter their impatient tendencies by creating something that’s quick and to the point.

As an entrepreneur myself, I must let go of my preconceived notions about this younger generation if I’m to move forward. I’ll be the first to admit, I probably don’t have much in common with millennials, much less Gen Z’ers; however, if I’m to thrive in business, I must adapt to the ever-changing business world, adopt the latest gadgets and make it my business to know what I don’t know. You need to make it your business as well! If the saying is true, that Gen Z’ers are “millennials on steroids,” we’re in for a very interesting ride in the not-so distant future.

About the Author

Jeffrey Hayzlett is a primetime television and radio host of C-Suite with Jeffrey Hayzlett and Executive Perspectives on C-Suite TV and All Business with Jeffrey Hayzlett on CBS on-demand radio network Play.It. Hayzlett is a global business celebrity, speaker, best-selling author, and Chairman of C-Suite Network, home of the world’s most powerful network of C-Suite leaders. Connect with Hayzlett on Twitter, FacebookLinkedInGoogle+ or www.hayzlett.com.