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How Marketers Can Connect With Generation Alpha

Illustration of a Black Generation Alpha member, scrolling through their phone / Gen Alpha vs. Gen Z
The oldest members of Generation Alpha are just 14, but they’re already significantly influencing their parents’ buying patterns and are about to grow into their own buying power over the next few years. [Adobe Illustrator | Studio Science]

They’re global and super tech savvy. But that’s not all. We spoke with two leading researchers about the nuances of connecting with this new generation.

What you’ll learn about Gen Alpha

The world today belongs to Generation Z, but tomorrow is coming fast — and it belongs to Generation Alpha. 

Already showing signs of being a uniquely global and progressive group, marketers will need to figure out how to connect with the most sophisticated audience yet. But how do we anticipate the identity of a cohort whose oldest current member is a young teenager? What makes Gen Alpha different from Gen Z, and how will they look in five, 10, 15 years as they age into the dominant demographic?

We interviewed two of the leading experts on the subject: Mark McCrindle, the social researcher who coined the term Generation Alpha, and Heather Dretsch, Ph.D., author of Designing Brand Cocreation Activities to Increase Digital Consumer Engagement, to get their perspective on what makes Gen Alpha who they are and what marketers can to build relationships with them.

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What is Generation Alpha?

Generation Alpha is made up of everyone born since 2010. It’s the latest or “current” generation. The oldest members of Generation Alpha are just 14, but they’re already significantly influencing their parents’ buying patterns and are about to grow into their own buying power over the next few years. By 2029, their economic footprint will exceed $5.46 trillion, according to McCrindle. 

“This is the first truly global generation,” McCrindle said. “They’re digital and they’re social, in terms of the influence channels. They’re mobile in terms of where they’ll live and work. They’re visual in terms of how they consume content.” 

Dretsch explains that while every generation is to some extent a reflection of their parents, this is especially true of Gen Alpha. Their mostly millennial parents (birth years from early 1980s to mid 1990s) hail from a very brand and content-conscious generation, as opposed to Generation Z, whose parents are mostly Gen Xers and Boomers.

“Millennial parents are more enthusiastic about Gen Alpha getting to know, using, and watching content that they are familiar with themselves,” said Dretsch. “And so we see this nod to nostalgia break through in terms of what millennial parents put their children in front of, want them to have, play with, and watch.”

According to Dretsch, millennial parents are also more interested in curating their children’s lifestyles. McCrindle agrees, noting these parents have their own sophistication and savviness with social media. 

“Because they don’t have as much of a generation gap technologically, they’re actually controlling the screen use a bit more,” McCrindle said. “They’ve seen the downside of technology saturation and screen addiction. They’re saying to their kids, ‘I’m actually going to limit it.’” (Back to top)

Altruistic life goals and concerns

Generation Alpha is the most socially conscious and progressive generation yet, McCrindle told us, even moreso than Gen Z. They’re keenly aware of environmental and societal issues like climate change, resource scarcity, and population growth. 

Despite their youth, they care deeply about the rise of the middle class, about ending racism, and opportunity and equality across all demographics. And they see it as their responsibility to care about their causes on a global scale, not merely a local one. Part of it may be the optimism of youth and could fade with time, but for now they see themselves as the stewards of the future. 

“When we have surveyed this generation and asked them what their cause of concern is from environmental to resource scarcity and racism and poverty alleviation, it’s all of them all at the same time,” said McCrindle. “That’s quite remarkable. For other generations, they pick a particular issue – it might be around ending poverty or it might be around the environment. But this younger generation is concerned about all of the issues, and they’ve got a heightened concern around them.” 

What marketers need to know

You’ll need to highlight your brand’s ethical and altruistic values if you want to resonate with Gen Alpha. And it won’t just be about lip-service or hashtag campaigns, either. Generation Alpha is an extremely sophisticated group whose technological savviness means they’ve been exposed to marketing at an earlier age and greater frequency than any generation before them. 

While they’re an optimistic generation that can be very trusting of people, that early marketing exposure and high level of sophistication also makes them a bit suspicious. In bluntest terms, they’re pretty good at sniffing out inauthentic messaging. 

The solution, then, is to put your money where your mouth is. If your brand actually does care about and support a cause in an important way, great, you can center that. But pretending won’t get you anywhere with Generation Alpha. If you want them on your side, you have to prove you’re on theirs. 

A hashtag won’t get you anywhere — but a sizable donation might. Or a share of sales earmarked for a reputable charity or organization proves that your brand is serious about the issues, and not just fishing for brownie points. (Back to top)

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Fiercely individualistic and prioritizes being themselves

McCrindle said Generation Alpha is much more sophisticated at a much earlier age than previous generations, even their immediate predecessor Generation Z, and that sophistication leads to a level of individualism and resistance to traditional marketing pushes. 

“They’ve got access to more at an earlier age,” he said. “It used to be the teen market, that was the focus, and then it became the tween market. You’ve got seven and eight year olds that have a fair bit of sophistication, that are used to filtering out messages, that are used to creating their own content. It’s a very sophisticated generation.”

What marketers need to know

With that level of sophistication, it’s not as simple as just designing something you think they’ll like and pushing it at them. They won’t bite on that. 

McCrindle points out that this is a generation that’s already creating their own content in many ways, on YouTube, on TikTok, on Snapchat, etc. They’re co-creators, he explained: “They want a seat at the table and we’ve got to design it with them. It’s the world of the influencer.” 

Traditional branding won’t have the same impact on Generation Alpha, but building personal and collaborative relationships with them will. Marketing that incorporates their participation, rather than just consumption, will get a lot farther with this generation. 

They’re relationship driven but not necessarily in a one-sided way, where they project an emotional bond onto an influencer or brand based purely on consuming it. They need that relationship to be a two-way street and want to build it together to know that the brand is responsive to their inputs. (Back to top)

They value both authentic digital relationships and nostalgia brands

With this level of technological sophistication and early adoption, Generation Alpha is extremely comfortable with fully digital relationships and experiences. They don’t need a real-world or analog component to a brand or influence to feel connected to it. They live in mostly online spaces and communicate with each other in large part through video.

Dretsch cautions that the prevailing thought that Gen Alpha is “all YouTube and TikTok” may be misguided: “I think that this age of micro-influencers that has consumed millennials and sort of made its way into Gen Z is not going to affect Gen Alpha in the same way.” She elaborated that they often see TikTok as more “wild and crazy,” and limit their own exposure accordingly.  

Building on the influencer point, Dretsch noted that Generation Alpha feels comfortable with entirely digital relationship dynamics.

“I think they view themselves as micro-influencers already,” Dretsch said. “That’s because they’re so fluid, media doesn’t have that same sense of awe for them, and it’s more about authentic relationships for them, meaning like a personal interface.”

McCrindle differs slightly, speaking to their capacity for trust in spite of skepticism. 

“One thing we have seen is that it’s a skeptical generation, or at least a sophisticated one that has been marketed to from a young age,” he said. “But at the same time, the human psyche is to give people the benefit of the doubt. So maybe there’s naivety because they really believe that this person genuinely backs a product and is an independent validator of it, not recognizing the commercial ties they have.”

Interestingly, despite being digital natives, Generation Alpha isn’t overly concerned with fame or social media. According to a study by Wunderman Thompson Commerce, just 5% of them list social media as important to them, and only 2% list fame.

What marketers need to know

It’s not all next-gen platforms and video influencers when you’re trying to connect with this generation. Dretsch also explained that her research has found that Gen Alpha has another major influence that factors heavily into their brand preferences and buying habits: their millennial parents. 

Millennial parents are enthusiastic about raising their children with the same content and brands they grew up with. There’s some real opportunities for marketers to use nostalgia as a tool in their kit, even and especially for brands that predate Gen Alpha by decades. 

Dretsch notes that, for instance, the 1980s may be on their way back, thanks to those millennial parents: ”That content tends to reflect the way that millennial parents grew up in the 80s, for example, and the brands that they are familiar with, and the shows that they watched, and the movies that they watched, so we see a lot of that.”

Another example is legacy media formats. While we think of Generation Alpha as living in front of their phones, tablets, and laptops, they’re also big on seeing movies in theaters. Research firm GWI found that 39% of American 12-to-15-year-olds surveyed like going to the movies more than previous generations, and that number may rise as they age into the ability to drive themselves there. 

Gen Alpha is still responsive to influencers, but brands may need to rethink who exactly constitutes the right kind of influencer. Instead of a giant Instagram sensation like Caroline Calloway, it might make more sense to target their millennial parents as a source of influence, or to echo the influence those millennial parents are already providing on their own.

Yes, this generation knows Mr. Beast (arguably Gen Z’s biggest online influencer), but you might be surprised how many of them also know and love, say, Lego.

“Generation Alpha is absolutely all about the power of play and the creativity involved, but they also care that they’re playing with Legos, surprisingly,” said Dretsch. “They’re very aware of brands and they use brands to relate to their young peers as well in conversation. And just that idea of social exchange among that generation, I think it’s going to be very important.” (Back to top)

Interested in, and more receptive to, new technology like AI

Dretsch said Gen Alpha is more open to artificial intelligence (AI) and less wary or fearful of it than previous generations.

“It’s all they’ve known,” she said. “They’re really comfortable and open to anything that could help them or teach them specifically.”

McCrindle anticipates increasing skepticism and restraint as Gen Alpha and AI technology age together. Growing up in a world where AI-generated content and deepfakes are blurring the lines between authentic and artificial relationships, and as a generation that cares deeply about authenticity, there’s likely to be some backlash to that. 

“They’ll start to become more skeptical because we see a video and assume it must be a person. They’ll see a video and assume it’s as likely to be an AI generated bot,” he said. “But certainly at the moment, they are optimistic and idealistic, which is a factor of youth. With that comes this idea that they can shape the future. I think that they will take a harder view of AI, and they’ll probably start to pull some of the reins in to make sure that truth and disclosure are clear.”

What marketers need to know

Gen Alpha may trust AI right now, but keeping them receptive is going to require earning that trust and demonstrating clear ethical usage of AI that aligns with their generally altruistic values. They’re likely to become increasingly skeptical, and increasingly difficult to fool, as they age, which brings us back to authenticity.

Whether or not your content is AI generated, it needs to be authentic, and the way you make that happen with AI content is to be honest about it. 

If you show them a deepfake and pretend it’s a real person, they’ll never forgive you. But if you introduce them to an AI assistant that will help them better use your product, they’re open to making friends with it. Treat them with respect and honesty, and they’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. (Back to top)

Gen Alpha lives on different platforms than Gen Z and engages with them differently

McCrindle said that while Gen Alpha is are on the big sites, they have a stronger connection to micro-communities. They use TikTok and Snapchat for their short-form needs, as opposed to more legacy methods like text messages. 

In general, they’re drawn toward more visual platforms, and that extends beyond entertainment and communication to basic functionalities and information. 

“We found that they’re more likely to use YouTube rather than Google as their search engine,” McCrindle said, “because it’s not just about an article, they want to watch a video on it”.

YouTube has become their home base platform, useful for both entertainment and education. TikTok is more of a creative outlet or a way to keep up with trends. 

They’re also on a lot of smaller, more specific platforms that suit their individual interests. You’ll see a lot of activity on Steam forums or subreddits for their specific gaming interests, for instance, or Discord servers for whatever they’re into. They’re willing and able to curate these specific micro-communities that speak to their passions rather than just relying on the monoliths. 

“Gen Alpha is very fluid between the media platforms,” added Dretsch. “They’re born into this universe of digital content, but they often prefer traditional media formats like television where they can watch a big screen. They will switch back and forth between traditional and digital media platforms so fluidly, they don’t perceive differences in the types of content that they’re viewing.”

What marketers need to know

You’ll need to level-up your video content creation capabilities, because that’s how Generation Alpha prefers to receive their information. While Generation Alpha is very comfortable with short-form video, they’re also open to and even seek out longer-form informational or entertainment-based video content. 

The takeaway, then, is once again about authenticity and relationships. TikTok can entertain and inform, but as a shorter-form platform, it isn’t as well-suited to building those deeper, long-term relationships and connections, at least not in a single interaction or piece of content. 

Gen Alpha is comfortable on video, so they don’t get worn out by it the same way older generations might. If they connect to someone, they’ll watch endless hours of their content, and a long video is fine — so long as the video is good, of course.

It also makes it easier for them to build those authentic connections. Just like any relationship, the more time and effort they put into something, the more connected they feel to it. That’s another lesson marketers hoping to connect to Gen Alpha could stand to learn: it’s going to take time and effort, but that time and effort pays off with lasting and authentic connections. (Back to top)

Explore the possibilities

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