By Sarah Sladek
“An awful lot of companies are about to get punched in the face.” This bold claim came from Marcie Merriman, EY Americas Cultural Insights & Customer Strategy Leader, at the opening of Voxburner’s Youth Marketing Strategy conference in New York City this week.
As marketers from throughout the world gathered to discuss how to reach the first mobile first generation – Generation Z, currently ages 9-22 – I expected there to be conversations about change. What I didn’t expect was the speed or breadth or depth of which change is coming.
After two days immersed in youth-centric data, I whole-heartedly agree with Merriman’s prediction: The vast majority of companies are completely unprepared for what’s to come. They will be hard-hit, even knocked out, of this futuristic world driven by disruption and fueled by innovation.
Want to stay in the game? Here are the five irreversible shifts and influencers shaping your organization’s future. The more you know about them and prepare, the more likely your organization will succeed.
Consumerism is out. The Sharing Economy trend that started with the Millennials has accelerated with the arrival of Gen Z. Today’s youth wants to save money and reduce consumption as well as waste. As a result, second-hand retail is growing 24 times faster than any other retail, and we can expect to see zero packaging stores and other waste-reducing efforts emerge.
Just as Zs analyze the cost and damages affiliated with any purchase, they also analyze the value of their impact at work. Many companies still reward employees based on time and celebrate titles and achievements. Zs will push employers to consider new ways of measuring success and progress, and they will demand their employers have a purpose and positive impact on society at-large.
Gen Z is the first generation to straddle past, present, and future. From the #metoo movement to the presidential election of 2016, Facebook’s CEO testifying before the Senate, and Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s FBI investigation, they are seeing companies and individuals being held accountable now for unethical or questionable choices made in the past.
Companies and leaders will find it increasingly difficult to be anonymous or operate ‘under the radar’ and will be judged in the future according to the decisions they are making now. Gen Z will demand leaders and companies be held to higher ethical standards from here on out. To be responsive to the increased demand for transparency, companies like Buffer are openly sharing their salary information.
Zs have never known an era when they couldn’t ask Google, Siri, or Alexa the answer. Voice-activated ‘chatbots’ and artificial intelligence are emerging faster than any other technology. By 2020, it is predicted that married couples will spend more time speaking to chatbots than to their spouses!
While most Millennials received smart phones by age 20, most Zs received them at age 10. In addition, they are the first generation to grow up using apps featuring a “sandbox environment,” meaning the apps allow them to create their own content or experiences rather than just offering linear pathways.
All of this has influenced Gen Z in radical ways. They describe themselves as creative and according to Snapchat research, they describe technology as a tool, not an addiction or a toy. Not surprisingly, they are easily frustrated with experiences and work environments that are cumbersome, inefficient, and don’t equip them with the appropriate tools and knowledge or empower them with opportunities to share their ideas and innovation.
But the changes taking place aren’t just restricted to the arrival of a new generation.
Consider that 5G technology will soon be available, unlocking experiences like augmented reality and virtual reality, wearable technology, automated cars, telemedicine, and connected buildings in smart cities. The first 5G phones are expected to roll out later this year.
Adding this technology to existing networks will not only allow businesses to modernize, it will transform entire industries. Some experts have referred to 5G as the “post-smart phone era” which will completely break apart and change the world as we know it.
Consider that, as of the end of 2017, women and minority-owned businesses now outnumber all other businesses in the United States, and nearly half of America’s Gen Z population belongs to a minority group. This means businesses can’t simply preach tolerance or launch diversity programs anymore – acceptance will be expected, and diversity will be the norm.
Consumerism has changed. New technology is emerging. Populations have shifted, and so have values.
When Generation Z was born, it was symbolic they were named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marked the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. In fact, Gen Z came of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century.
I think many leaders thought this pace of change would eventually slow down, questioning how much more change our economy and businesses could endure. What these leaders didn’t take into consideration was that coming of age during an era of disruption means that Zs were born to disrupt – and they’re just getting started. Zs, as a generation, were shaped to find their own way rather than follow a formula – but maybe that’s exactly what we need right now.
Undoubtedly, innovation will continue to occur, and some businesses and leaders won’t be able to keep pace. This is evolution. The same thing happened at the beginning of the last century. The difference is that change is happening faster, with more significant and lasting impacts than ever before.
But it all comes back to one truth in life: either we’re changing or we’re dying. There simply is no middle ground. There is no other option. So the question is — what’s your business doing? Preparing to stay in the game, or likely to get knocked out?
For the sake of our futures, I hope it’s the former.