Z Marks the Spot

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Being real and relevant with the alphabet’s final generation

Tired of pandering to the whims of millennials? Well here comes some good news: there’s a new gen in town, and they’re coming to a hotel near you very soon.

The less-good news: they’re fiercely independent, switched on (in more ways than one) and totally resistant to all the usual marketing garbage.

So crank up your social spaces, update your Snapchat and get ready to redefine the rules of hotel branding, because this crowd plays to a different kind of beat.

Eyes Wide Open

Millennials may have helped to shape The New Collective, but the rise of Gen Z is set to redefine it.

Born between 1995–2000 (although no one can quite agree on the exact years) Gen Z’s influence and spending power—especially in the travel space—is set to make some serious waves in the near future.

As a group, they already outnumber millennials, making up 32% of the global population. They’re also on pace to be the largest group of consumers worldwide as early as 2020.

And they’re bringing with them a new, hyper-realist perspective on the world. While the millennial generation is a story of innocence lost, The New York Times observed back in 2015, “Generation Z, by contrast, has had its eyes open from the beginning, coming along in the aftermath of… the War on Terror and the Great Recession.”

Gen Z is on pace to be the largest group of consumers worldwide as early as 2020.

Just Cause

One outcome of growing up in that environment is that Gen Z carry a healthy dose of cynicism and a fierce commitment to social issues. In other words: They’re passionate, they know when you’re faking—and they aren’t afraid to call you on it.

“I don’t need brands to use their ads to tell me that they are ‘woke’ or that their brand is ‘lit’. The worst. If you are saying it, then you aren’t it,” 18-year-old Mimi from San Francisco told last year’s Irregular Report.

The brands that stand out to them are the ones that “seem to care about people rather than just profit,” said 20-year-old Tosin from London.

And while they may not buy into traditional loyalty programmes, they are loyal to causes they care about. Nearly three-quarters, or 69%, of Gen Z, for example, are more likely to buy from a company that contributes to social causes. Conversely, some 33% have stopped buying from a company that contributes to a cause with which they disagree.

Bottom line: All the slick marketing in the world won’t work on this crowd unless your brand has a real purpose that’s backed up with real action.

All the slick marketing in the world won’t work on this crowd unless your brand has a real purpose that’s backed up with real action.

Sharing is Caring

Of course, Gen Z wouldn’t be redefining The New Collective if they weren’t social animals, thriving off face-to-face interactions and drawn to social situations.

Focused on aligning with a community culture, Gen Z values the ability to meet and mingle with others even more so than their predecessors.

The New Horizons survey from 2018 found 42% of Gen Z travellers list building friendships as a key purpose for travel, substantially more than 32% of millennials.

Communal seating, social hubs and common areas tick all the right boxes—but also look for the rise of co-living hotel brands that take this community spirit to a whole new level.

Plugged in, Switched on

Gen Z is the first true generation of digital natives, and they’ve learned from the mistakes of those before them.

As keepers of their own brand, they are more careful about their privacy than millennials, with Gen Z favouring vanishing media like Snapchat and Whisper. The usual suspects, like Facebook, are barely even on the radar—according to a survey by Piper Jaffray, just 9% of teens list it as their favourite platform.

Visually driven apps like Instagram (24%) and Snapchat (47%) are where they’re spending most of their time, making it a crucial moment for brands to start reassessing their social-media strategies.

Gen Z also uses social media differently than others. “Humour and entertainment are top motivators for Gen Z to create and consume on social media,” according to a 2018 Snap Inc-commissioned study—they watch an average of 68 videos a day—while millennials tend to see it as a place to chat with friends.

Meanings to an End

Central to all this is a quest for meaning and authenticity.

Instagram to Gen Z, for instance, “isn’t as much about how they look, as it is about what they know, believe and do,” Irregular Report found. While millennials are more focused on the exterior, Gen Z care more about substance and representing their inner lives online in a genuine way—it’s why 67% of Gen Z say being true to their values and beliefs makes a person cool.

“Gen Z’s selfies are in the caption, not the picture—or in the tension between flattering selfie and self-deprecating comment that demonstrates their wit, cultural clout, intelligence and authenticity via confessional,” Irregular Report added, noting their peers are more likely to respond to their captions rather than the photos themselves.

Gen Z say being true to their values and beliefs makes a person cool.

The Bottom Line

As Gen Z comes of age and brings fresh perspectives to The New Collective, it’s never been more important for brands to build around a genuine purpose.

If you want to appeal to this newest generation, stand for something (but no need to shout about it). Be personable. Maintain a sense of humour. And always keep it real.

But perhaps most importantly, don’t read too much into articles like this one—Gen Z will see straight through it.

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