Gen Zers Are Revolutionizing Our Marketing Landscape. Here's How They Want to Be Reached.

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If young people are the chief catalysts of cultural progress in realms like media consumption, shopping and technology, a new research firm called Wildness wants to help marketers better understand the predilections and quirks of what has become the world’s most populous demographic: Generation Z.

Wildness, which defines Generation Z as audiences aged 12 to 24, may be uniquely equipped for this mission. The company was born of AwesomenessTV, a media company owned by DreamWorks Animation and the Hearst Corporation that has championed a lion’s share of the digital influencers -- including Smosh, Meghan Rienks and Cameron Dallas -- that are riveting today’s tween audiences.

“[Generation Z] may have just gotten the keys to the car,” says AwesomenessTV’s co-founder and CEO, Brian Robbins, “but soon they’re going to have the keys to the economy.” In a few years, these consumers will contribute $44 billion annually, he said.

In addition to working with companies to help them activate Generation Z, Wildness has conducted a nationwide study of 3,000 respondents and in-depth interviews with teens, parents and teachers in order to shed some light on this audience’s practices and preferences. The study concluded that young people today see themselves as “culture collaborators” who are seeking brands, retailers and celebrities with whom they can co-create, connect with and be rewarded by.

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Rather than merely consuming media, for instance, they are creating it in record quantities -- including 72 hours of video uploaded to YouTube and 216,000 photographs shared on Instagram every minute.

Thus, from a marketers’ perspective, the importance of honing an authentic, relatable voice cannot be overstated. “Gen X and millennials love to Instagram and Facebook because we love the filtered, posed world of social media,” says Margaret Czeisler, Wildness’ chief strategy officer. “But this generation is on Snapchat every single day -- multiple times a day -- because Snapchat is what’s real.”

The overarching lesson is that digital marketing initiatives need not be so carefully polished in the future. “The opportunity for brands is to be transparent, to get really real and to champion an experimental mindset,” Czeisler said, “because this generation will really forgive your failures.”

In a similar vein, traditional commercials are becoming an antiquated notion in the realm of digital media. Wildness’ study found that branded YouTube videos, and YouTube videos created by brands, are preferred over traditional video ads two-to-one.

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Other findings indicate that while Gen Z is glued to mobile devices (Czeisler said that one in 10 girls is engaged with her device every waking hour, and sited the #SleepingSquad hashtag on YouNow, where tweens pass out together in live-streaming slumber parties of sorts), face-to-face interaction is still highly prized. Eighty-nine percent of respondents, for instance, said that they take regularly scheduled digital breaks.

And social consciousness is also top of mind. “This generation not only embraces differences, it reveres them,” Czeisler says. The top three most important social causes include animal cruelty, cyber-bullying and discrimination.

Perhaps the most interesting takeaway of all, however, is the way in which technology has not only lowered the barrier to creative expression on social media, but also in the realm of entrepreneurship.

“Sixty percent of [Generation Z] are already working in some capacity,” Czeisler said, “and they don’t have paper routes today -- they have Etsy stores, and they’re coding. Thirty-eight percent think they’re going to invent something that’s going to change the world.”

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