The Next Big Thing: Z’s Threadbare Effect On Innovation

We are a product of our times. Each generation has its markers, those shared moments that shape how we see the world and guide our actions. For instance, boomers ushered counter-culture as a response to social and political uncertainties while millenials, the first digitally native generation, today challenges all forms of clunky intermediaries. These societal milestones are the tipping points for change. And speaking of change, a big one is brewing.

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Z is For Huge

While editors have fawned over millenials, it is Generation Z, the over 70 million Americans born mostly in the 90s and early aughts, which will rock many an industry and company.  Raised amidst the big recession while witnessing the increasingly isolating power of technology, Generation Z embodies a skeptical and pragmatic take on the world.  They’ve witnessed first hand what the power structures and shifts of the 90s did to their generation X parents (unemployment, debt levels, dissatisfaction) and have chosen a different route.

 New business and engagement models such as Everlane deliver the smart transparency Gen Z wants.

New business and engagement models such as Everlane deliver the smart transparency Gen Z wants.

The Pragmatic Economy

As generation Z bubbles up to be the biggest consumer segment, their sense of pragmatism will have powerful impact on creative, business and engagement models. I predict their need to make more with less, will further challenge the concept of ownership, fuel the sharing economy, and put greater pressures on brands to deliver relevant, multi-faceted experiences while serving up trust and loyalty to a greater degree.

Ways in which we’re seeing Gen Z pragmatism rise:

-      More so than millennials, generation Z is keen on savings. This will put greater pressure for brands and companies to pack more value around the goods and services they provide. This also presents and opportunity for financial services companies to speak to this consumer earlier. Other opportunities include: next gen loyalty programs, innovations in payment models, as well as continued novelties in business models such as subscription services.

 Players like Grailed are driven a barter/resell economy that puts novelty-seeking and entrepreneurship at the core of a new form of community commerce.

Players like Grailed are driven a barter/resell economy that puts novelty-seeking and entrepreneurship at the core of a new form of community commerce.

-      Around the premise of value, they will demand more depth of meaning and functionality from the products and brands they endorse. Think of multi-use products that incorporate elements such as sustainability, weather adaptive uses, genderless offerings, among other qualities that will allow reuse, sharing, barter, etc.

-      Afraid of uncertainty, generation z is more openly loyal to companies and brands they perceive as authentically caring and relevant. In return for this loyalty, they will demand transparency, flexibility and a total life form of experience.

 This generation grew up with new form of influencers such as James Charles pushing boundaries in terms of teen self expression, identity, politics and more. Gen Z prizes this form of direct narrative and dialogue.

This generation grew up with new form of influencers such as James Charles pushing boundaries in terms of teen self expression, identity, politics and more. Gen Z prizes this form of direct narrative and dialogue.

-      This is the generation that grew up with YouTube stars and other influencers. They do not subscribe to the traditional Hollywood model and as such they will further force companies to build a more authentic network of influencers to spread the word about their brands and services. This generation also takes its cue from micro-influencers to craft their own versions of DIY expressions, taking full advantage of a new spate of digital creative tools.

 Business models around barter, upcyle along with requisite core values such as transparency, sustainability and personalization will continue to thrive.

Business models around barter, upcyle along with requisite core values such as transparency, sustainability and personalization will continue to thrive.

-      Barter and cash-me will be a way of life. The search for authenticity, uniqueness and collaboration coupled with the need to save will continue to drive business models such as Poshmark, Grailed and its reselling of sneakers, and other direct to consumer exchanges, not to mention, informal peer-to-peer, community driven barter

-      Afraid of the uncertainties their parents faced, they will put a greater premium on smaller, more meaningful and trustworthy circles of friends and colleagues. Shared values, causes and collaborations will fuel this sense of agency and community. Opportunities: passion tribes and circles, next generation loyalty programs; dialing up security; transparency and engagement around block-chain.

Across the board generation Z presents a need realness test for brands. This will mean a scrappier, creatively intuitive approach that reflects the harder times they grew up. This could be a new boon for creativity, as the saying beckons, necessity is the mother of invention.