Younger generations have always evolved and pushed the limits of the status quo. Case in point: Millennials and Gen Z, two generations who have shifted away from prejudicial stereotyping as a means of reducing uncertainty, toward having a curiosity about other cultures and an appreciation for inherent differences. Both proud hallmarks of their generation as they embrace a collage of music, fashion, and tastes, elements taken from various cultures and backgrounds.
For them, different is cool, an advantage–even a distinction.
Which means they also can’t be pigeon-holed. But why? Why do the rules of generations gone by suddenly not apply?
Firstly, exposure and today’s accelerated pace of change in tech mean that young people are tough to “singularize” or generalize. Their behaviors are tough to track because they themselves are diverse, as are their identities, backgrounds, and tastes–not to mention their consumption of media and their interactions with the world around them. They’re far from being one-note.
Which means we, as marketers, can’t treat them like they are.
In order to keep up with these tech-savvy, privacy-first, woke generations, we must shift our perspectives from stereotyping to learning. We need to become ethnographers and embrace our curiosities about the very environments that help make these generations distinct so that we can better understand the underlying motivations.
But how do we harness our curiosities and avoid marketing pitfalls?
First, embrace change so you can more readily identify the “differences” in the cultural elements that I mentioned. Sounds obvious and easy to do, but what we think tends to come from how we think. So, open your mind to the nuances with the intention to understand. No shortcuts. No defaulting to previous understandings of things. Instead, start fresh and seek to understand in a completely new way. For instance, not all Latinx like spicy food. Every Latin American country has different spices and flavor profiles which can vary greatly by region.
So do your homework–always.
Every culture has something to teach about self-expression, which is particularly important to a creative generation like Gen Z. How young people express love, appreciation, and seek approval is distinctive, and therefore worthy of time spent toward investigating these if you’re hoping to drive brand loyalty. For instance, look at how they use social media which can suggest everything from preference to a need for approval.
Authenticity is key when talking about culture and sharing elements of culture authentically is as important for the giver as it is for the receiver. True understanding requires an open space where expression can take place without pressure toward assimilation, watering down or force-fitting heritage into pop culture. It’s easiest to frame it as authentic reflection, even mirroring, rather than a plea toward change.
Recognize that diversity sets each new trend in pop culture. From food (obviously) to music–consider the impact of reggaeton, Shakira and J.Lo at the Super Bowl Halftime show, or Billy Ray Cyrus and Lil Nas X with Old Time Road.
Sameness does not equal belonging–and it never will. Younger generations do not have as great a need to “fit in” as they do to belong. They’re different from their peers and yet they’re not separate.
But here’s the key: Although motivations may differ, there’s a commonality to be found, especially in sentiments. The best marketers will appeal toward those commonalities.
Challenges. Struggles. Win-falls. Jealousy. A need to be heard and understood. Our environments are increasingly saturated with content and options, and so Millennials and Gen Z are increasingly looking for deeper meaning and purpose.
In a blooming culture that is so rich and diverse, there is no single set of stereotypes that can encapsulate their essence. If you want to be loved as a brand, you must embrace their worlds with genuine curiosity, respect, and the intention to connect. In other words, get with the zeitgeist or be left in the white noise.