If I had a pound coin for every time I heard that ‘the new generations do everything online’, I would be rich. And if you added to this money for other favourite misconceptions like ‘brand loyalty is dying’ and ‘contact centres will disappear and be replaced by self-service and robots’, then I could close down shop and retire to a tropical sunny beach.
However, the reality is different – and I’m still here in the UK.
As the proud mum of two Generation Z girls, I can see what the reality is (and BTW, Gen Z indicates people born around the turn of the millennium). Yes, you would never see my daughters awake and willingly away from their iPhones. Indeed, their Duke of Edinburgh expeditions, where mobile devices were banned, were extremely testing experiences! Also when they are sleeping, their phone would only be at arms reach, representing their necessary alarm clock, watch and safety blanket without which the night wouldn’t quite be the same.
Ultimate immediacy and convenience
My daughters’ lifestyle is the epitome of the Mobile-First era. Their device is the portal into their whole world of transactions, friendships, information and services, providing access with ultimate immediacy and convenience. Without it, they cannot operate. After all, their school homework needs to be done online and any research is now through the web – long gone are the days of afternoons spent at the local library plowing through shelves of dusty books. Their friendships life is extended by social media apps; their physical exercise is enabled by apps that replace the need for investing in gym memberships; their free time is filled by online games and streaming services.
The conclusion could easily be that all they need is a smartphone and network connection. For example, a few years ago I received a phone call at work from my daughter when she was probably about 13. As the agreement with them is that they should call me in the office only when it is an emergency, I took the call and sneaked out of the meeting I was in, to be met by the desperate voice of Serena screaming down the line, “Mammaaaaa, the wi-fi is not working!!!” To her, that was the ultimate emergency.
The Experience generation
However, for Gen Z the smartphone does not replace the end experience – it only makes it easier and faster to access. They are definitely not happy to sit at home and live their life through their smartphone. To the contrary! While mobile devices make many things easier and more accessible, the reality is that this generation is fast-tracking us into an Experience Economy, where ‘real’ personal experiences are valued and irreplaceable. These are the people who want to live life to the full, and generally have the means to do it. The ‘I want it all and I want it now’ mentality exemplifies their attitude to life.
The ‘Future of Customer Experience 2017/18’ study by PWC shows that for the Generation Z, experience and brand loyalty are even more important than for the average population, and they would be willing to pay more for it too. While 63% confirm the importance of Mobile Experience, compared to 54% of the general population, this only represents the necessary instant and seamless access to products and services they have come to expect as a ‘given’.
However, Gen Z values also the experiential elements of fun, design and brand personality more than average respondents. The PWC study also outlines that 40% of Gen Z feel more loyal to brands now than last year, vs. 24% of everybody surveyed. When they build a connection or feel appreciated, they are more likely to recommend or endorse a brand on social media, subscribe to content and regular communications or sign up for promotions and make repeat purchases.
The power of experiential connections
Therefore, in the end, also Gen Z forms a bond with brands that provide stronger experiential connections. Based on a recent study by the US National Retail Federation, 66% of young people still go to stores because that’s how they prefer to shop and 55% indeed see trips to retail malls as a social activity.
In fact, I do not believe those studies that indicate that Gen Z is the loneliest generation, only hooked on social media. It is undoubted that Gen Z kids are growing up within a highly sophisticated media and computer environment and are more Internet savvy and expert than Millennials and all previous generations. However, social media is the enhancer of relationships and the door into a 24/7 connected life – a life that is ‘always on’ and requires also those powerful and experiential interactions with physical people and realities.
These young people seek memorable and differentiated experiences, staged explicitly for them on the theatre of life, delivering new sensations and immersive entertainment in a personalised and unique way. They want to live in the present, both online and offline, through events they can share with their friends and talk about on social media. The ‘average’ and ‘neutral’ dimension does not interest them, as they want to feel special and live special lives, by participating in and connecting to immersive experiences. This is why they are loyal to brands who value them and make them feel special, stimulating their individuality, while creating the feeling of belonging to something different and unique to them, whether through clothes or social activities that celebrate individuals and connect them to distinctive groups – like Nike or Starbucks. This is why Gen Z values that combination of brand, fun and design coming together to elevate individual products and services to a higher experiential dimension.
In conclusion, Gen Z is accelerating the advent of the Experience Economy. Organisations should continue to use technology to improve access to products and services and provide ultimate convenience, but they should also invest in designing brand experiences that are human and engaging. Indeed, for younger generations even more than older ones, it is the power of experiential connections and immersive physical realities that strengthens the bond with a brand and drives value-generating loyalty.