I’m what marketers like to call a millennial.
We’ve been the most talked about generation for years, gracing the front page of Time Magazine, putting our name to a glorious yet delicate shade of pink and famed for our love of fidget spinners. We even have our own Monopoly board, one where you can dine at a vegan restaurant but can’t buy a house. Marketers assume that we are young adults frozen in time, eating smashed avocado on toast and oversharing on social media.
Millennial is no longer a byword for “young person.” That hurts. In our place is Gen Z, another marketing definition for anyone born after 1996. And they are about to overtake millennials, who make up 32% of the global population.
For years, I’ve been demonstrating that I, a millennial, understand millennials, with no sense of irony whatsoever. So now what? The millennial image we’ve come to know (and loathe) must change. Any notion of how to market to us is probably out of date, and there’s a whole new generation to engage now.
I am not a bitter, aging millennial yearning for lost youth (much). I am here to share with you my tips on dealing with the end of our reign. Because I need a plan to adapt to this glorious new era.
Admit you’re not actually a digital native
Progress begins with truth. Confession: I Google all new places before I visit them. I can’t watch a film without checking its IMDb rating first, and I hate talking to most human beings on the phone.
But I also remember a world before Facebook, when the most innovative feature on my phone was a game of Snake. I remember going to a dedicated computer room to go on the internet, then needing to get off again when someone needed the phone halfway through a Napster download.
Sure, we millennials have an unhealthy relationship with technology. We’d probably drive off a cliff if the satellite navigation told us to. But the truth is that we are not digital natives. According to a new study, we’re no more technologically savvy than older generations. Gen Z, however, was born digital.
And so, with technology evolving at the fastest rate in history, the crux is that we all need to actively keep pace with the changes. And as everything—and I mean everything—acquires more digital intelligence, even the word “digital” will become obsolete.
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
We “killed” entire industries, made internet dating culture socially acceptable and gave birth to the sharing economy. But the world is changing faster than ever.
Not only did Gen Z grow up in a radically technology-driven world, they did it during the Great Recession, which means they’re even more comfortable with being uncomfortable. They aren’t frightened of change, but instead of stability.
Wonderful things arise from feelings of constant change. For Gen Z, it’s an entrepreneurial spirit. They boast a potent mix of financial conservatism and realism, so they’re not afraid to work hard to earn a living. Fully embracing the side hustle mentality from an early age, almost one in four people aged 13–21 already earn money online.
Jealous outrage is the easy response, combined with overriding feelings of inadequacy. But it’s never too late to become entrepreneurial in practice and not just in spirit. So that side hustle you always dreamed of? That Etsy store you haven’t started? It’s never too late. It’s time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Second act success awaits us.
Don’t put a label on it
Entitled. Narcissistic. Lazy. Snowflakes.
Just because we millennials have been labeled doesn’t mean we should label the next generation. These clichés are only ever true to a degree, and it’s the degree we should be interested in.
Besides, Gen Z actively avoids labels and value self-expression. They are open to experimentation and defining themselves in a multitude of ways. They think being labeled means being limited. Maybe that’s why two-thirds of Gen Z identifies themselves as “exclusively heterosexual.”
People are full of wonderful contradictions. We can be many things and identify in many ways all at the same time. I have confidence in my own abilities and feel like an imposter. I love traveling the world and being a homebody. I love exercise, and I am lazy.
But it is our contradictions that make us human. Don’t blindly accept the oversimplification of entire generations. Our differences are something to be celebrated, not suppressed.
My plea to all marketers is to stop relying on tired cultural clichés. We are not all delicate snowflakes longing for Instagram likes.
Never stop trying to better the world
Now that the millennial comedown is upon us, what will be our legacy?
Sure, more countries now legally recognize gay marriage, but there are still many more that do not. We helped put climate change on the agenda, but global emissions are now higher than ever.
Some good news, though, is that we share a lot of the same values. The sheer level of media consumption among Gen Z’s from an early age means that they are the hyper-informed generation. They are determined to better the world and are willing to put in the hard work to change it. Apparently blind optimism isn’t enough—who knew?
Instead of handing over the proverbial baton and welcoming oblivion, what if we helped Gen Z in their goal to make things better?
Millennials feel “personally responsible” when it comes to bettering our world, so what if we work with Gen Z to push that? Not only could we maybe make a bigger difference, but we could also still feel like we have some relevance in the [marketing] world.
So there you have it. A brief look at Gen Z’s coming of age through the eyes of a millennial and what it means for our generation.
Narcissistic much? Perhaps I am a millennial stereotype after all.