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The First Generation of True Digital Natives

Members of Gen Z—loosely, people born from 1995 to 2010, are true digital natives: from earliest youth, they have been exposed to the internet, to social networks, and to mobile systems.
June 7, 2021
By 2025, Millennials are expected to make up 75% of the workforce

Long before the term “influencer” was coined, young people played that social role by creating and interpreting trends. Now a new generation of influencers has come on the scene. Members of Gen Z—loosely, people born from 1995 to 2010, are true digital natives: from earliest youth, they have been exposed to the internet, to social networks, and to mobile systems. That context has produced a hypercognitive generation very comfortable with collecting and cross-referencing many sources of information and with integrating virtual and offline experiences.

Marc Prensky is known as the creator of the term digital natives and digital immigrants, which he described in an article On the Horizon in 2001. All of us would be impacted by the digital natives who are joining and working with digital immigrants. The effect would be enormous for companies and those managing global teams. Companies are bringing more digital natives into their workplaces and this will impact the shape of the future digital workforce.

Who Are The Digital Natives?

Gen Zers value individual expression and avoid labels. They mobilize themselves for a variety of causes. They believe profoundly in the efficacy of dialogue to solve conflicts and improve the world. Finally, they make decisions and relate to institutions in a highly analytical and pragmatic way. That is why, for us, Gen Z is “True Gen.” In contrast, the previous generation, the millennials, sometimes called the “me generation”- got its start in an era of economic prosperity and focuses on the self. Its members are more idealistic, more confrontational, and less willing to accept diverse points of view. 

Today’s young people differ from yesterday’s.

Companies should be attuned to three implications for this generation: consumption as access rather than possession, consumption as an expression of individual identity, and consumption as a matter of ethical concern. Coupled with technological advances, this generational shift is transforming the consumer landscape in a way that cuts across all socioeconomic brackets and extends beyond Gen Z, permeating the whole demographic pyramid.

Digital Natives Characteristics

The search for the truth is at the root of all Generation Z’s behavior.

  • For Gen Zers, the key point is not to define themselves through only one stereotype but rather for individuals to experiment with different ways of being themselves and to shape their individual identities over time. In this respect, you might call them “identity nomads.”
  • Gen Zers are radically inclusive. They don’t distinguish between friends they meet online and friends in the physical world. They continually flow between communities that promote their causes by exploiting the high level of mobilization technology makes possible. Gen Zers value online communities because they allow people of different economic circumstances to connect and mobilize around causes and interests.
  • Gen Zers believe in the importance of dialogue and accept differences of opinion with the institutions in which they participate and with their own families. They can interact with institutions that reject their personal values without abandoning those values.
  • Gen Zers, with vast amounts of information at their disposal, are more pragmatic and analytical about their decisions than members of previous generations were. Sixty-five percent of the Gen Zers in a McKinsey Survey said that they particularly value knowing what is going on around them and being in control. This generation of self-learners is also more comfortable absorbing knowledge online than in traditional institutions of learning.

How Digital Natives Are Changing The Workplace

1. The move to the cloud – Digital natives were eager to adopt cloud-based technologies and suggest moving from traditional on-site technology to subscription-based cloud models for their companies. 

2. Emphasis on mobile technologies – The ability to connect to the cloud and mobile devices has made it easier for employees to do their work. Digital natives find new ways to communicate with their work for better teamwork and more efficient communication paths. The workplace no longer represents a location. Before, employees worked in their office from 9 to 5 and then left the office after eight hours of work. Those days are gone now. Digital natives work on any devices, anywhere, anytime.

3. Social media as a business tool – Social media has also been used as a source for growth opportunities by digital natives. 

4. Operating with agility – Young people are bringing change to the workplace as they put their work with a new viewpoint and mindset. They have the opportunity to join an organisation uninfluenced by previous experience with outdated technology and offer new ideas for modernizing business processes and creating a fully digital workplace.

What Does This Mean For Companies?

Three forces are emerging in a powerful confluence of technology and behavior:

Consumption re-signified: From possession to access:

Gen Zers analyze not only what they buy but also the very act of consuming. Consumption has also gained a new meaning. For Gen Z and increasingly for older generations as well consumption means having access to products or services, not necessarily owning them. As access becomes the new form of consumption, unlimited access to goods and services (such as car-riding services, video streaming, and subscriptions) creates value. Products become services, and services connect consumers.

Singularity: Consumption as an expression of individual identity:

The core of Gen Z is the idea of manifesting individual identity. Consumption therefore becomes a means of self-expression as opposed, for example, to buying or wearing brands to fit in with the norms of groups. Led by Gen Z and millennials, consumers across generations are not only eager for more personalized products but also willing to pay a premium for products that highlight their individuality.

48 percent of Gen Zers, but only 38 percent of consumers in other generations said they value brands that don’t classify items as male or female.

As the on and offline worlds converge, consumers expect more than ever to consume products and services any time and any place, so omnichannel marketing and sales must reach a new level. For consumers who are always and everywhere online, the online–offline boundary doesn’t exist. Meanwhile, we are entering the “segmentation of one” age now that companies can use advanced analytics to improve their insights from consumer data

Consumption & Ethics:

Finally, consumers increasingly expect brands to “take a stand.” The point is not to have a politically correct position on a broad range of topics. It is to choose the specific topics (or causes) that make sense for a brand and its consumers and to have something clear to say about those particular issues. In a transparent world, younger consumers don’t distinguish between the ethics of a brand, the company that owns it, and its network of partners and suppliers. Gen Z consumers are mostly well educated about brands and the realities behind them. When they are not, they know how to access information and develop a point of view quickly. If a brand advertises diversity but lacks diversity within its own ranks, for example, that contradiction will be noticed. 

63 percent of consumers said that recommendations from friends are their most trusted source for learning about products and brands.

 

References:

Mckinsey & Company, (2018) ‘‘True Gen’: Generation Z and its implications for companies’ Available at: https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/consumer-packaged-goods/our-insights/true-gen-generation-z-and-its-implications-for-companies [Accessed 6 June 2021]

Vantage Circle, (2021) ‘How Digital Natives are Changing the Modern Workplace’ Available at:https://blog.vantagecircle.com/digital-natives/ [Accessed 6 June 2021]

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