Guest post by Robert Wigley
Big tech, and the devices and apps they sell, consume the world’s collective attention in pursuit of profit. Society is distracted, neurologically hijacked by the tsunami of weapons of mass distraction which focus our attention not as big tech claims on what “we want”, but on what big tech “wants us to want”. For Generation Z in particular, for whom screens devour more time than sleeping or studying, this is profoundly life-shaping.
In my new book, Born Digital: The Story of a Distracted Generation, I address the harms I believe ‘surveillance as a service’ is causing the generation in the context of the societal changes Gen Z is experiencing, including the decline of the nuclear family, communal eating, religion, marriage and rise of pansexuality.
How do you appeal to Generation Z in this new world?
Well, if we ignore the fact that according to a recent GAP survey, ad tech firms hold on average 72 million data points on a child by the time they are 13, and assume that there will be more lawsuits like the current £2.5bn one in the UK High Court against YouTube for allegedly breaching the law prohibiting the profiling of under 13’s, there are some legal ways.
Remember, what defines Gen Z is that for them, Google has always existed, email and messaging are the normal communication method (not face to face talking), smartphones and wifi are ubiquitous, money is a number in a digital wallet not a coin or note, and younger members of the cohort have always been able to search by voice and not even need to type.
Gen Z looks for choice, convenience, efficiency, fast and frictionless service, value for money, minimal commitment (rent not buy), and expects hyper-personalisation. Peer to peer feedback and recommendations particularly from friends, celebrities or influences are the most valued, and whilst Gen Z don’t find most influencers authentic, they still listen to them.
Gen Z has a high regard for sustainability, inclusivity, their ability to express their individual personalities through the product and see consumption as access not possession, using products and services just as long as they want or need them, but not needing to ‘own’ them. Gen Z is resilient, resourceful, independently minded and entrepreneurial. All of these attributes are entirely logical if you grow up living with your divorced parents moaning about the financial crisis, have never known a world without the war on terror, see the climate crisis served up as daily doom and are now faced with repaying covid debt on top of your student debt.
Solutions for Gen Z
Well, high entertainment quotient personalised video is one answer – which is why platforms like Tik Tok have become so popular, serving up as they do bite size snacks to the Gen Z digital bee, serially snacking on multiple honey pots of information. Short, entertaining adverts presented as peer recommendation from micro-influences even better. These adverts cannot be generic and need to incorporate information directly relevant to the individual viewer (name, locationally relevant, loyalty scores, account balances). And as for your brand, you better be clear your business does something more useful than just fleecing its customers – does something for society – and you also better mean it, because Gen Z sees straight past ‘Purpose washing’.
If you are in the food business, food on the go has replaced communal eating so limited service, food to go, grab and go and food home delivery are the future. And if you want to employ Gen Z, understand they are looking for benefits not salaries, so expect to let them work wherever they want and not just in the office, make sure the office is cool (no largesse), in a cool place, technologically cutting edge, preferably biophilic, cater to their desire for experiences not jobs, paid time off (not joking, it doesn’t cost what you think, and works), and engage them not by long tedious emails but short snappy two way videos – for colleague communications, training, appraisals and feedback. Good luck!
Born Digital: The Story of a Distracted Generation is available from Amazon, Kindle, Audible, all good book shops and www.bookdepository.com with free worldwide delivery and all profits to adolescent wellbeing charities.