I grew up playing hockey. We had this saying, "Don't go where the puck is--go where the puck is going."

The great debate--both from consumer and employee perspectives-- of the past five years has been hyper-focused on Millennials. Companies want to know how to hire, train, and effectively keep Millennial talent. Brands want to know how to attract their attention, specifically as it has related to the rapid evolution of mobile tech and social media. But the truth is, we are now at a point where that conversation is essentially "where the puck already is." The real question brands, companies, and businesses should be asking themselves is, "Where is the puck going?"

Generation Z. That's where.

For those that don't know, Gen Z is the group after Millennials, and were born in the mid to late 1990s and into the 2000s. They are the first generation to be born into a world already socially accustomed to technology, and many of them remember the first time they rode a bike and the first time they turned on an iPad in parallel. They are, truly, digital natives.

Yet, the conversation surrounding how to effectively communicate with Gen Z has continued to take a backseat to anything-Millennial--almost like a younger sibling who can't speak over the louder sibling at the dinner table.

But Gen Z consumers are very different. And if you want to stay ahead, then you need to not just be aware of where the puck is, but where the puck is going. (The puck, in this metaphor, is attention.)

1. Generation Z has little to no impatience for things that don't work as intended.

This is more of a general trend, but Generation Z exemplifies it to the utmost. At least Millennials can remember the days of slow Internet and downloading massive files for days on end. Generation Z has no recollection of that--and neither will any generation that follows them. If something doesn't work, they're gone. If something is slow, they'll move on. If something errors out, they won't come back.

This is a huge reason why big brands are (and those that aren't, should consider) spending money on building exceptional mobile experiences--especially for younger consumers. Similarly, no young and talented individual is going to be very excited to work for a company using software that's a decade old. Gen Z-ers want to use technology that is cutting edge and as efficient as any of the other applications they use on a daily (or hourly) basis.

2. Generation Z doesn't pay attention to ads. They pay attention to value.

Gen Z is the first generation to grow up in an economy where the idea of becoming a social media influencer makes just as much sense as going to school and getting a business degree. They spend hours each day watching their favorite influencers online, and what many people don't realize is that, maybe even without Gen Z-ers realizing it, they are studying the art of what it means to have a personal brand online.

This is a powerful shift, and one many big brands have yet to grasp. By spending hours watching influencers, Gen Z-ers have an innate ability to see directly through blatant advertising. They will tolerate their favorite influencers co-signing products, but what they're more fascinated in are the influencers who become entrepreneurs. The ones that start their own clothing lines or developing their own products.

If your advertising strategy entails mobile pop-up ads or banners, you are way, way behind (and the sad part is, these things still happen all the time when I'm browsing websites online).

3. Generation Z truly wants to impact the world for the better.

This is a trend that began with Millennials, but will only gain momentum as Generation Z begins to step into the workforce. According to this study, 60% of Gen Z-ers want their career and everyday work responsibilities to impact the world. 76% said they are also concerned about the planet, and are conscious of humanity's impact.

Brands like TOMS shoes brought this sort of mentality to the forefront with their socially responsible way of doing business. What started with matching shoe sales with donations has turned into a whole suite of socially responsible services, including access to clean water, glasses and eye treatment, safe birth services, and even bullying prevention programs. Other brands like Patagonia have been spearheading social responsibility for a long time (TOMS just gets a lot of credit for their model), and have been pledging 1% of sales to the preservation and restoration of the environment ever since 1985. And anyone who is remotely tapped into how today's startups are positioning themselves knows that the social responsibility aspect is a huge focus of what makes a startup both cool and worth working for. The SUAVS shoe brand out of Texas is a prime example. They emphasize heavily that the materials they use are carefully tested for chemicals to ensure safety for the consumer and the environment.

4. Generation Z is buying online--and retail stores are taking the hit.

It doesn't take a business genius to see that brick-and-mortar stores are struggling to compete with the Amazon's of the world. And who is behind this massive shift in consumer purchasing? Younger generations.

If you want to succeed in retail, you need to realize that 55% of Gen Z-ers would rather buy clothes online. So even if the other half still want to go into stores and shop with their hands, you have to acknowledge that the other half of your consumers are at home browsing your online catalog. Which leads us back to the first point: if your mobile site is clunky (or worse, cluttered with annoying pop-ups) then you've already lost.

5. Generation Z watches a whole lot of online videos.

32% of Generation Z watches videos online for an hour or more, per day, with 30% watching two hours of video, and 21% watching three hours. That's a lot of video.

If your brand isn't investing in this medium, again, you aren't paying attention to where things are headed. And guess what? It's going to take you a bit of time to figure out what kinds of videos resonate with your target audience--specifically younger consumers.

Similarly, it's no wonder that both Millennials and Gen Z-ers get frustrated in work environments that do not embrace the rampant rise of new mediums. Or worse, companies and brands that have not yet grasped the difference between an advertisement in video form, and a video that provides some sort of real value--whether that be entertainment, knowledge, etc.

Succeeding over the long term and keeping people's attention is all about understanding not just what they're watching and looking at today, but where their eyes will go tomorrow.

Published on: May 10, 2017