Many businesses face the same challenge of adapting to a rapidly changing audience. Just when it seemed like companies were starting to understand what millennials want, an entirely new generation has come to the forefront: Gen Z.
Even giant businesses with massive marketing budgets are scrambling to understand what Gen Z wants. The best way to become an expert on a generation is to talk to them directly. There is plenty that companies can learn by interacting with Gen Z. Conversely, aspiring entrepreneurs from Gen Z can learn a lot from those who came before them.
This became particularly clear to me when I met an influential member of Gen Z at a recent conference. Connor Blakley, a 19-year-old high school drop-out, has started a promising career advising brands as large as PepsiCo on how to better connect with his generation.
Blakley has succeeded in part because of his open mind. He is always looking to learn and help others, and he has shown that as much as Gen Z can learn from experts of the business world, those companies can learn from Gen Z as well. Here are three lessons:
1. Stop keeping score.
Many people make the mistake of entering business with a transactional mindset. But in many cases it is best to be generous to others in business, to give often and only ask for things in return when most beneficial. Those who focus on giving, rather than taking, can foster relationships that eventually become mutually beneficial--and those types of connections can be the difference between success and failure.
Blakley is an example of why this mindset works; he attributes his success to the fact that he offers to help others far more often than he asks for others' support. Companies who want to reach Gen Z should bear this lesson in mind as well. Many Gen Z consumers know when they are not being respected by brands who sell to them and want a more mutually beneficial relationship. Blakley understands that everybody can benefit by being more generous.
At Acceleration Partners, one of our core values is "Embrace Relationships" for precisely this reason. People notice if you only help them in order to get something valuable in return--it's vital to help others altruistically and build a relationship that will eventually become mutually beneficial.
2. Always be learning.
Members of every generation have dealt with the same problem when they were young: they reach adulthood thinking that they have nothing left to learn, especially from people older than them.
The fact is that every person has something to learn, and everybody can benefit from learning from people with different experience. Just as companies have benefitted from listening to Blakley and trying to understand a younger generation, Blakley has learned from mentors like Harvey Mackay, who is nearly 70 years his senior.
Mackay taught Blakley the value of detailed preparation. He learned to keep a file on every client and associate, staying attuned to what they care about, what their goals are and even who their family is.
To achieve anything worthwhile, it's vital to do your homework on whatever goal you are tackling. Major brands can benefit from listening to what Gen Z wants rather than dismissing them as too young to know who the world works. Likewise, younger entrepreneurs can learn plenty from the people who preceded them.
3. Establish preeminence.
Social media gives every person a megaphone, but a challenge many younger people face is how to use it properly.
Authenticity is the most valuable thing in the information age. If a person is only focused on getting attention, they may build a following, but they won't be making a difference in anybody's lives. The same is true for what Gen Z values from companies--they want to support brands that take stands on social issues, show consistent values and follow through on what they say.
With this in mind, Blakley uses a motto he learned from entrepreneur Jay Abraham, "establish preeminence." Essentially, that mantra means to be different and set yourself apart from the rest of the noise--a concept that doesn't come naturally on social media. By being authentic and differentiating themselves from others, both young entrepreneurs and major brands can better cut through the noise of the information age.
Blakley's case is revealing about many aspects of business. Leaders and their companies won't make it far by being inauthentic, by taking from others rather than giving, by neglecting to learn and prepare whenever possible.
Some of the biggest brands have already learned a lot from Blakley. His example shows that there is plenty that Gen Z and many major brands can learn from each other.