Getting a Head Start on Generation Z: Characteristics & Challenges

By Alexander Mazanik and Jason Szymanski

Editor, Curator & Publisher’s note: This was first published in January 2017 . I commissioned this piece around my birthday when I first began observing how quick, agile and omnipresent this new cohort was, their digital imprint preceding them almost everywhere, omnivorously, as they emoji’d their way in and out of circumstances, understanding social capital before anyone else.

Generation Z is loosely defined as the group of individuals born between the mid1990s and early 2000s. Also known as “Founders”, “Plurals”, and the “Internet Generation (iGen)”, Gen Z, with over two billion worldwide, is fast becoming the prime focus for marketers, as almost a quarter of the U.S. population is under the age of 18. With over $44 billion dollars in spending power to the American economy, understanding how to connect with what is currently the largest generation in the U.S. population is critical for future brand success (Blakley, 2016).

The goal of this article is twofold: to help readers understand relevant Gen Z characteristics, then assess how they could impact the future of the market research industry. This article describes Gen Z as technological, individualistic, and realistic. These traits, in turn, present the market research industry with a technological and methodological challenge. The technological challenge consists of connecting multiple data points across a multitude of channels. The methodological challenge is found in adjusting the quant and qual mix to provide insights that enable highly customized customer experiences. 


Generation Zers are digital natives: they never knew a world without smartphones and tablets. They are formidable multitaskers with short attention spans, and social media is a core component of their daily lives. While Millennials grew up learning to multitask with 3 screens (TV, smartphone, desktop), Generation Z is comfortable navigating the internet, researching articles, and communicating on social media with 5 screens (TV, smartphone, laptop, desktop and either a tablet or some handheld gaming device). An omni-channeled marketing campaign is critical to reaching these “screenagers.” A short attention span of 8 seconds means marketers need to ensure their advertising messages are quick enough to leave a lasting impression, or risk being filtered out (Mintz, 2016); (Williams, 2015). Additionally, brands must understand the expectations and rules of engagement on different social media platforms and tailor their messages appropriately (Fromm, 2017).


Generation Z is a highly independent and entrepreneurial group. They are less brand loyal and expect brands to cater to their wants and needs. Personal branding is important to Gen Z, and they are trusting of social media influencers (such as YouTube stars and Instagrammers). They have strong content filters, and are quick to mentally and technically (i.e. using ad-blockers) block out information that is unreliable, unrelatable, and untrustworthy. Marketers should consider partnering with social media influencers to improve brand awareness/recognition, and there exists a number of influencer marketing platforms for doing so, such as Famebit and BrandBacker (Blakley, 2016). Marketers also stand to benefit from becoming more transparent in how their products are made, improving the authenticity of their brands (Segran, 2016).

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Generation Z is a pragmatic and realistic group of individuals. These “Centennials” have learned from the experiences and failures of Millennials, and are highly concerned about data security, the economy, and financial stability (Anderssen, 2016); (TD Ameritrade, 2013). They tend to use less-permanent types of social media such as Secret, Whisper, and Snapchat (Barley, 2016). They are highly concerned about starting their careers early and ensuring they have minimal debt. As a result, they are more likely to choose a job that provides financial stability rather than personal fulfillment. Interestingly, because of their pragmatism and aptitude for technology and continual learning, newer modes of online learning will cater more effectively to Generation Z’s needs. Access to free education through the internet (eg. MOOCs – massive open online courses) is becoming more pervasive with Generation Z, making them less likely than Millennials to follow the traditional educational route and molding them into more self-directed and self-motivated individuals (Beall, 2016). Generation Zers will seek brands and products that offer the best value and good user reviews, and are also likely to appreciate brands that co-innovate products with consumers (Kingston, 2014).


Technology: Genuine Omni

Today, market researchers have a large number of data points at their disposal that enable the delivery of useful insights to the client. The future of meaningful insights rests on researchers’ abilities to connect a growing number of disparate data points. As technological developments make more data sources available, research companies need to be able to meaningfully integrate them into the data analysis process. Those who understand and embrace the “omni-channel” mantra will be the industry leaders of tomorrow, largely because of their ability to connect with the next buying generation (Jolls, 2015). The starting point is to develop genuine “omni” capabilities from the perspective of both the respondent and the researcher. The end-goal is the same for both groups – usability.

Fashion retailer Macy’s went omni-channel to engage its core demographic. The presence of numerous channels with intuitive navigation and meaningful data collection capabilities to offer seamless experiences is what differentiates “omni” from “multi”. The forthcoming technological challenge faced by the industry is a substantial one, considering that currently fifty percent of surveys that are sent out are not optimized for mobile (GRIT, 2016)!

Methodology: The Right Mix

The demand for marketing campaigns that are deeply custom and authentic is going to guide the research methodologies of tomorrow. Seven-in-ten researchers report that they currently use a mix of quantitative and qualitative research techniques – a proportion that is very likely to increase. Gen Z’s expectation of a “real” marketing campaign, exemplified by their affinity with micro-influencers, will require researchers to generate deep insights that are experience-focused. Key Gen Z characteristics such as short attention span, sociability, and visual communication, limit the value of standalone quantitative and qualitative research techniques. The methodological challenge is in developing a mix that leverages technological advancements to accentuate the strengths of each research technique. 


Understanding Gen Z and developing the right tools to connect with them are exciting challenges facing the market research industry. Challenges result in changes, which, in turn, enable innovation. The innovators will remain relevant in the evolved industry, while the losers will fail to make the right connection. 

Alexander Mazanik has multiple years of experience working on large-scale research studies for high profile organizations in the public and private sectors. Connect with Alex on LinkedIn.

Jason Szymanski has a background in Science from the University of Toronto, and completed the Research Analyst Post-Graduate program at Humber College in 2016. Connect with Jason on LinkedIn.


Barley, S. (2016, January 6). Here’s what marketers need to know about generation z.

Beall, G. (2016, November 5). 8 key differences between Gen Z and Millennials.

Blakley, C. (2016, October 25). What brands can do to prepare for Gen Z.

Fromm, J. (2017, January 4). Gen Z is on the rise, here is what you need to know.

GRIT. (2016). GreenBook Research Industry Trends Report.

Jolls, A. (2015, May 20). Why Market Research is suddenly focusing on Generation Z.

Kingston, A. (2014, July 15). Get ready for Generation Z.

Mintz, J. (2016, April 27). What marketers need to know about generation z.

Segran, E. (2016, September 8). Your guide to Generation Z: the frugal, brand-wary, determined anti-millennials.

TD Ameritrade. (2013, May). Generation Z and money survey 2013.

Williams, A. (2015, September 18). Move over, Millennials, here comes Generation Z.

Willoughby, L. (2016, November 4). Meet Gen Z: Amplified Millennials.

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