There is Only One Way To Understand Gen Z - Mobile!

Category : Mobile Ethnography

Since the days of the Mad Men era, Marketers and Advertising professionals have been perennially obsessed with understanding youth. Getting under the skin of the next wave of consumers and truly understanding them brought huge rewards to the agencies and brands who were able to decipher the generational code.

Every generation has its unique fingerprint, its unique DNA. For decades now, Marketers have tried to resonate with the youth market by using their music, copying their fashion, ‘speaking’ their language and leveraging their heroes. The Don Drapers and Peggy Olsens, and every marketer since, strove to show they were “hip with the kids”. The problem is, like parents trying to be cool in front of their kids’ friends, the vast majority never quite managed it.

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tHave We Ever Understood The Younger Generation?


Marketers struggled to understand the younger generation because they were unable to experience how the younger generation experienced the world around them. Instead, Marketers viewed the younger generation through the disconnected, biased and distorted lens of their own life experiences and agencies relied on the testimony of keen interns or on the sharp eye of a good Creative Director to truly resonate with younger consumers.

Because the technology didn’t exist, Marketers could never truly perceive the world through the eyes of the younger generation and, conversely, the younger generation had no way of vividly showing marketers what really mattered in their everyday lives. As a result, Marketers have failed to truly connect and resonate with young people in a way that was relevant or representative of what really mattered to them. Until now.

Millennials & Gen Z

First, who are the younger generation anyway? According to Pew Research, if, in 2019, you’re aged between 22 and 38 you’re a Millennial. If you’re aged between 7 and 22 you’re Gen Z. There is lots of debate when one generation ends and the other starts.

So we decided to look at this from another perspective: through the lens of the technology that they grew up with.

When the eldest millennials turned 13 in 1994, the World Wide Web just launched. If went online using a 56k modem and used Netscape, Yahoo or Alta Vista to surf the web, this is you!

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The youngest Millennials, born in 1996, only ever used Google to search online and when they turned 13 in 2009, Web 2.0 kicked in and meant they could poke their friends on Facebook either on their computer or - if they could afford it - on the iPhone 3GS!

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Gen Zs were born between 1997 and 2012. When the eldest Gen Zs turned 13 in 2010, the iPad had just launched, smartphone sales were on the up and sales of desktop computers were starting to wane. The youngest Gen Zs - aged 7 in 2019 - have been entertaining themselves on tablets or on their parents’ mobile phones since they were old enough to tap, pinch and swipe!

Gen Z is literally the first truly digital demographic.

In fact, anyone under 30 years old today has had access to a mobile phone since they were, at oldest 10, or at youngest since the day they were able to grab one from their parents!

For the first time ever, Marketers finally have a capability to experience the world through the lens of youth, and that capability is Mobile Ethnography.

Gen Z + Mobile = Hooked

Not to put too fine a point on it, but when describing Gen Z and their relationship with their mobile phones, one word best sums it up: “hooked”.

They aren’t hooked by accident, they are hooked by design. Using viral loops, an insatiable quest for followers and likes and endorphin releasing push notifications, mobile and social networking have grabbed hold of this demographic in a way that will require a paradigm shift to dislodge.

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To Gen Z and younger Millennials, their mobile phone is not just a nice piece of tech - it is the quintessential tool for living in the 21st century. They literally cannot put it down.

The smartphone is their must have device. As a result, for the first time in history, marketers now have the opportunity to leverage the key identifier of a generation and utilise it to get a real time insight into how the younger generation lives - both online and offline - and experience the moments that really matter to them.

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This is a mobile first generation that defaults to sharing their everyday moments on Snapchat, Instagram and WhatsApp. Sharing practically defines their generation. They are the first generation who measure themselves by the metrics of likes, shares and comments.

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To be relevant to this generation, you must connect with them in a way that is natural and normal for them. To truly understand them, you must think mobile first.

Understanding Gen Z using Mobile Ethnography

Mobile Ethnography is the methodology that most naturally aligns with the lives, routines and habits of Generation Z. If you’re existing tool set consists of surveys or in person qualitative methods, it's time to supplement your capabilities with Mobile Ethnography.

Quantitative techniques will give you metrics, but they lack context and fail to bring the respondents to life. When it comes to face to face qual, our customers now routinely report how difficult it is to recruit Gen Z to take part in IDI’s or Focus groups. When they do recruit them for a face to face session, they struggle to get Gen Z to stop checking their mobile phones and truly open up!

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Remember, this is a demographic that prefers text over talk. That selfies, snaps and streaks (all verbs btw). That likely has multiple profiles on Instagram - sometimes for their pets. That mobilises in the tens of millions to make a picture of an egg that most liked post ever. That would rather communicate using memes, emojis and gifs rather than plain old text.

The youngest members of this demographic prefer to ask Siri or Alexa rather than type something into Google.

Video is their media of preference when it comes to communicating with friends and expressing who they really are and emerging apps like Houseparty or Tik Tok are rapidly gaining traction.

All of these trends underpin the necessity of a mobile first approach to understanding Gen Z.

No other methodology will get you closer to the moments that matter to them.

Mobile Ethnography enables you to walk in their shoes and directly experience what they experience in context and in the moment. It is particularly powerful at bringing other data sets, surveys and segmentations to life.

Mobile Ethnography bridges the digital divide.

Mobile Ethnography platforms that offer a social networking style UX and leverage the photo, video and screen recording capabilities of smartphones now connect brands with the younger generation like never before.

Our clients consistently report how potent Mobile Ethnography is for connecting with and tapping into both Millennials & Gen Z. Mobile is where they spend most of their time. Mobile is where they connect, communicate and consume. One of our research clients remarked at how much more intimate, open and “confessional” Gen Z respondents were speaking to their smartphones compared to speaking with a researcher face to face.

Furthermore, Mobile Ethnography keeps you connected for longer. Whereas traditional methodologies or surveys will engage them for minutes or even a few hours, Mobile Ethnography apps, installed on the very device through which their lives flow, enable you to keep them engaged for weeks on end.

We are currently supporting longitudinal studies that will go on for 1 and 2 years. Such continued connectivity with the next generation of consumers has previously been impossible to achieve yet alone afford.

Tag : Millennials & Gen Z

Get in touch

If you need to better understand this digital by default demographic, get in touch now. Our strategists will discuss your research requirements, brainstorm some strategies and explain how a minor investment in Mobile Ethnography can help you get closer to what really matters to your next generation of customers.

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