Skip to main content

As part of our work exploring how to engage Gen Z when developing products and services , we partnered with a group of students from UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School’s top-ranked CEMS Masters in International Management to co-create a set of authentic insights into what makes them tick.

In this podcast, Gate One’s Ruth Burns and Donal Flynn explore some of the most interesting insights that came out of the research, from a sense of urgency and immediacy, to content consumption habits and the apparent paradoxes that are present in living such online lives while also craving authenticity. They then take a look at how formative moments in our Gen Z students lives have helped shape these experiences and understandings.

Listen to the episode below or read the full transcript, and don’t forget to get the A to Gen Z framework now.

I’m Ruth, and I’m Donal, from Gate One, and we have delved into the world of Gen Z and plan to share insights on this generation. But more importantly, the so what of this for companies trying to reach these consumers.

Today, we’re going to focus on what we personally thought were their most interesting characteristics. We’ll also be sharing how we took a different approach from the norm and partnered with Gen Z to co create the insights together.

Donal Flynn

Yes, Ruth, for those who may be less familiar and just to put some context around this, when we’re talking about Gen Z, we mean those born between 1995 and 2012. I suppose Ruth, before we delve into sharing the specifics of how we approached the work and working directly with Gen Z, let’s talk about why there’s so much conversation about this generation, particularly right now.

Absolutely. There is a lot of chat about Gen Z at the moment, but I’m not personally convinced that the message has landed as to why they are so relevant. As many of us know, they are unique because they’re the first digitally native generation. In the way that other generations understand the before and after of technology, Gen Z was born with technology already a big part of their lives. The way one report described it was that their smartphone is their fifth limb, which I personally really enjoyed. Today’s technology is all this generation knows and that has huge implications for companies and organisations trying to capture their attention.

Donal Flynn

Another factor to consider, which might be news to a lot of people, is that they are already the biggest generation on the planet and have been in the workforce for some years now. So Gen Z are already contributing hugely to society with their talent and the skills they possess, but also as a key consumer group of goods and services.

Agreed. And ultimately why they are important is that they are particularly unique and these unique traits are more likely to be shared with all the generations to follow. So you can consider them to be kind of this mystical outlier or you can really future proof your services and your products by leaning in to their needs.

Donal Flynn

I think this is really apparent to us throughout the project, because we did partner with a group of Gen Z students to develop a framework with the key purpose of helping our clients really consider and adapt to the needs of this generation when developing products and services.

Completely, we were lucky enough to work alongside a group of really bright students completing their CEMs Masters in International Management. This came about from the Havas village Dublin’s partnership with UCD Smurfit school. CEMs is a global alliance of leading business schools. So the students were visiting Dublin from many different home universities across Germany, France, Brazil and Belgium.

Donal Flynn

Yeah, and given both of us are millennials Ruth, having them support this work really brought the research to life. For you, what were the most interesting insights that they shared?

I think for me it was the sense of urgency that working with them created, particularly when I think about our clients, I absolutely loved their resistance to being considered the future. I remember one of their presentations opening lines was, we’re not just the future, we are the present. So I suppose to your point around them already being in the workforce, the race is on for companies to adapt.

An existing report that people might be familiar with is Havas Media’s Not Dazed, Not Confused research on Gen Z that really first inspired this project at Gate One, but having the students voices in the room that really brought to life the insights and really validated the findings for us.

What about you? What did you find most interesting?

Donal Flynn

I personally love that quote about being the present, but from my perspective, maybe yours as well, Ruth, it hopefully means that we are not the past!

But in terms of what I took from it, definitely for me it was the findings themselves, so the key characteristics and complications of this so called now generation. I think when I’ve read previous reports in relation to the likes of Gen X and millennials, I probably struggled to connect with the tangible action, if that makes sense, or the so what. Whereas I think working with the students directly, it was so interesting just to hear and see those characteristics at play.

Particular highlights for me were the fact that they are digital natives, as you’ve touched on, and so much of their world exists online, yet at the same time they value authenticity and fact checking, which to me is counterintuitive, but at the same time it’s reality. So it’s these types of paradoxes which stood out. Also ESG being a key focus, yet how they consume content is namely videos, which has a much higher carbon footprint than other mediums. So it’s all of that combined, but what the students managed to do really well was distil this potential noise into actual insights.

I think a really key moment in the project for me was when this group presented something called formative moments and this provided great context and really understanding towards this generation and helped me form empathy towards, I suppose, the group and the broader generation.

Donal Flynn

Just on that, formative moments are key moments or milestones which shape a generation during their formative years. It’s moments or events like these which help inform a generation’s perspectives and aspirations in life.

For us millennials, it was the likes of the rise of the internet, social media, 9/11. For other generations, such as Gen X. It was the likes to fall of the Berlin Wall, the energy crisis, interest rates or the advent of the personal computer.

But for Gen Z, it’s COVID-19, it’s digital everything and it’s climate change, so every generation is different. And with that it does create different considerations for organisations in how they engage and also understand what’s most important to that specific generation.

But having those really interesting conversations with the group really helped me to put the findings into context and challenge my perceptions as well. So, for example, I was finding it hard to understand how a generation that lives online craves authenticity and transparency. That’s not my personal experience with, for example, social media, but when the students shared that WikiLeaks was a formative moment in their lives, that made so much more sense to me.

Of course they seek proof, they seek transparency, and it might even play into why they seek the visual content over written content. Trust in brands was a really strong recurring theme that the group really brought to life for me.

Donal Flynn

Yeah, and I think the other non-elephant in the room is COVID-19 and the impact that that two year plus period had on this generation in what were quite formative years for them.

As we’ve touched on already, Gen Z lived their lives primarily online, yet they also crave connection and community. I do wonder which is the chicken and the egg was, to use that tired analogy. But there’s no doubt that COVID probably amplified some of the already present characteristics of this generation.

So today, Ruth, we’ve introduced Gen Z, their characteristics, some contradictions and initial insights on what organisations should consider when seeking to understand them more. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing more in relation to the specifics of the framework, the actual insights which are most relevant and really how to apply these.

And you won’t just be hearing from myself and Ruth. The Gen Z team that partnered with us on this will be sharing what’s most important to them as well.

Get our A to Gen Z framework

Our A to Gen Z framework provides businesses with specific and actionable steps to effectively engage with this influential generation.

Read now