by Anders Jeppsson

When everything you will ever need to know is just a click or two away, when being connected to the entire world has been part of your life since you left the womb, how can you not look at the world in a fundamentally different way than anyone who came before you?

While almost everyone in the developed world is affected by and benefits from today’s connected world, it is Gen Z, everyone born after 1995, who has not ever experienced anything else. Almost 26% of the US population today belongs to Gen Z and over 40% spends more than 3h per day on their devices.

It might have been a previous generation that invented the Internet, tablets, and social networks, but Gen Z is the first generation born with it and not having experienced anything else.

Is a magazine an iPad that doesn’t work?

If, like the viral video showed, a magazine is thought of as a broken iPad by a young child, how is a toy like Barbie perceived compared to next generation Siri-fied dolls such as My Friend Cayla – toys that not only answer question on a variety of subjects, but also play games and tell you stories?

Traditional product design and branding can no longer afford to ignore the relevance and impact of Gen Z. This means more than simply evolving the way we do our digital work – it means IP and branding strategy needs to be, sometimes fundamentally, reconsidered when designing the related products, even compared to what we learned from Millennials.

How did this all come to be in a mere 20 years?

With its origin in the 1960’s, it wasn’t until the mid 1990’s the Internet started to rapidly expand from 44 million connected users to almost 3 billion by the end of 2014. (http://www.internetlivestats.com/internet-users/). This has created a digital content flow with a globally connected and aware audience. 50% of those connected live in Asia, 10% in Africa and 40% in NA/Europe.

The very fabric of the Internet, with its hyperlinks, instantly updatable content, complete openness and global reach, has inadvertently guided how every piece of information is now structured and consumed. This has undoubtedly shaped Gen Z in how they are thinking and learning compared to previous generations.

The modern world is subjective, personal and rich, and it’s expanding faster and faster in all directions.

Traditional media and product companies are trying to protect their market shares by acting in a protectionist fashion, refusing to acknowledge how their products are now viewed or consumed. Many are losing ground as they fail to create and communicate a relevant perceived value, all while they see their customer bases dwindle away.

Learning

With infinite inspiration and exposure to quality content and free tools to help kids create their own, the methods of knowledge-sharing and learning that Gen Z is employing are evolving rapidly.

New and completely free resources that fit Gen Z’s way of understanding, learning and viewing the world are available through services such as Google Drive, YouTube, Instagram, App Stores, Tumblr, SoundCloud, Skype and Spotify.

These bite-sized, cross-pollinating information services and concepts mash into a broader understanding, fuelled by SASS, (short attention span syndrome). SASS as a phenomenon is expressed in extremely short session experiences, such as watching a YouTube video, playing specific music tracks instead of the whole album, reading a blog post, or in games such as Flappy Bird, Skyward and Crossy Road. Reward mechanisms and concepts are spaced out evenly and at short intervals that can be interrupted at any time. Bigger experiences have to be tailored and optimized around the smaller, not necessarily vice versa any more.

It’s not just you self-diagnosing; even medical students and doctors look for relevant information using Google Search. Are you looking to learn to play the Piano or the Guitar? YouTube has millions of videos with amateurs and professionals teaching everything from how to tune your guitar to basic harmony to nailing that Jimi Hendrix solo. Two minutes at a time.

Being inspired by an ocean of content, and with the advent of sophisticated open source tools like the Unity3D game engine and complete professional grade DAW’s (digital audio workstation) for 200 USD, re-mixing has become a much more accepted way of exploring new thoughts and ideas, be they literal, visual, auditory or even interactive.

What does this mean for traditional brands and businesses?

With an audience with increasingly high expectations and an infinite amount of distractions, products must be made relevant to the consumer in new ways. When traditional media generally has viewers in single digit millions, many social media and YouTube channels are watched by hundreds of millions to even billions of people.

BuildingExperiences1-webGen Z prefer to use up to 5 screens when multitasking, create things, have an average attention span of 8 seconds and prefer visual communication. Compare this to Millennials who prefer using text, 2 screens and to share rather than create a radically different product strategy is needed. (source: Meet Generation Z: Forget Everything You Learned About Millennials by Sparks & Honey)

Mechanics and strategies mainly explored by game developers to quickly engage players provide well defined bursts of excitement and reengagement that are worth studying even outside of gaming.

A typical social engagement loop that is being implemented in everything from websites to apps to online video: Clear progress/reward -> Motivating Emotion -> Social Component -> Player Re-engagement, and back to the beginning. This kind of loop has been proving extremely powerful in age groups from children to the elderly.

Other strategies to explore might be found in areas such as digital amplification of a traditional physical experience or by socially enabling “free play” sharing and remixing of the experience. Toys and brands that have been successful so far using strategies such as these include LEGO, Show Glow Elsa from JAKKS Pacific and Vivid’s My Friend Cayla doll – and Boomer the robotic dinosaur from Spin Master.

Brands will have to provide, but also allow, relevant experiences and interactions with their brand properties in ways that at first might be alien to them. Those that don’t will find it difficult to survive the next couple of decades.