Gen Z ushers in a new digital paradigm, resetting expectations for brand experiences

by | Aug 5, 2020 | Public Relations

The digital-native Generation Z segment has new expectations for the web—and as a result, is putting new demands on brands and businesses in the age of COVID, according to new research from WordPress digital experience platform WP Engine. The companies who will succeed in this new world are those who have reimagined activities that were typically done in the physical world as digital experiences.

The new international study of Gen Z, conducted by the Center for Generational Kinetics, reveals new expectations for the web by Generation Z in comparison to other generations including Millennials, Gen X, and Baby Boomers. Gen Z is the most Internet-dependent generation and is firmly at the vanguard of technology use across all generations—and these ties to digital reveal insights for brands on how to reach this important audience.

Gen Z ushers in a new digital paradigm, resetting expectations for brand experiences

Why studying Gen Z matters

2020 has taught us the stark importance of the digital world. Billions of people went online to work, study, and merely to stay in touch during the COVID-19 pandemic. After years of knowing they needed to adopt digital transformation strategies, the pandemic has forced organizations to not only accelerate those plans but put them into immediate action.

For many consumers, new digital experiences, from home workouts to order-ahead grocery pickups, have often proved more enjoyable and more convenient than those offline. But for Gen Z, this is nothing new—they’ve never drawn a distinction between the physical and the digital world. For them, whether online or offline, the critical element is that you can seamlessly move between each. They’re leading this shift in consumer behavior with their digital fluency and articulating nothing less than a new paradigm for digital experiences.

Gen Z ushers in a new digital paradigm, resetting expectations for brand experiences

“Gen Z are digital pioneers in that they charted the path for the rest of the world to go fully digital, and marketers ignore that path at their own peril,” said Mary Ellen Dugan, chief marketing officer for WP Engine, in a news release. “The pandemic caused a profound change in the way we do everything, from shopping to eating to engaging with friends and family. Gen Z was already comfortable in that new paradigm, so if you meet the digital needs of Gen Z, you’re ahead of the rest of the world.”

Gen Z’s identity is inextricably tied to digital

Gen Z’s identity and digital are inextricably linked, blending the physical and digital worlds as never before. They are far more likely than other generations to believe in the positive impact of technology on the world: 64 percent think artificial intelligence will have a positive impact and 66 percent believe the Internet will bring us closer together. In fact, when asked which value, quality, or attribute is most important to your generation, Gen Z rated tech-savviness (19 percent) almost as highly as freedom (22 percent).

Gen Z ushers in a new digital paradigm, resetting expectations for brand experiences

What are some characteristics of Gen Z?

  • Web or die. 58 percent of Gen Z can’t go more than 4 hours without Internet access before they become uncomfortable.
  • In the Internet we trust. In 5 years, 64 percent of Gen Z thinks the Internet will determine what they will do on a daily basis.
  • Byte-pal. 56 percent of Gen Z is friends with someone they ONLY know online.

“Gen Zers are a huge, diverse generation and the fastest growing group of employees, customers, and voters,” said Jason Dorsey, president at the Center for Generational Kinetics, in the release. “As we’ve seen over the past three studies, this generation thinks and acts VERY differently. Their connectedness, their ability to navigate change quickly and their desire to have a positive impact on the world are all reflected in their higher expectations of technology and organizations.”

Connecting with Gen Z: be fun, be authentic, be good

When it comes to establishing trust in a brand, the top three factors for Gen Z are quality of a product, positive online ratings/reviews and customer service. Gen Z has grown up in an era of personalization based on their experiences with social media and these expectations extend to their preferences in shopping. In fact, far more than other generations, 75 percent of Gen Z is more likely to buy a product if they can customize it.

Gen Z ushers in a new digital paradigm, resetting expectations for brand experiences

What does Gen Z expect from brands?

  • Be fun. 65 percent of Gen Z goes to the Internet for access to entertainment
  • Be authentic. 82 percent of Gen Z trusts a company more if the images they use in their ads are of actual customers
  • Be good. 72 percent of Gen Z is more likely to buy from a company that contributes to social causes

Resetting digital experience expectations

Raised on social media, Gen Z expects the broader digital world to know what their likes, wants and interests are. They see this as minimizing some of the daily decisions they have to make so they can focus on the more important topics. And, as we’ve seen in past studies, this is a generation of pragmatists, self-starters and entrepreneurs, so if it doesn’t exist, Gen Z will build it.

Gen Z ushers in a new digital paradigm, resetting expectations for brand experiences

A higher percentage of Gen Z (62 percent), more than any other generation, plans to start or possibly start their own business sometime in the future. Additionally, reflecting their preference for all things digital, 62 percent of those Gen Zers said they would start their business online.

What does Gen Z expect from digital experiences?

  • Get to know me. 66 percent believe that all websites will “talk” to each other, so every site/app/appliance will present a personalized experience
  • Smart.com. 70 percent believe websites will know what you are looking for before you tell it
  • Press ahead. 66 percent of Gen Z has personally used, worked with someone else, or hired someone to use WordPress for a website

Gen Z ushers in a new digital paradigm, resetting expectations for brand experiences

Read the full report and download the ebook here.

A custom 30-question Gen Z survey was designed collaboratively by WP Engine and The Center for Generational Kinetics and conducted in the U.S., Western Europe and Australia. In the U.S., the Gen Z Study was administered to 1,252 U.S. respondents ages 14-59 including a 250-person oversample of Gen Z (ages 14-23). The sample was weighted to the U.S. Census for age, region, gender, and ethnicity. Survey was conducted online from September 19, 2019 to October 1, 2019. Figures are statistically significant at the 95% confidence level. Margin of error is +/-3.1 percentage points.

Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter


AI and the Future of Media: Q&A with Tech Unmasker Pete Pachal

AI and the Future of Media: Q&A with Tech Unmasker Pete Pachal

Way back in 2017, I predicted in a VentureBeat guest post that PR people will be getting superpowers in a single year.  Unfortunately, I was off by about seven years. Regardless, it’s here now, and it’s far bigger than I imagined. The influence of AI on journalism...