When developing content, campaigns and ideas, I spend a lot of my time thinking about audience personas, and specifically, where to find overlapping values. Rarely do I worry about “traditional” demographics, like gender or age or income level.
Instead, I like exploring what those demographic categories can lead to on a human level. Because sometimes, the values of a 35-year-old woman in New Brunswick and an 85-year-old man in BC overlap. And that makes my job so much fun, because then I get to think about what we can create that might reach and motivate both of them.
But, some of my current work has me thinking about a specific generation, a specific demographic—Gen Z—in a lot more detail. It’s been a fascinating process. Professional warning: Trying to understand today’s teens makes one feel about a jillion years old, and Googling “brands teens like” enough times will make you age ten years.
In my research, one of the things I keep coming across are a huge number of perspectives on how today’s generations are different, especially when it comes to work. Gen Z may not be entering the workforce in droves just yet, but I’m sure you’re familiar with the multitude of perspectives on millennials and Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers all trying to work together. Us millennials want flexible work hours, driving the poor Baby Boomers crazy. Baby Boomers are categorized as focused and driven, but Gen X’ers call them “workaholics”. Articles and charts and graphics keep telling me how different we all are.
If we’re examining the workplace specifically, there’s a lot of commonalities between generations when it comes to values. According to the American Management Association, the similarities are striking—everyone wants to learn and hear feedback, to be respected, and to trust their leaders. Our values just aren’t that different, and humans can’t be so easily categorized.
Society and culture can certainly impact a generation’s collective consciousness—take the #MeToo movement or the March for our Lives as an example of our growing dedication to social activism and gender equality for instance—but we all know that the year we’re born is never the only thing that forms our character. If it were, my horoscope would be a lot more accurate.
Predicting my future aside, what actually concerns me is that this preoccupation with the generational divide naturally makes us focus on what makes us all different. What separates us, rather than what connects us.
And if I’m trying to come up with a creative way to solve a client’s problem, it’s the interesting connections that often lead to the best ideas. What are the values that two people share, even if they appear to have nothing in common?
There are some amazing examples of brands leading with this principle. Take Heineken’s Open Your World campaign. Or last year’s AirBNB We Accept spot. Or Denmark’s TV2 commercial All That We Share.
Even if our commonalities aren’t the primary focus of a communications effort, it’s a principle that can be brought into anything we do to expand thinking or explore new opportunities. Whatever your focus, stop for a second and ask yourself—what does my audience really care about? What motivates them on a human level? And, who else shares that value?
Nerding out about bees isn’t just for hipster millennials really into urban homesteads (it’s a thing, I swear). Retired teachers looking for new and exciting hobbies might be into those bees as well. (I mean, who isn’t?) And knowing that both those groups could be natural nurturers, dedicated to being outside in nature, could inspire a creative new video execution, build bridges to new influencers, highlight an earned media opportunity, or just put a different spin on a problem you’re trying to solve.
So while those Gen Z kids may somehow have the secret power to make me feel both old and like a terrified teenager again (it’s a bizarre combination, let me tell you), I’m pretty sure we aren’t that different after all.
It’s what we care about that counts.
Every brand should be able to stand for something. Something that aligns with what your audience cares about too. It’s that intersection that’s interesting, and where great work comes from.
To get an insanely long list of articles about Gen Z, turn audience understanding into cool ideas, or just lament the never-ending progress of time, reach out to our Content Marketing experts.
Senior Creative Strategist, National