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Generation Z – Chasing Butterflies

Press Release - South Africa, 22 May 2018

by Marthinus Van Loggerenberg and Tuelo Lechuti, Hellocomputer Cape Town

The oldest of Generation Z (or iGen or Centennials) – that generation coming after the Millennials and before what some are already referring to as the Alpha Generation – are now 22 years of age. And, it seems this generation does not have it easy, despite technology making life increasingly more seamless, exciting and enjoyable. Being careful to avoid stereotyping, one can cautiously state that they have been born into a VUCA world, to cite the trendy acronym for ‘volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity’.

According to published research, Gen Z are realists, will smartly and strategically plan for survival, carefully navigate life’s pitfalls and maximise opportunity to live their life to the fullest. It also seems that this generation, the most global and diverse generation, upholds the values of family and society, and has a real concern for the environment.  Its members are known as the first ‘caring’ generation and find their strength in collaboration and design thinking to engineer better, more humane solutions in commerce and standard of living. Their characteristics or traits can be summarised in the schematic alongside.

In some ways Gen Z could be compared to a butterfly. Some are in a state of metamorphosis and some are already spreading their wings. On a more profound level, as they not only go through radical transformation but also radically transform the world that they affect, there are two key questions brand practitioners should be asking themselves:

  • How do we build brands and create technology that offer lucrative solutions and offer ingenious platforms that can live up to Gen Z’s vivacious and most pragmatic expectations?
  • How do we as brand practitioners attract these butterflies, that is, not chase them away or run around in circles trying to make sense of the phenomena that set them apart or make them unique?

This essay intends to assist them find the answers. It starts with the most prevalent futuristic-orientated enabler – technology – before unpacking commerce and taking a view on Gen Z’s take on the world and their place in it. Finally, it seeks to explore the ‘I’: their identity.

The observations and projections outlined in this discussion are a synthesis of the research published on mainly a global Gen Zers. The South African Gen Z is isolated in some global studies but opportunity does exist to conduct in-depth research based on potential trends identified in this discussion specific for the South African context.

  • Enable me - technology

Gen Z puts its faith in technology. Technological advancements make Gen Z hopeful for the future. Its members are part of a sharing economy and believe that social media and the web should be used for good. Most have also indicated that they would pay a premium for automation technologies, and the concept of ownership of these could become more questionable in future. This future holds high device-dependence, the expectation of information on demand, and a raised emotional connection with the digital world.

Technology will is also seen as emotionally significant, more intuitive and intelligent, and a facilitator and enabler.  This means the focus should be on tech’s ability to mimic human interaction and humanness in context of brand value and meaning. In addition, with a wealth of information easily accessible on the internet, many Gen Zs have learned how to create smartphone apps and websites, and have succeeded in marketing products of their labour to much larger, better equipped tech companies.

This means that brands and tech that can create long-tail solutions enabling them to explore, learn, create and find business partners in a fast, economically viable and innovation focused manner will gain ground. It also means brands will have to consider disrupting industries to make inroads. For example, good examples of brand using technology to disrupt and build are the free online education provider Coursera, ride-sharing app Uber and online marketplace and hospitality service Airbnb.

  • Engage me – Communication and Commerce

Gen Z communicates across different platforms, often simultaneously via multiple screens, expecting responsive design and customised settings to fit its preferences. Communication via images in whatever shape or form accompanied with short, concise descriptors and clear calls-to-action is the only way to capture the few seconds that is granted to someone that would want to connect with them. Bite-sized content delivered via compelling narrative is certainly welcomed. 

On social media, members of Gen Z use Instagram to showcase their aspirational selves, Snapchat to share real-life moments, Twitter to get the news, and Facebook for information. Connecting with Gen Z via email marketing is difficult without mastering the art of quick storytelling with a highly relevant value proposition. It is no surprise that Gen Z is very negative towards online advertising and rather gravitates towards entertainment that engages and provides some form of utility to their lives. However, brands should not throw traditional advertising out with the bathwater as it has a major role to play in captive environments such as cinemas.

In entertainment, immersive experiences enabled by virtual reality will open opportunities for brands to connect as opposed to simply breaking through the clutter. The top engagement tactics include entertainment that is generally humorous, features good music, design and celebrities. Brands that can create a community feeling with an open stance to value systems will maximise the brand’s ability to resonate. The ability for brands to sincerely tap into the stories of Gen Z will be the differentiator for success.

Work for Gen Zs is more about what they do, and less about where they do it. Brands and tech ought to continuously evolve to facilitate and enable seamless multiple geolocation-based working environments that can mimic all facets of real-world interaction. Industries are also evolving to create new careers where brands and tech permit fluidity and dynamism in both initial and continual development. Research has shown that Gen Z places a premium on really making a difference in the world, as opposed to joining the rat race on the self-gain treadmill. In a nutshell, Gen Zs would prefer a ‘portfolio living’ career. This is made up of working multiple part-time jobs with different employers that, when combined, would be the equivalent of a full-time position, but inevitably offers more flexibility, variety and freedom.

A portfolio living career would most likely become norm and brands that support Generation Z’s multi-faceted life with different income streams and lives the values of co-creation, authenticity and transparency will continue to meaningfully connect. Unlike their Millennial predecessors, Gen Z are savers. They tend to avoid mistakes made by previous generations, for instance, burdening themselves with massive student loans.

Many of them open bank accounts very early in life, either in their own name or as a joint account with their parents. Importantly, Gen Zers expect extraordinary security on their bank accounts. The opportunity for financial institutions is to reassure them, while creating highly customisable savings products. Social media is bound to become a major shopping channel as more Gen Zs expect innovative cross-platform solutions to simple, secure and accessible shopping. Gen Z is more than keen to share product reviews on social media, YouTube being the most popular social media platform. Gen Z shoppers also look forward to super-customisation in the form of subscription-type offerings and automatic replenishment. Gen Z would be most willing to pay for speedy delivery. Innovative technology options such as voice-activated ordering are just one of the possibilities that retailers can experiment with. 

  • Involve me – World View

Gen Z is being raised with the perception that health and wellness is about holistic balance: getting enough sleep, managing stress and their grades, building self-esteem and aiming for healthy socialising with family and friends. As a result, health and wellness benefits are set to play increasingly important roles in purchase decisions for Gen Zers. Fresh, natural or organic ingredients combined with sustainable packaging technology practices (in terms of affordability and ethics) will become mandatory product attributes. Exercise and maintaining a healthy lifestyle feature more prominently than with any other generation, so fitness apps and brands that provide fitness solutions will succeed. A healthy, balanced diet is top of mind for Gen Z and they would expect fresh and less processed distinctions in their choice of food. Finally, since Gen Z believes that all information is at their fingertips, be transparent with ingredients and product scoring.

Gen Z is not very positive about the future and generally believes the world is becoming a worse place to live in. Brands and tech ought to step up in creating a hope for humanity. Education is the primary source of hope, especially for Gen Z in developing countries. Enablement of education is pivotal. Brands, and especially brands that employ tech and are socially responsible and eco-friendly,  will gain the respect and wallet of Gen Z. Brands therefore ought to continually provide innovative environmental sustainability solutions and communicate it clearly but authentically to Gen Z, involving them in the process if possible.

Gen Z is very willing to spread the word about brands that meet their expectations. On the flip side, they’d also be willing to get involved in petitions or boycotting brands that exercise unhealthy brand principles. Content that garners more talk on about environmental issues and global warming, for example Louis XIII’s Cognac Pharrell Williams campaign (, will strike the right cord. Gen Z loves to travel with family members from multiple generations to connect or reconnect. They also look for alternative tourist destinations such as Iceland, Russia, Vietnam, and the Turkish and Caicos islands. Brands and tech should make provision for personalised travel experiences, deeper cultural immersion and travel experiences to be captured in a truly high definition way.

  • Understand me – I

Social media’s is still a pivotal factor when it comes to how Gen Zers feel about themselves because they are masters at shaping their personal brands online. Projects from income-generating hobbies will become increasingly important to Gen Z, and digital and tech solutions that enable exposure and the ability to easily generate revenue even more so. Investing time and love in family and friends is a priority for Gen Z. Gen Z seeks honesty, sincerity and loyalty in their friendships and embrace closed groups with regular interaction. Commoditised digital connectivity is a given with tech add-ons giving brands the ability to generate innovative revenue streams. Social media groups that can facilitate real-time, media-rich solutions in this space will continue to win.

Gen Z acknowledges that social media impacts their dating prospects, success and failures. But, compared to other generations, Gen Z is obsessed with privacy preferring closed groups. This obsession with privacy explains why Gen Z prefers receiving information digitally, as opposed to sharing it. This is why social mediums like Snapchat are popular; whatever is posted does not linger forever in space. The opportunity is for brands is to create tools and platforms for seamless shareability of not only everyday moments, but capturing and curating memories. Additionally, brands could educate Gen Zers on personal brand development and help them to contextualise themselves in both the digital and real world. However, the question must be asked, giving their status as digital natives and understanding the true nature of social media, could Gen Z start avoiding social media on a public scale to immerse themselves in selected circles?

  • In conclusion

Butterflies represent spiritual rebirth, creativity, change and endless potential. Butterflies like bright colours, and sunny, healthy gardens and are attracted to flowers that nurture them and can make them thrive. How do we as technology companies and brands energise them in the most relevant and authentic way? How can we as brand practitioners engineer a sound, diverse and intelligent world that engages them? We clearly need to construct a world that needs to change for the better, and Gen Z’s ingenuity will be focused on doing so and their support will be bespoken for those who shape such a world for them and with them. 


Notes to editor:

Basic differences between Gen Z and Millennials

Gen Z is future-focused, wants to make a difference and believes they can. Millennials are mostly focused on the present and are making differences to the world in every way. Millennials pioneered many of the digital communication tools we use today and prefer using it in interaction, similarly so in the workplace. Gen Z prefers face-to-face communication and would probably aim to strike a balance between online and offline communication. Gen Z also shows interest in stepping into multiple roles relevant to a certain discipline where Millennials, especially in the workplace, aim to progress hierarchically relatively quickly.

When it comes to multi-tasking, Gen Z take the reins as five screens at once is not enough whereas Millennials would still be content to settle for two. Millennials were pioneers in the information age and were part of the rise of technology and digital communication. Gen Z was born into a progressive digital age where omnipresent connectivity, highly-curated global information, on-demand ‘everything’ and being in-the-know shaped their world view and behaviour.

With information readily to hand, very little is sacred. Perhaps it’s exactly why Gen Z is going to be a somewhat mature and responsible generation: they have had the opportunity to observe the world in its current form, assess its dynamic against their value system, and to take action to change it for the better in context of an evolved freedom of individual expression. It can also be reasoned that Gen Z may be better at making decisions given their access to information and exposure to positive influencers in almost every discipline.

About Marthinus van Loggereneberg

Marthinus van Loggerenberg heads up strategy at Hellocomputer Cape Town. Following an MBA received cum laude he graduated with a PhD in Business Management and Administration: Brand Strategy at the University of Stellenbosch. He is a published academic and writer. Prior employers include Foote, Cone & Belding, Musica and the Vega School of Brand Leadership, among others. He specialises in brand narrative, branded entertainment, word-of-mouth marketing, brand identity design and trend forecasting.

About Tuelo Ignicious Lechuti

Tuelo Ignicious Lechuti is a Junior Strategist at Hellocomputer Cape Town. He graduated with a National Diploma in Business Management: Marketing, at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. Prior to employment at Hellocomputer, he started off at FCB Cape Town working on brands such as Engen, Corner Bakery, Western Cape Government, Amarula and Savanna Premium Cider. He specialises in brand planning, marketing research, creative strategy, and Google Search & Analytics.