What Makes Gen Z Click: 5 Defining Differences Between Gen Z and Millennials

Carnegie Higher Ed May 01, 2019 Carnegie Higher Ed Persona The Visionary Frontrunner

Gen Z represents an age range spanning from teens to young adults, born from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s. At face value, this sounds very similar to their millennial friends, but this new generation has some key identifying features that will force college marketers and admission staff to adapt—quickly. Most notably, Gen Z has been brought up in an entirely digital world—smartphones in hand, addicted to tech and social media. As we consider Gen Z vs. millennials, here are a few distinguishing differences marketers must pay attention to as Gen Z heads to college.

The mobile-only generation

Gen Zers were exposed to smartphones and tablet-like devices basically since birth. This generation has been babysat by devices in living rooms, car rides, and restaurants since the moment they could hold it in their hands. They also got their own devices at a much earlier age—receiving a cell phone by age 12 on average, vs. millennials who received them at 16 or older. This makes Gen Z not just a “mobile-first” generation, but “mobile only.” They are comfortable doing everything on their phones, even things like applications. So if your website is not responsive and mobile friendly, you are likely to be bypassed by many Gen Z prospects.

Gen Z is competitive

Other distinguishing characteristics of this new cohort are their grit, determination, and desire to win. Unlike their millennial counterparts, Gen Z believes there are winners and losers, and they do not come from the “everyone gets a trophy” generation. They are fiercely competitive and will outcompete their classmates with a “whatever it takes” attitude to get what they want—including acceptance at your university.

Realistic to a fault

This generation worries about things like the affordability of college and the overall value of a university education. Some Gen Zers may not value higher education as much as their older peers did. They’re taking a hard look at the “ROI” of a degree and what it means for them. This means as higher education marketers, we must be sure to clearly showcase outcomes, job placements, and potential salaries by degree.

Social media habits

Fifty-one percent of Gen Z reports using social media constantly, and it has truly become something that defines this generation. Social media is no longer just a way to keep up with their friends but has become their social currency. Gen Z’s social media presence has a direct impact on how they feel about themselves, often dictated by the number of followers, likes, comments, and shares they receive. And while millennials use social media to show a perfect world and what took place in the past, Gen Z is using social media to show what’s happening now, real time, with less concern about posting the perfect picture.

Teens have ditched email and are even moving away from texting, preferring to communicate via Snapchat or on social media messaging apps like WhatsApp and Direct Messaging on Instagram. So let’s stop flooding their inboxes and mailboxes. If you want to capture their attention, be present where they are: on social media.

Gen X parents

Finally, let’s not forget Gen Z’s parents. Gen X parenting is vastly different from the baby boomers who raised the millennial generation. Boomer parents were notorious for their helicopter style, being overly involved in their children’s lives, while Gen X parents are quite the opposite, perhaps to a fault. Gen X grew up latchkey, independent, skeptical, and a bit rebellious, which has translated into a very different parenting style. Everyone from your campus tour guides to your admission counselors should be forewarned: expect tough questions and an unfiltered communication style from these parents. And while they may not hover like parents of the past, make no mistake they still want the most out of a college education for their child, and they’re not afraid to let you know exactly what they think!

Gen Z vs. millennial: Is your marketing ready for the shift?

Generation Z is headed to college. They grew up in a different world, have new expectations, and demand different things from higher education. In order for marketing and admission teams to find success with this new generation, understanding and adapting communication styles to their high-tech needs are crucial. As you’re assessing your marketing strategies for the coming year, ask yourself, Generation Z or millennial: which generation are you talking to?

Never miss an update.