iHeart Radio Interview with Sarah Weise: A Rundown of Gen Z Consumer Behavior

This iHeartRadio radio interview with me, Sarah Weise, hosted by Jeff St. Pierre will air this Sunday on 93.1 WPOC, 104.3 WZFT and 102.7 Jack FM in Baltimore.

Because you are my favorite readers, you get a sneak peek!

Transcript

Jeff St. Pierre:

I feel pretty good about this week's edition of Maryland Today. Good morning. My name is Jeff St. Pierre. Today I've got the pleasure of speaking with Sarah Weiss. She's the author of the new book, InstaBrain: The New Rules for Marketing to Generation Z. If you've listened to this show before, then you know that we usually have to 15-ish minute segments each Sunday morning. My interview was Sarah started out that way. But as the conversation kept going, I kept rolling the tape, what we ended up with was about 30 minutes of really important information for anyone trying to reach people classified as Generation Z. This book was initially written for marketers and companies, but there's a lot of benefits for teachers and parents as well in here. I think it's a really fantastic piece of work. So let's go ahead and dive right into my conversation with Sarah Weise. I Joining me today is Sarah Weise, the author of InstaBrain: The New rules for Marketing to Generation Z. Sarah, first of all, thank you so much for sharing some of your day and talking about your book with me.

Sarah Weise:

Thanks for having me.

Jeff St. Pierre:

So why don't you start by telling us a little bit about who you are? What do you do?

Sarah Weise:

I run a marketing research company called Bixa. And over the past couple years, much of my research has been on this new generation, Generation Z, who is about 13 to 25 today. So they're younger than Millennials. I've partnered with a number of big name companies to find out what makes this generation tick. And over the past couple years, I've been involved in a number of studies ranging from quantitative studies like large scale, big number driven studies to qualitative studies, where we've conducted hundreds of interviews gone into homes and schools and hangout spots. Basically, I've been hanging out with teams for the past couple years. And out of that, I've been able to author a book called InstaBrain: The New Rules for Marketing to Generation Z. It's a number one bestseller right now. And I've been also been asked to keynote at a number of large conferences and corporate events to teach companies how to engage and connect with this new generation.

Jeff St. Pierre:

So Sarah, why is this generation, why is this group so important for people right now? Because you said, What, 13-25 years old, that seems kind of on the low end of where most companies will be thinking about advertising and marketing.

Sarah Weise:

A lot of companies ask me, "Hey, we've been doing a ton of millennial research over the past five years, this younger Gen Z consumer, they're digital natives, too? Aren't they pretty much the same consumer?" And the answer is no, they're not the same at all. And if you want to engage and connect with this new type of consumer, you have to understand them because they're researching and shopping and learning so much differently than kids even a few years older. And on top of that, to answer your question, they make up a huge portion of today's consumers, even though they're young. So this is the largest living generation right now. And this group of teens and young 20, somethings represent $44 billion in direct buying power. I mean, just wait until they get jobs, right?! That number doesn't even include what parents and caregivers spend on them. So if you add that in, we're up to $255 billion. And on top of that, 93% of parents say that their children influenced their household spending. So when you add in all the purchases that are influenced by Gen Z as well, we're talking $655 billion. To put that in perspective, out of every five consumers in the US, two are Gen Z.


Jeff St. Pierre:

Wow. That is kind of awakening.

Sarah Weise:

Yes! And what's really amazing is that marketers today have focused so much on Millennial marketing, that they're missing out on a gigantic potential to engage with an increasing number of consumers.

Jeff St. Pierre:

So, I think for a lot of people, and I want to skip ahead just for a second here because you were talking about the comparison between Gen Z and Millennial, I think there's a lot of people that look at anybody from 30 and younger as just being Millennial. They don't necessarily realize there's more multiple generations in play here. So, can you kind of distinguish a little bit of the difference between Gen Z and Millennial for us? I know it's a big thing but if you could just do a little bit then that'd be great.

 

Sarah: 

Yeah, absolutely. So, Gen Z and Millennials, they act differently because they were raised so differently. There's a few generational differences that are in play here. One of the main ones is that there was a really big shift in parenting that happened. Millennials, when you think about the parenting styles, they're kind of we think of helicopter parents, right, where helicopter parents kept Millennial kind of tethered to them. But for Gen Z, parents weren’t like that. I mean, we call this new parenting style tech parenting. These parents taught their kids how to find information. They didn't do it for them, they taught them how to find it using digital tools. But at the same time, they warned them about the risks, and I say that lightly. They terrified them about the risks of online predators, identity theft. So, as a result, this is the generation who's a lot more risk averse as well. If millennials are sort of the oversharing generation, this generation is one of painstaking curation. On top of that, they're self-starters and they're hungry for work, this Generation Z. So unlike Millennials, who were raised in a boom, Gen Z was born after 9/11. They have been raised in times of war and recession. They have witnessed their parents lose jobs and take pay cuts, and that impacted them. Gen Z is hungry for work. 61% want to start their own businesses. They highly respect anyone who is in business for themselves, anyone who is a paid and sponsored influencer on social media. They are really interested in making money. On top of that, we've got unprecedented diversity. They won't remember a time before a black president, female presidential candidates, gay marriage in most states. There's also this growing surge in interracial marriages. There was one researcher who documented all the different family structures. We've got parents with two parents with one kid, we've got maybe same sex parents with two kids, we've got a divorced couple, who then has two different family splits, all these different structures. There were 10,000 different family structures in this generation. It is unbelievable. All the diversity in terms of race, gender, sexual orientation, family structure, it's a huge diversity. 1 in 3 of the Generation Z individuals, they know someone who uses a gender neutral pronouns, which is very different than past generations. So, we've got this shift in parenting, we've got the way they were raised in a recession in times of war, the hunger for work, the self-starter mentality, and then we've got this unprecedented diversity. On top of that, they have been bombarded with visual input all their lives. And as a result, they have a shorter attention span, but they have this uncanny ability to multitask. And I say multitasking lightly because that's not really a thing, we just flex our attention between different screens. Millennials could juggle three screens at once, they could focus on three different things happening at once, and they had about a 12-second attention span. Gen Z can juggle five screens at once. That means they can be playing a video game, reading a Reddit thread about the video game, FaceTiming one group of friends, talking to another group of friends on their headset, and also texting at the same time, and they can keep it all straight. They can keep everything straight in their short-term memory.

 

Jeff: 

It's insane how much they can accomplish. I do think it's kind of interesting hearing the way you describe Millennials and Generation Z. And I've kind of had this thought over the years that there's a lot of similarities, as much as they would hate me to say this, there's a lot of similarities I feel between Baby Boomers and Millennials. And the way you talk about Gen Z, I almost feel like there's a lot of similarities between Gen Z and Gen X. And it's kind of interesting how they're kind of separated by each other sort of.

 

Sarah: 

Yes. There are. And you know what? This generation is also living in helpful multigenerational households more often and they tend to associate more with their grandparents than with their parents necessarily. So, that's also an influence. They hang out with their grandparents a lot more because they're living in the same home.

 

Jeff: 

Yeah, that's really interesting. So Sarah, before we dive into the book a little bit more here, how did you do this research? How did you come to get all the answers that you got in this book, InstaBrain?

 

Sarah: 

It's really based on just hanging out with teenagers. We did quantitative studies as well, where we studied teenagers. We studied young teenagers, we studied kind of the older teenagers, we studied young 20 somethings, we also had some groups that were older in age. We had a Millennial group and then we had a Gen X group, so we could use them as comparisons. And we did diary studies, we did a lot of diary studies, we had something like 30,000 bits of data that we ended up going through, and really analyzing the differences between the different generations. We also did a lot of ethnography and in-person interviews, we did virtual interviews as well, but we did hundreds of interviews in homes, where we really got to see the environment. We saw all the screens, we saw where they're playing video games, and talking to people and how they're communicating, and where they're hanging out, we went into schools, and we've done work with some state boards of education, and we've been going into schools and actually looking at how they're interacting and how they're communicating, and how they're learning differently, too.

 

Jeff: 

So, reading through your book, I found myself so many times just cringing because I could see and hear so many things that I know that my company does and I'm just like, "Oh my gosh. This is just pushing away the younger audience with every second of the day." Do you find that people who have read the book so far and really take it the advice? What are you seeing as a reaction from this book so far?

 

Sarah: 

I'm seeing a lot of schools and educational organizations reading this book and taking another look at how they're teaching, how they're educating. That was really interesting. It's been like summer reading at schools for teachers, that was fascinating, because when I wrote the book, I didn't intend it to be for schools and teachers. I guess it makes sense now in retrospect, but I wasn't thinking in terms of disrupting education. [laughter] But that's one of the unexpected results out of publishing this book.

 

Jeff: 

So, one thing that you talked about in the book is branding. And if there's one thing that I've heard within my company and other radio stations that I've spoken with is that they feel like that, let's say the 35 to 55 age range, which is so coveted by people in my business, they feel like they've got them on lockdown. There's tons of brand loyalty, they're not going anywhere. They know the radio station, they know the personalities, they know exactly what we want them to know. But it's the younger than that range, Millennials and into Gen Z, that they feel like they find no brand loyalty with them. They feel like there's nothing there. But in your book, you talked about how that group Gen Z has a lot of loyalty they want to give to a brand, but they're just a little bit more selective about how they do it.

 

Sarah: 

Yeah. They really crave off the authenticity. And brand loyalty is harder than ever to capture for this generation. But if you are doing the right things as a business, in terms of marketing with people over brands or telling stories in this snackable bite-size visual format, if you stand for something, Gen Z is going to relate to you a lot more.

 

Jeff: 

And you say in the book, too, it's a simple statement but it seems so profound, "Your current actions create your future." And that's one thing that we keep looking at. Like I said, the 35 to 54 year old range, we've got them, we're set, they still listen to the radio driving into the morning, they still interact with us on Facebook. But you know, those people are going to get older and we've got a younger group coming in. So, how do we get our future on track here? How do we keep them wanting to come back to us? And that's been a big discussion that we've been trying to figure out and I feel like there's so many answers here in your book as to what we should really be focusing on right now.

 

Yeah. If you want to talk about a few kind of overarching themes that we've discovered about this generation, we can dive into that. The first one I would say is that this generation more so than any generation in the past are natural learners, they love to learn and it's a feel-good past time. So, we find that when they are learning something, let's say they're watching hours and hours of YouTube tutorials on autoplay at night, which is pretty accurate, it's an average of three hours of YouTube a day, but when they're doing that, they feel good afterwards. They're like, "Yeah! I learned something new." I mean, it's not necessarily something academic, it could be, you know, you figured out how to do James Charles' eyebrow or rainbow eyes, or do your eyebrows, or how to bake brownies, or how to get past a certain level in a video game. But whatever it is, Gen Z is constantly learning and they're feeling good about doing that. And we see that if they watch say three hours of Netflix, after that, they'll feel guilty. So it's not the same feeling after that happens. So, learning is this feel-good past time, whereas doing something that's just sort of edging out if not.

 

Yeah, you dived into that a bit with one of the teenagers that you spoke with. I believe he was a teenager, Cabe, where you were you start talking about music and he immediately like picked up his guitar, went on to YouTube, went on to Spotify, went to everything and learned everything about a specific artist that he found through, I want to say was like an Amazon Echo or something, that he discovered this artist. And it's fascinating to me to think that that's how fast it turned. I think we've all been around a dinner table and someone's like, "What movie was that guy in? What is that movie? I can't picture." and we immediately pull out our phones, we look up IMDb, and we find out that movie. But this kid, Cabe, was like really looking to learn everything.

 

Sarah: 

Yeah, they're not stopping there. What happens is that they make these snap judgments about what they're interested in and once they decide that they've been inspired by something and they want to learn about something, they have this superpower that enables them to hyper focus on whatever it is they're learning about for hours on end. We talked about these lower attention spans. The fact that attention spans have shrunk from 12 seconds to eight seconds between Gen Y and Gen Z between Millennials and Gen Z. But at the moment, once a Gen Z decides that they're interested in a story or a person or a topic, they really block out all distractions and dive deeply into it, searching for every shred of information they can find. But you have to spark that initial inspiration, you have to spark attention to be noticed.

 

Jeff: 

So, I'm going to ask you a loaded question. By the way, we're speaking with Sarah Weise, the author of InstaBrain: The New Rules for Marketing to Generation Z. Sarah, I'm going to ask you a loaded question here and you're not going to have a full answer for it or you're going to have way more than we have time for. And I also want people to check out your book, so you don't have to give away all of your secrets. But how do we grab that attention? How do we get into the vision of a Gen Z person? And how do we get them to want to learn everything about us?

 

Sarah: 

Yeah. Unlike Millennials who are loyal to brands, Gen Z is loyal to people. They follow people, they want to know every shred of information about their lives, they want to know about what they ate for breakfast, they want to know that their favorite influencer doesn't like ranch dressing, they want to know all the nitty gritty details about these people. And by connecting with real authentic stories, videos, pictures, slice of lifestyle things, they can really do that. They can really form an attachment. So, they're not forming an attachment to your brand, they're forming an attachment to your brand ambassador or the influencer you're working with. So, it's a little shift in your marketing strategy.

 

Jeff: 

Now that you mentioned influencers, I'm sure you've been following along with this as this news came out after you published your book, but the talk about Instagram getting rid of likes, that is having an impact on what ambassadors and influencers are going to have to deal with. Did you see any major impact on this happening?

 

Sarah: 

I think it's interesting. I think we have to wait and see what happens there. But what's interesting is that these content creators are making this amazing content all the time, but it's being pushed down their feed because the fees are all chronological and a lot of times its lost forever. So, I think what Instagram is trying to do in this odd way is resurface some of the older evergreen content. So, I think because some of the content is not in chronological order, I believe that's part of it, the likes are going away and some of the stuff is not chronologically presented, then I think some of the evergreen content is going to start resurfacing, which might actually be better for the content creators. I mean, I understand that people are freaking out right now, but I think we just have to wait and see. Social media is always evolving and if they don't make these big steps and try things and potentially fail, we're not going to know if they work. This could be the next evolution to social media and increase engagement for us. Who knows.

 

Jeff: 

So, as a company or as a marketer, you're looking about how you're going to get that Gen Z person to come in here. You obviously are realizing now that it's a major population, a major group of the population here that's going to influence spending in so many different ways. So, where do we take it from here? Like, let's look at me for an example. Let's see what your thought is. I work for a radio station, we generally appeal more to that 35 to 54 age range, and we have people in all audiences because we're a music station, so people tuned in to hear their favorite style of music. But if you had a piece of advice for us, what would you say would be a good idea for us to try to reach that younger generation?

 

Sarah: 

One thing you can think about is that for this generation, stories sell. They love hearing stories and they want them in bite-size ways. They want kind of snackable content. And on radio, what you could do potentially is have these little mini stories or little authentic true stories, of course, because authenticity is very big for this brand. Slice of life stories are big, something like that, you've got a platform as a radio station.

 

Jeff: 

I also love when we have meetings in our office and my boss is always like, "Hey. We got to push all this stuff out in a Facebook." and I'm like, "Really? Is that where we want to go?"

 

Sarah: 

[laughter] Actually, when we asked this generation about how they feel or what they associate with the different social media group, Gen Z is very able to articulate the distinction between when to use each social app and where to post, and look for different types of content. So, I can run through them really quick. Instagram is for sort of the slice of life and content that they like, the snackable content, and for random inspiration. Pinterest is for specific inspiration. So, if I want to know cake decorating and I want inspiration about that specific topic, you'd have to go to Pinterest versus Instagram. Twitter is for professional announcements. Google is for homework and looking up very specific queries. YouTube is for learning something, tutorial videos. Snapchat is for behind the scenes kind of things. Oh, and as a radio station, you can totally use Snapchat to propel your brands there, sort of doing the behind the scenes type of videos and photos. Snapchat is also for communicating with their friends about random things, like random funny things. Text messaging is for communicating about more time sensitive or urgent thing. And Facebook, it's really sweet, it's for parents or it's for communicating with siblings, older siblings. I'll hear Gen Z say, "Oh, yeah. I have a Facebook account just because I want to share a video with my older sister, that's where I share it."

 

Jeff: 

Yeah. It makes perfect sense and it was really interesting in your book reading about all that. I'm glad you went down that list because one of the things you talk about in the book is about the different groups that make it really easy for you to make a post that will send across all your platforms at the same time but that's not what Gen Z is looking for. Because each social media platform they go to, they're expecting something different. So, if we just have like one post of Carrie Underwood shares baby news, we're not going to want to put that out on every single thing, we want to put that maybe on Twitter or maybe on Facebook because that's probably more of our parents thing anyway. But Twitter is where you'd find that news or that update on. We don't want that on our Instagram, we don't need that on Snapchat.

 

Sarah: 

And you'd want to share photos on Instagram with lots of emojis and hearts, and baby icons. Yeah, you'd want to do different things. They're looking in different places for different types of content and you have to make the scavenger hunt real because if they are dedicating hours to finding new information about different artists or different people that they want to follow, they are going to look in a lot of different places. And once they find that little tidbit, that little sliver of something special that they haven't seen elsewhere, it brings about this moment of such delight that you are building a better relationship with them just by having these little slivers of content in different places.

 

Jeff: 

Well, Sarah. I do want to ask you another question here but I will tell you the most surprising thing that I found while reading your book, and I will admit I'm not fully done with it yet, but I did get a huge chunk out of the way, one of the most surprising things to me is how email is still very valid for Gen Z. I would have thought that email was on the way out but you say in your research, you found that it was very valid to use for them and it have to alter it to make sure you're doing the right thing to attract their attention. But for you, what was one of the most surprising things you discovered while doing your research?

 

Sarah: 

I think the ability for them to quickly make money in new ways was really surprising for me. I can tell you a story. There was this girl who wanted a pet hedgehog and she went to her mother, and she said, "Hey. I want a pet hedgehog." and she had seen something on Instagram about it. So, it was something that had sparked her attention. She saw a picture of a pet hedgehog and she's like, "I really want a pet hedgehog." and she got in her head that she wanted a pet hedgehog. So, she went to her mother and she said, "I want a pet hedgehog." and her mother said, "No way. You can't get a pet hedgehog." like they're wild animals. They're nocturnal, they're not going to be a good pet. You can't get a pet hedgehog. Well, it didn't die there. She went back and for days, she spent hours and hours and hours researching hedgehogs as pets, what's required all the counter arguments to anything her mother presents, and she went back to her mother and she said, "I want a pet hedgehog." And of course her mother said no for all these reasons. and she had an answer to every one of them because she had done all the research. And finally, her mother said, "Well, fine. You can have a pet hedgehog if you can pay for it yourself." And she needed to raise about $500 I think for the hedgehog and then the cage, and all the associated stuff that goes along with owning a pet hedgehog. So, she started researching how to make slime. She started making her own slime and it was specialty slime, like it was peppermint scented and in beautiful boxes, and things like that. And she went to her local convenience store, that the kids in her neighborhood went to go through for snacks and things like that, and she asked if they would stock her slime, and they agreed. And within a week, she had made enough money to buy the hedgehog. Well, she then realized how much money she was making on this slime and she started an Instagram business page for her slime and started selling it online as well. She also turned that hedgehog into an Instagram page and the hedgehog is now paid and sponsored, and she's making money on the hedgehog, too. So, it's just the connections they're making. The fact that they're making money in new ways and that seems so entrepreneurial, what also surprised me is how this is a generation of doers. Millennials tend to talk about what they're going to do, this generation takes action now. They're like, "Okay, I'm going to do this and this is my next step to get going." And they're like, "This is what I'm doing right now at this moment. I'm not going to put it off till tomorrow, I'm not going to put it off till tonight. I'm doing this right now and I'm going to sit here and focus for hours, and I'm going push everything else to the side and I'm going to do it." They're a generation of doers. It gives me really a lot of hope for the next generation for change in our society.

 

Jeff: 

Well, Sarah Weise, author of InstaBrain: The New Rules for Marketing to Generation Z, I was hoping to have you for about 12 to 15 minutes and it looks like we've gone almost 30 now. So clearly, a lot of amazing information in your book and a lot of things that people should be talking about. Companies, marketers, there's really important stuff in here about how to reach this generation that I think confuses a lot of people that maybe are in the Gen X or the Baby Boomer range as we try to figure out how to move our companies and different aspirations into the future. Sarah, if we want to find out more information about you, they want to keep this conversation going, where can they go to do that?

 

Sarah: 

They can go to sarahweise.com. They can also check out my business website if they're in a company who needs help with their marketing research. It's bixaresearch.com.

 

Jeff: 

Do you have social media at all? Just throwing it out there.

 

Sarah: 

Oh, absolutely. I've got all sorts of social media. [laughter] Yes, I'm on Instagram, sarahvweise. I'm also on Twitter, wifesarah. You can find me on LinkedIn and everywhere in between.

 

Jeff: 

Well, Sarah Weise, it has been an absolute pleasure talking to you. Thank you so much for sharing much more of your time than I think we had initially bargained for. I do appreciate you telling us more about the book. Really a great piece of work here.

 

Sarah: 

Well, thank you so much for having me.

 

 

Sarah Weiseaudio