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Five questions with Gen Z expert Jason Dorsey

Posted October 8, 2021
Illustration of a large 'Z' with people sitting on it and engaging with technology

Businesses that get (and stay) ahead of the competition are always looking to the future. Thinking two steps ahead, adept brands realize generational differences and design digital experiences that appeal to their unique audiences.

But make no mistake — it's not as easy as it sounds. We've all heard the myths before: Millennials are entitled, Baby Boomers struggle with technology, Bigfoot is a member of Gen X (OK, maybe not that last one). With so much misinformation, it can be difficult for businesses to implement a well-informed customer experience (CX) strategy that appeals to all generations. This is particularly true for Gen Z (those born between 1996 and 2015), a cohort shrouded in myth, but with significant buying power. In fact, Gen Z is the largest generation in American history according to Insider Intelligence.

Jason Dorsey, acclaimed Gen Z expert and the bestselling author of Zconomy: How Gen Z Will Change the Future of Business and What To Do About It, has helped countless global brands better understand their customers. Dorsey leads The Center for Generational Kinetics (CGK), a global Gen Z and Millennials research, strategy and speaking firm, and his expertise puts him in high demand: he has led more than 70 generational research studies and has been featured on over 200 TV shows.

TELUS International had the opportunity to speak with Dorsey about Gen Z, which revealed compelling insights for brands trying to create an effective generational strategy.

1. How have the generational conversations changed during the course of the pandemic?

Jason Dorsey's response:

"The pandemic has dramatically amplified the generational conversation. In particular, because it has had a different impact on each generation.

"For example, our research has shown that Gen Z was the generation that most commonly suffered job loss; Millennials feel like they've been bookended with traumatic macro events beyond their control; Gen X feels pulled in multiple directions; and Baby Boomers are drawing from their emergency savings — and even financially helping their adult kids.

"While we're all going through this at the same time, the experience each generation is having can be very different. Recognizing those differences — especially the ones driven by life stages — helps to create the generational empathy, connection and trust we need to bridge generations both at work and in communities."

2. Why do you think that Gen Z is so frequently the subject of myth?

"Older generations have often been critical of younger generations because they have viewed them through the prism of their own experiences, beliefs and attitudes. As soon as a new generation emerges, narratives and storylines take hold.

"In Gen Z's case, the generation has come of age immersed in social media, digital media and digital connectivity. That's why you hear people saying, 'These kids are always on TikTok! They need to go outside and play.' Of course, that perception is often not grounded in reality. In fact, when things are not entirely accurate they often travel faster online, so when someone posts an observation about Gen Z, other generations often run with it without verifying its accuracy.

"Today, things are different in that connectivity has sped up how fast observations spread. At CGK, we are on a mission to separate generational myth from truth through data. What is said on social media, and even traditional media, can make our work more difficult, but that is also what makes our research and data so important to share with leaders. Leaders want to know the truth, even if it's not the truth they want to hear, because accurate data and information enables them to have the insight they need to make the right decisions."

3. Can you describe how Gen Z views personal data, trust and security?

"This is a straightforward question with a complex answer. Our research shows that Gen Z is the generation that most expects to have their data or identity stolen or compromised, but at the same time, they expect whatever organization or system that allowed it to be compromised to take care of the problem. They expect ownership.

"Further, Gen Z is the generation most willing to share their personal data and information to have a better digital experience, but that is only true as long as their experience is actually better.

"In terms of trust, for a variety of decisions — from investing, looking for a job or buying something new — Gen Z looks to very different people and places. Believe it or not, for some decisions an online influencer might be more influential than a medical doctor. Gen Z is still refining who to trust, why and when, but we're already seeing big differences between them and the Millennial generation before them."

4. As Gen Zers increasingly enter the workforce, how do they differ from their predecessors?

"They differ in many ways. We've been uncovering this in both our annual State of Gen Z study, as well as in numerous studies for industry trade groups and large employers. We know that Gen Zers look for jobs differently than other generations, have different expectations about the application and hiring process, have a much deeper connection to companies with aligned social causes and care a lot more about employee benefits than people often expect.

"We believe that other generations will adopt many of the values and resulting changes that Gen Z brings to the workforce, from onboarding to same-day-pay and communication preferences."

5. If you could rename Gen Z to summarize the cohort’s unique characteristics, what name would you give and why?

"We'd call Gen Z the 'Throwback Generation.' This is unexpected and fascinating because we see that Gen Z are saving money for emergencies, wanting to have an impact on government, driving significant growth in vintage and upcycled clothing and are coming together in new and significant ways as a generation. We saw something similar from the Baby Boomers! It is definitely interesting."

Don't build your strategy on generational myth

The last five questions were for Jason Dorsey, but this one is for you: Are you looking to better engage with your Gen Z customers? TELUS International partners with over 650 global and disruptive brands to create and deliver enhanced customer experiences across generations. Get in touch to push beyond myth and get results.

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