Barkley FutureCast Research

New Gen Z study explains “Pivotal” generation for marketers and brands


By Kyle O'Brien, Creative Works Editor

January 26, 2017 | 7 min read

The research has been done on millennials. Marketers think they know enough about the coveted generation, but what do they know about those getting ready to take over after the millennial wave washes away?

Generation Z is not Gen Y, and a new study from Kansas City-based advertising agency Barkley and its company FutureCast looked at the behavior of teens under the age of 18 and found that Gen Z, which is driving $44bn of discretionary spending each year, combines the social values of the millennials with the work ethic of baby boomers.

Barkley conducted a cross-generational study of more than 2,000 respondents and found an entirely new type of consumer that they’ve deemed the “Pivotal” generation. They found them to be earnest, hardworking and driven by traditional views of success (money, education, career), and thus resemble boomers in their attitudes. But this generation is writing new rules that favor liberal – almost radical – viewpoints on things like race, gender, identity and sexuality.

Whereas millennials dreamed of changing the world, the newly named Pivotals actually follow a much more practical approach.

Barkley – which also did an exhaustive study on millennials previous to this study and helped popularize the term to define Gen Y – interviewed people about their views on self, society and planet; brand expectations; media habits; shopping habits; and information access. The results, they hope, will guide brands and marketers to speak to this next generation of consumers as they form their brand preferences and consumer behaviors.

Jeff Fromm, partner at Barkley and author of Marketing to Millennials, as well as an author of this study, thinks now is the right time for brands to start thinking about Pivotals.

“Millennials are evolving rapidly and having families…as that generation starts to mature and go into a new life stage, we have another new generation of youth who have some very different views towards life. We were hearing that and we wanted to quantify the impacts,” said Fromm.

The study, Getting to Know Gen Z: How the Pivotal Generation is Different from Millennials, used quantitative, cross-generational research to reach conclusions, but the research team also spent a month working and shopping with teens to gain better insight into how they spent their time on a daily basis and what motives them on a personal level.

Some of the conclusions about Gen Z and what those surveyed said:

We want to work for our success, not be discovered

  • 69% of Pivotals believe that success is a matter of hard work and has little or nothing to do with luck compared to 63% of Millennials, 58% of Gen X and 55% of Boomers
  • 53% of Pivotals agree success is the most important thing in life compares to 46% of Millennials, 35% of Gen X and 31% of Boomers
  • 85% of Pivotals believe “grades in school” are the most important thing (more important than time relaxing and hanging out with friends)

We believe that equality is non-negotiable

  • 72% of Pivotals consider racial equality to be the most important issue today, 64% say gender equality and 48% say sexual orientation equality
  • 60% of Pivotals will support brands that take a stand on issues they believe in regarding human rights, race and sexual orientation
  • Environmentalism is not as big of a concerning issues among Pivotals. They trail all other generations when asked about what areas of environmental policy are most important.

We want brands to be real so we can be unique

  • 31% of Pivotals would rather be considered “unique” than “real”
  • 58% of Pivotals prefer to create their own fashion statement
  • 49% of Pivotals would pay extra for a product that is consistent with the image they want to present
  • 77% of Pivotals like ads that show real people in real situations

We have our own system of rules and etiquette for how we use social media – unlike millennials, Pivotals tend to undershare on social media

  • Facebook – information hub
  • Twitter – real-time engagement
  • Instagram – aspirational platform
  • Snapchat – real life

A generation of old souls

The study started in September 2016 and went on for several months. The basic conclusion, according to Fromm, is that Gen Z is very different than millennials in terms of their attitudes towards working hard, financial success and success in general.

“They don’t expect to live in their parents’ basements,” joked Fromm.

“They have views that look a lot more like parents and grandparents, probably older generations, Gen X, in their attitudes, but then they have hyper-connectivity. It’s sort of this intersection of mobile first, mobile connected but traditional views, traditional values,” he said, though he noted that those in Gen Z are more cautious about what they share on social media, perhaps brought on by the fact that Millennials overshared and made the mistakes first, which taught the younger generation a lesson.

FutureCast noted that the Pivot generation is the first to grow up in a post-digital era. They grew up with modern technology and treat it as a part of life. They didn’t have to adapt to it. They also expect technology to evolve rapidly and they expect a two-way dialogue with brands.

The Pivotal name came from what the researchers saw as a pivot on values from millennials toward prior generational views. Since this agency and team helped to popularize the millennial term, Fromm thinks "Pivotals" might catch on as well, but to him “the name is probably less important than the understanding the differences this generation sees in universal human rights…work hard, play hard.”

Fromm was most surprised to find these kids making a return to traditional values of working hard, focused on success and future forward.

“Old souls and young bodies,” said Fromm.

Pivotal behaviors

Connecting brands with Pivotals

Fromm says brands need to think about being more useful, being innovative and creating partnerships to add value.

“It starts with listening first, getting insights into the intersection of consumer culture and your brand values that align to theirs. If you can listen and get grounded in that kind of data first, you’re more likely to make great decisions on where to place your bets,” he said.

Ultimately, brands will win with Pivotals if they can address this generation through digital entry points and hold them by appealing to their values.

“This generation doesn’t intend to collect participation ribbons. They are going to earn their way to success, so watch out, folks. They are focused, hard charging,” concluded Fromm.

Marketers and brands can download the study at on the Research tab.

Jeff Fromm is partner at Barkley and author of Marketing to Millennials.

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