What You Can Learn from College Campuses Already Experiencing the Newest Generation of Adults
For many of my clients, Millennial moms, dads and childless adults are a critical marketing focus for their companies. With an average age of first-time mom in the United States of 26 in 2014, this means that many Millennials are now (and have been) parents for several years. And, the huge size of the Millennial cohort-- more than eighty million-- means they are a force to be reckoned with in the adult population for marketers for years to come.
In talking with experts on colleges, however, they portray a different landscape. Already on campus, there is a distinct cohort from the Millennials, a Post Millennial group, and these students have been on college campuses for at least two to three years. This Post Millennial group has been dubbed “Generation Z,” with several books published on the subject. Depending on your definition, the Post Millennial generation began in the mid to late 1990s (or 2000), and the cohort continues through 2010. Using college experts as a front-line group, this puts the first year around 1996. Doing the math, this means that a good portion of these Post Millennial consumers are adults today (age 18+) or will become adults in the next few years.
Colleges are First to Learn about Generation Z, and Other Industries Should Take Note
These Generation Z consumers, then, are having an impact, not just on education, but on many other markets, such as banking, automobile insurance, rental housing, clothing, entertainment and more. Dawn Aubrey, University of Illinois, Associate Director of Housing and Dining Services describes some attributes she has seen in Generation Z students:
“Gen Z has arrived, and they are very resource sensitive. They saw the Great Recession. They saw relocation and resizing. They are more value-driven but still convenience-oriented. These students are looking for collaborative space. They don’t just eat a meal, they want to multi-task. So, to have a meal and work on the project, with a space to support it, like a smart board. When communicating about food with Gen Z, visuals, such as infographics, are effective because their visual ability for interpretation is more developed. They want layering of flavors and more fusion. For example, East Indian-French: lobster coconut curry with a saffron basmati. And they like different textures. For instance, African peanut sweet potato soup shows their interest in plant-based, vegan. It is about the smell and texture.”
Steven Mangan, University of Michigan, Director of Dining also shares some of his insights surrounding Generation Z’s food preferences:
“Yes, the new generation has arrived. These students are acquainted with more food, they are more adventurous, and into sharing experiences with social media. Of course, some still want pizza every day, and some want what’s new and next. The food allergies are increasing, and there is interest around feeling better by eating cleaner foods. A lot of their opinions are based on what their peers are saying about the food. The influencers are out there, of course, and we have our own social media work, and also work with a whole bunch of student groups.”
Generation Z Emphasizes Practicality and Self-Interest
Recently, Barnes and Noble studied high school and middle school students to gain insights into these emerging consumer’s needs. Their findings mirror the comments of the on campus experts, which stressed that this group is very practical and financially-driven, and are also more focused on their personal interests than the more volunteer-oriented Millennial cohort. For instance, 70% of Millennials volunteer, compared with 46% of Generation Z.
Using Technology for Increased Classroom Interaction
This generation is also interested in flipped classrooms with “engaging, interactive learning experiences,” according to the Barnes & Noble study. For instance, they appreciate Ed Tech tools like smart boards, websites with study materials and online videos. I’ve heard a bit about this from my friends who teach English on college campuses, along with the shift they are making to offer more of their content online to meet the needs of this group.
Composition Faculty at Washburn University, Sally Page Kahle, gives an example from her classroom:
“I have been teaching freshman English for several years, and after personally experiencing high quality online learning through Coursera in a class called, ‘The Fiction of Relationship,’ I decided to offer more of my content online, even though my class still meets in person. While it was a big time investment to put the resources up, my students really engage with it.”
As a new generation approaches adulthood, it’s exciting to anticipate the changes they will bring as citizens and consumers. College experts are the vanguard in experiencing Generation Z, and other industries should pay attention to what’s being learned on campus about this new market. Before you know it, they will be your customers!