The Sharing Economy
There is a new group on the block, and companies had better beware as the digitally obsessed Generation Z represent fresh challenges to brands and researchers.
Researching and understanding the millennial generation has proven to be an effective way of tailoring products and how they are marketed. Some might suggest this is changing the face of marketing, but in reality it has already happened. Success, status, luxury and beauty are among the most important values to this generation . But as consumers have become more de-sensitised to such messages, brands have led an arms race to foster deeper levels of meaning that are more ingrained into intrinsic societal beliefs.
However, change is constant and a new generation is emerging in the form of Generation Z. This new generation are characterised by an accelerated adulthood, a native technological obsession and a reformist attitude towards work .
Who are Generation Z?
Far removed from the rebellious attitudes of Millennials, Generation Z will continue to challenge marketers to change and adapt. As each reach maturity and enter the marketplace, researchers must understand not only what impact both will have on business, but what impact they will have on research itself.
Researching Generation Z is key to the future of marketing success. Generation Z provide brand new research challenges. This generation has a deep-rooted distrust of institutional structures. Moulded by the economic downturn, a rapidly degrading climate and frequent information leaks — Generation Z have good reasons to be wary of brands.
The trust barrier
The first challenge researchers face is overcoming this distrust. Some companies achieve this covertly, such as social networks which offer a free service in return for data collection. But this is by no means a permanent solution. As more information is made available online, young consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the hidden costs of free services.
Researchers must engage with Generation Z on their terms, in an honest two-way conversation. More than that, researchers must offer something in exchange. Financial incentives are no longer sufficient as marketers begin to offer opportunities to change the system.
Entering the digital era
Of course, this is not the only challenge that this new generation will pose. How, when and where will researchers capture insights from these brand-cautious reformists? Generation Z are more than digital natives, they are digitally obsessed. From heavy social media usage to co-creation of content and consumer journalism — nearly all facets of their lives are online.
So you would be forgiven for thinking that online is where to focus research efforts. But this is not quite the case. Rather than simply online, research must be mobile centric. The proliferation of cloud storage and technology ensures that information and data is accessible on the go. For Generation Z this offers huge amounts of potential, from international travel to global nomadism .
The internet has enabled an era which transcends country borders and identity is immaterial. As we enter the digital era, identity will be defined by choice and affiliation. Our society is undergoing a travel revolution. Younger consumers appear to be more comfortable in the sharing economy as evidenced by the success of services such as Airbnb, Uber and SnapGoods which place younger consumers at their core.
The human revolution
This desire to connect and share extends far beyond the realms of travel. It has created an open, co-creative society in which innovation and customer empowerment can flourish. But for researchers, this poses an interesting quandary. Despite a willingness to share between individuals, such desires are not transferred to brands and researchers.
Brands have reacted to this trend by developing human attributes. Lippincott and Holiday coined this the human era , in which anthropomorphic brands that exhibit intrinsically human values and emotions succeed. The most important value in this era is authenticity, driven by emotion, mutuality, harmony, empathy, integrity and purpose.
So what can researchers learn from this? Millennials have an emergent perception of markets and society that creates unique opportunity. Researchers that are able to capitalise on such trends will be those that benefit the most. A number of research tools and ideas are already in the early stages of development that could form the future of market research from advanced emotional coding tools to virtual reality shopper studies.
A new generation of research
An online community approach can easily be moulded around the needs of Generation Z. They are always connected and value an opportunity to be open and make genuine, authentic contributions. In order to capture that insight, brands will rely on a research industry whose reputation must continue to foster trust and openness. Agencies have a role to play too as they facilitate a neutral space in which consumers can become advocates for their needs.
For agencies to successfully manage online communities that support marketing decisions they must capitalise on the sharing economy driven by Generation Z. Efficiency and effectiveness must be carefully balanced to ensure maximum value is created, while also leaving room for consumer-led debate and creativity. Until now, online communities have been seen as a cost effective alternative to ad hoc surveys. But to engage with Generation Z, community development will require significantly more investment. This can be achieved by:
- Placing significance on the role of human interaction
- Discovering new and relevant methods of incentivisation
- Overcoming issues of trust
- Taking place in a device agnostic environment
- Continuing to innovate and adapt
The future of qualitative research hinges on our ability to adapt. Only in this way can brands and agencies be successful in the brave new world of qualitative research.
 Boston Consulting Group (2015) 'How Millennials Are Changing The Face Of Marketing Forever' Web. 24 June 2015
 The Sound (2015) 'Meet Generation Edge'. Presentation
 D'Andrea, Anthony (2006) 'Neo‐Nomadism: A Theory of Post‐Identitarian Mobility in the Global Age' Mobilities 1.1: 95-119. Web. 29 June 2015
 Marshall, John, and Graham Ritchie. Welcome to the Human Era Lippincott and Hill Holliday, 2013. Web. 16 June 2015
Research Director, FlexMR
This article was first published in InBrief magazine, August 2015
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2015