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Do You Think You Know Who Gen Z Is?

Executive Summary

To successfully reach your target demographic, you have to understand what sets them apart, along with the formative experiences that shaped their generation.

  • The Generation Z definition is more nuanced than you’d think. Vastly different from the generation closest in age to them, a socially conscious mindset and a deep desire for progress push them forward.
  • Generation Z isn't just version two of millennials. For example, 9/11 was the first political sign in millennials' lives, while the election of Barack Obama put politics on the radar for Gen Z.
  • Before marketing to Generation Z, keep in mind that they can see through your marketing campaign a mile away. They may be young, but they’re old souls who care deeply about the world around them and prefer a no-nonsense approach.

Nobody can agree on exactly when the Millennial generation stops and Gen Z starts. Demographers generally say the first Gen Zers were born in the early to mid-1990s through the mid-2000s. For the sake of this book [Marketing to Gen Z], based on our research, we’re using birth years 1996 to 2010 as our parameters.

Speaking of birth years, we’ve developed a general timeline of modern generations (birth year ranges vary, depending on the source). As we discuss commonalities and differences between Gen Z and other generations, this will serve as a handy reference:

  • Silent Generation: 1925–1945
  • Boomers: 1946–1964
  • Gen X: 1965–1978
  • Millennials (sometimes called Gen Y): 1979–1995
  • Gen Z: 1996–2010


Besides birth years, generations are defined by other factors, including the most impactful moments of their early lives. Generations develop strong emotional connections to these formative experiences, which impact how they view themselves and the world around them.

For example, while some were alive on 9/11, most Gen Zers can’t recall the tragedy. For Millennials, however, the terror and destruction of the event left a definitive mark in their memory. For them, emotional conversations spring up at the mention of the day, many recalling where they were, what they were doing, and how they felt when the first plane hit. For some, this is one of their earliest memories of fear. The news reports and precautions against terror alerted their developing minds to the harsh realities of a broken world.

For Gen Z, progress, not fear, is spurring this generation into action. As Barack Obama was sworn into office as the first black president of the United States of America, Generation Z watched in wonder and internalized a deep sense of progress. The battle cry for racial equality reached a climax that day—and again following his reelection—with Gen Z stepping up to carry the torch.

Let’s look at a breakdown of the generations again, only this time showcasing a few of their most defining moments.

Based on similarities in their defining moments and how these moments subsequently shaped their view of the world, some say Gen Z has more in common with the Silent Generation and Boomers than with Millennials. Whereas Millennials evince a story of “innocence lost,” Gen Z has never known a world without war and the threat of domestic terrorism. Like their grandparents and great-grandparents who grew up in the wake of World War II and the Great Depression, Gen Z is growing up in a post-9/11 world marked by the Great Recession.

While many describe Gen Z as “Millennials on steroids,” we not only disagree but will illustrate clear proof otherwise.

In fact, based on what we learned in our 2017 research study with Barkley, “Getting to Know Gen Z: How the Pivotal Generation Is Different from Millennials,” we think the most fitting term for members of this generation is “Pivotals.” They are pivoting away from common Millennial behaviors and attitudes and veering toward a socially conscious and diverse era reminiscent of the no-nonsense consumers of yesteryear.


  • The most fitting term for this generation is Pivotals.

They are pivoting away from common Millennial behaviors and attitudes and veering toward a socially conscious and diverse era.

  • Pivotals are old souls in young bodies.

Earnest, hardworking, and driven by conservative views of success regarding money, education, and career advancement, Gen Zers resemble a much older generation.

  • To Pivotals, technology should be invisible.

It’s all about speed and a seamless user experience. If Pivotals notice the technology, you’re doing something wrong.

  • For Pivotals, equality is non-negotiable.

Pivotals celebrate their differences. They will hold their favorite brands to the same standards they set for themselves regarding equality and acceptance.

  • Pivotals can smell marketing from a mile away.

Forget “always be closing” and think “always be collaborating”—the new ABCs of marketing require collaboration with a savvy consumer who expects it.

Adapted with permission from Marketing to Gen Z by Jeff Fromm and Angie Read, copyright Jeff Fromm and Angie Read.

Bring It Home

Let’s be honest. It’s easy to assume that both maturity and a deeper awareness of the world around us comes with age, or that “old souls” are, well, old. That couldn’t be further from the truth when it comes to Generation Z. Having never known the “innocence” the Millennial generation enjoyed, Generation Z grew up in a culture plagued with threats of terrorism, violence, and inequality and they are determined to do something about it. When you think of the definition of Generation Z, what values come to mind, and how have those values changed the way you do business? Comment below to share your insight.

Jeff Fromm

Jeff Fromm is President of FutureCast, a marketing consultancy that specializes in millennial trends, and is a contributing writer at Forbes. He is a frequent speaker on marketing, consumer trends, and innovation.

Angie Read

Angie Read has more than 20 years of integrated marketing and public relations experience for consumer brands, including Sprint, Hallmark and Dearforms, to name just a few. She is Vice President of Growth Insight for the advertising agency, Barkley.

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