TrendWatch: Hi There, Gen Z! Nice to Meet You. | License Global

TrendWatch: Hi There, Gen Z! Nice to Meet You.

Is it time to turn our focus from Millennials and look toward what’s coming next?

Oh, Millennials, the much-maligned generation! Heaped upon this broad demographic are all of the responsibilities for the decline of major socioeconomic institutions and infrastructure, the sour outlook for business and the entire credit for the rise of brunch. We often hear what is so wrong with Millennials, and how this generation has rocked the core of the once firmly-held beliefs about everything–from what is retail to how discretionary income is spent and the age-old question, paper towels vs. napkins?

Amanda, Cioletti, content director, License Global

And as Millennials age–the oldest in this set are well into their 30s–is it time to turn the attention to the next generation, Gen. Z, who is primed to truly shape what the economic world will look like for the foreseeable future? (According to Fast Company, Generation Z will account for 40 percent of all consumers by 2020.)

Defined as those born from around 1995 to somewhere in the mid to late 2000's (although this too is an open-ended debate), Generation Z is apples to oranges different when compared to the generations before it. They are digital innate (touchscreen at that), many having never even had the benefit/burden of a landline telephone, a dial-up connection or been without a debit card.

This generation is a social media native as well, having grown up in a world where their early childhood photos were certainly shared with their parents' peer group and their digital footprint was established likely around the time they were born.

So, what is this generation into then?

According to Nickelodeon's "The Story of Me" report, and arguably one of the leading ambassadors for this generation with a devoted finger on its pulse, Generation Z is diverse. It has known nothing but socially progressive causes and underpinnings beneath all it does, and certainly this generation is bombarded with info and intelligence thanks to 24-7 news cycles and on-demand everything. Generation Z has actively involved parents (about 30 percent of which are Millennials, and many of which include multi-generational households); has confidence, but must combat gripping issues like cyber-bullying; is fluent in digital friendships; and values education and personal betterment.

Marketing Week says that 70 percent of Gen. Z'ers "prefer a colloquial, friendly tone from brands they see on social." They value authenticity and they appreciate real people with organic connections.

This generation is also cause-based in many respects. They want the companies they buy into to reflect their personal values, and "brand status" has come to mean a different thing to the younger set. Forbes agrees, saying "Generation Z goes even further: they have made it clear that what they care about more than anything is feeling like they know the brand or the person behind the camera. They don't want to feel marketed to–they want to feel like they're part of something." This generation is often also characterized as desiring experiences over possessions, although a good influencer-led social campaign can do wonders for a brand in this demo. And brand loyalty isn't top of mind, whereas brand options are.

But let's be practical–of course we can't heap all the responsibility for our economic and social future on Generation Z. Millennials are exceedingly relevant, and the innovations this group of thinkers, entrepreneurs and innovators are making at the base level of business is astounding. In fact, License Global will play host to a high-level conversation between Millennials who are at the forefront of the massive shifts occurring in media and retail as they discuss the advantages and benefits of the new world that is evolving at the NYC Summit: The Business of Brand Licensing, taking place Feb. 20 at Convene Event Center in New York City (www.NYCLicensingSummit.com).

Baby Boomers still buy too, let's not forget. And if you ask a Millennial, they might suggest that this group is the most affluent thanks to home ownership, lack of student debt, higher-paying careers and so on.