Last week, I had the pleasure of participating in a panel focused on the iGeneration at the 2016 Internet & Television Expo in Boston. The panel, “Z-ing the Future,” explored what impact the post-Millennial generation will have on the TV industry (and beyond). Shared below are some of the key insights, which apply equally well for marketers, as they do for TV providers or content creators.

iGens represent 17% of the US population in 2016

But first…

A little background: iGeneration is made up of consumers ages 9-21, which means that iGens represent 17% of the US population in 2016. Like previous generations, iGens have many labels—Plurals, Homeland Generation, Gen Z—but we prefer the term iGeneration because technology has shaped this group born into a generation of nonconformity, where customization is the norm. The iGeneration is the first group of consumers to grow up immersed in digital—unlike their Millennial predecessors, they did not have to adapt to the idea of having instant information at their fingertips. These facts, along with watching their parents experience the Great Recession, have hugely shaped the generation.

A craving for authenticity drives media preferences

iGens tend to gravitate toward platforms like YouTube, Twitch or livestreaming platforms where they can directly interact with their favorite celebrities. There is a kind of dialogue that happens between the viewer and the talent through these platforms that doesn’t happen through a traditional TV viewing experience. Perhaps because of this interaction, they feel as though the celebrities at these channels are more relatable. Stars that get discovered via YouTube, like Justin Bieber, or are highly accessible to fans via social media, like Taylor Swift, tend to be more popular with iGens.

Pay-TV operators are challenged to determine ways to offer authentic experiences for iGens via a platform that, unlike the web, doesn’t allow for direct interaction between consumers and talent. Tying in related social media events and behind-the-scenes content can help iGens feel more engaged with the content and the actors/personalities on popular TV shows. For instance, providers can offer additional perspectives of a key live event, as Comcast and NBCU are planning to do with the Olympics. The Comcast X1 experience will incorporate a vast amount of value-add content about athletes, sports, and more, accessible through a very easy-to-use, interactive interface. At the same time, NBCU will provide coverage via Snapchat, plus Buzzfeed stories from average people attending the games, to offer more relatable perspectives to the audiences using these platforms.

iGens are more responsible than rebellious

65% of younger iGens are concerned with their privacy online

Often, when we think about adolescents, we have in our minds the idea of the rebellious teen. This notion, however, does not apply so readily to today’s teens. In fact, iGens tend to be quite responsible. Rates of teenage pregnancy, as well as underage smoking and drinking rates are declining. Today’s teens seem to be highly aware that taking risks now could have negative consequences later. In fact, iGens’ social media behavior reflects a sense of caution. iGens know that what they post online could come back to haunt them later. As a result, 65% of younger iGens (ages 9-17) said they are concerned with their privacy online, and they are more careful about what they post and where.

Having grown up through the Recession, many iGens have watched their parents struggle financially, and they may prove to be a particularly fiscally responsible generation as they mature and enter the workforce. Mintel’s Marketing to Teens US 2015 report reveals that teens 12-17 were more likely to say that they don’t want to be in debt than to say that they want to be rich (73% vs 63%). A heightened awareness of the challenges of the Recession may be driven by the fact that today’s teens tend to be close with their parents. More of them report that they are influenced by their parents than their friends.

When we think about traditional pay-TV, teens were most likely to report that they had most recently watched TV with parents or siblings (nearly half), than by themselves (31%) or with friends (8%). It is important for marketers and TV providers to keep in mind that the majority of families watch movies or TV show as a family, and the majority of parents say watching TV together as a family is something they want to do all the time. Because iGens operate differently than their parents, it will continue to be important to find new ways to pair additional tools and content for iGens, alongside the traditional pay-TV viewing experience appreciated by parents.

iGens are extremely social media savvy

52% of US teens (13-17) use Instagram

iGens have grown up with social media, and use a mix of platforms to different ends. Mintel research shows that Facebook is still the most-used social media platform among teens, although its usage has decreased since 2012, down to 71% of teens. Meanwhile, Instagram has grown from 11% to 52% usage, while 2 in 5 teens currently use Snapchat.

Both marketers and content creators are challenged to find ways in which various social media platforms should play into their storytelling strategy. The platforms vary greatly from one another, meaning that marketing or value-added content displayed on Snapchat will need to be crafted differently than that promoted through Twitter or Vine or Facebook. Marketers and content creators are challenged to produce more content quickly, to allow for better targeting and a more personalized experience for audiences at each platform.

It’s always easy to generalize about a generation, and for marketers it is helpful to have a general understanding about commonly held ideas or traits of a group of consumers. Of course, as we look at iGens and the many places they spend their time online, it becomes increasingly important to understand nuances of the various digital communities in which they participate, in order to better communicate with them there.

Additionally—and this topic arose repeatedly as I listened to INTX panels about improving the customer experience—the “feedback loop” is extremely important for the iGeneration which is used to interacting directly with their favorite online personalities. What this means, of course, is that brands have to listen to their customers—they not only have to collect customer feedback and data about how customers use their products, but that information needs to get back to the provider or the content creator or the brand to which it pertains. The better we are at implementing change based on what we know about customers, the better storytellers we can be, and the greater potential we have to provide a meaningful experience.

Emily Groch is Mintel Comperemedia’s Director of Insights, Telecommunications. She provides omni-channel marketing analysis and competitive insights to wireless, TV, internet, over-the-top, and home security service providers across the US and Canada.

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