Generation Z … The Cocooning Generation Needing A New Name

I wrote the past blog post from the perspective of the COVID home lock-downs. During COVID, I have spent way too much time watching television versus getting out of the house.

The commercials that I crafted the blog post around are still airing. Amazon, Dominos and Walmart have all expanded with new spots.

A colleague of mine that works in HR — human resources — explained to me one afternoon that those spots are all designed to help in recruitment… not to actually market their products and services. She just might be right, but she also confirmed back that most of the HR leadership of those companies are GenXers too.

Enough about the GenXers. This blog will next concentrate on their children… Generation Z or the Zoomers.

I have written a lot about Millennials… and after this blog post will refocus around the Millennials with some very intriguing updates.

Right now, the nickname Zoomers for GenZers is still being used by most of my business and academic peers. However, a couple of my peers made nearly identical comment that brand name, “Zoom” has already been stolen from the GenZers by the digital meeting forum.

The roots of the Zoomer nickname has historical roots in Generation Z not only being born in the world of technology, but being born into the world of mobile technology. And because Zoomers think nothing of interacting with their peers by simply tapping a screen, they would excel at a pace faster than any other generation.

About a month ago, I had an awakening experience and did not realize it.

When it happened, my initial reaction was how odd and discriminatory the experience scored. I could not rationalize it… using the same tech mindset of sequential logic that drives the Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon camps.

And then it hit me. Turn off the smart phone and turn on the psyche and sociology model.

I was sitting in a coffee house located in Oconee County, the high income, bedroom community serving University-anchored Athens-Clarke County. It was mid-afternoon and at least half of the tables inside the café were filled with freshman college students beginning to open up their text books.

Two female freshmen Zoomers at the adjacent table — and I will quickly clarify, about 8 feet from my table — stopped reading their text books and engaged instead on how they were going to decorate the apartment that they now shared.

It was a fascinating conversation.

I heard limited dialogue around issues that drive the Millennials and what they are now doing with the new home pads that they own.

Instead, the two Zoomers talked a lot about how they were going to integrate the home furnishings provided by their parents. They talked less about what they were seeing on Pinterest and more about what they watched with their parents on HGTV.

They even mentioned that maybe they should go with their moms and together shop for the best sheets to put on their beds.

With all EXPERIENCE does with House & Home clients, I have to admit I was intrigued.

Oconee County, where the café is located, does not require wearing masks in public. This coffee house does not require masks either… it encourages wearing a mask, but again, does not require it.

What happen next sparked the deeper key insight.

I got up out of my chair, handed them two business cards and said that if they ever had time, I would find it fascinating to buy them each a cup of coffee and sit back and hear about their vision about home space.

In response, they freaked!

I apologized for disrupting their conversation, and quickly shared that I ran a brand strategy firm that is driven by conversation with folks in the communities around us.

They quickly packed up their books and laptops and left the café. A couple of the other older Boomers sipping coffee were also taken back by their response. However, a GenXer mom sitting across the room quickly said that her kids would respond the same way.

When I asked what I did to cause them to respond the way they did, the GenXer mom said that the café was not “safe space.”

Safe space? She laughed and said as much as COVID-19 lock downs initiated the idea of the home as safe space, she and her friends see their homes as the safe space cocoon where they have made a commitment to shelter and protect their children from the very day they were born.

After I left and thought about it more, I wish I had videotaped the GenXer mom telling me about “safe space.”

Over the last several weeks, I purposely have had dialogue — safe dialogue — with a combination of GenXers and GenZers. I have worn a mask each time. I have purposely avoided entering into the GenZer’s sense of protected personal space.

It has been fascinating listening to them talk about the comfort of their homes, the comfort of their social media circle of friends… even the actual physical comfort of social distancing!

Yesterday, I conducted a three-hour strategic planning session with a group of GenXers. I will qualify quickly that they were all very left-brain, set-routine thinkers. They talked about the comfort of their homes and how they were hoping that their kids retained that sense of comfort once they had their own homes and careers.

The GenZers have been raised by Gen X parents committed to not getting divorced like their parents. While Boomers are showcased as “helicopter” parents, the GenXers take on the role as “sheltering” parents.

As much as the GenZers have been born into the world of mobile technology, they also are growing up in a world where the interaction can be easily conducted from a distance.

While COVID-19 has moved the classroom to the computer screen encased in the home front, the Zoomers have grown up during an explosion of growth in home schooling and digital classrooms before the advent of COVID.

Historically, I have showcased the GenXers as a generation that few brands and innovative products embraced. Shoot, at only 2/3rds the size of Millennials, brands focused more on the Boomer parents and their Millennial kids.

As much as brands have pivoted with revised brand experiences with COVID that has fostered a sense of adaptation for families, if you step back and look at the families showcased in the ads, you will see a lot more Millennials with their young Alpha babies and kids versus the GenXers and their Zoomer teens.

I write this blog and share this story NOT because brands will need to adapt to the protective mindset of emerging GenZers.

The GenXers are right now sitting in management roles driving a lot of brand interaction with the marketplace at-large… and in a couple of years, the GenZers are going to emerge from as the labor base of workers and first time job hires.

I am sitting in a Dunkin Donut where there are three young GenZers hovered over their college text books. All three have masks on. All three have headsets on. None are interacting with any others in the room in violation of their cocoon-space!

While one of our new clients is barely a Millennial… he is right at the cusp of the Millennial age group at age 26, he is an entrepreneur that aspires to bring his brand idea to life. He does not seek to be sheltered, but instead, energized with a sense of vision and innovation. He does not fear to venture into areas that are new, novel and different.

That group of GenXers yesterday voiced the desire for a defined game-plan to grow their firm… a fully scripted game plan. One where they would not have to re-adapt from the brand delivery model that they currently employ.

Despite all the speculation that COVID would explode on college campuses, new COVID cases have declined over the past 45 days just as the dorms reopened. The vast number of freshmen — GenZers — are actually obeying the rules and staying distanced from others. For many, it is a gift and talent they were raised to preserve!

The two GenZers who ran as I handed them my card might have thought that I was a danger and would spread COVID-19, but I really believe that anybody or anything that crosses the boundaries of their cocoons generates a similar response.

Just as the Millennials rejected the Generation Y label, I plan to work with some of my creative peers in coming up with a better label for Generation Z.

I now have doubts that mobile technology will propel them forward, but instead, transport the walls of their cocoons as they move onward.

CEO & Discovery Chief at EXPERIENCE Insight Group, Inc. In the business to discover and craft brand experiences that humans seek out and engage in.