Themenspecial Generation Z

How to NextGenify your Research

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While the clicking and whooshing sound of a modem connecting to the internet feels like a nostalgic tune for older Millennials, NextGen does not know a world without googling things. It’s a generation whose online social presence surpasses their offline identity and the act of lifecasting or live broadcasting – with or without a playful Snapchat filter – is part of their daily routine. Being their core device, smartphones function as their arm’s extension, allowing them to be always on, always connected, making PCs, music players and even wallets obsolete. These are observations Joeri Van den Bergh and Nadine Kuijper of Insites Consulting have made.

These youngsters, capturing both Generation Z and their young Millennial counterparts, grew up in a world where information reaches them at a blink of an eye, where they instantly get notified if something happens, good or bad, far or near.

Many brands are updating their image or even re-inventing themselves to fit with the NextGen consumer values and lifestyle, yet what about research? If we take a critical look at how online research is conducted (think about the long surveys which are still the industry norm), one can only acknowledge that this is far from in line with the snappy NextGen reality. NextGen trends can serve as an inspiration source for ideas on how we can NextGenify research. Let’s have a closer look at 4 NextGen trends and how we can apply these to how we do research.

Trend 1: Involve me

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 Today’s consumer has a direct access to companies and brands via channels like social media. This has led to new levels of feedback: instant, honest and expecting immediate answers and actions. With this new dynamic, the roles of brands and consumers have evolved. NextGen wants to play an active role and expects direct impact. This goes beyond just giving feedback, they also want to help brands to create better products and services in line with their needs and wants.

Brand example: The US retailer ‘Target’ recognized this trend and set out to collaborate with their superfans. In 2018, they launched the Target Studio Connect app in which superfans were invited to collaborate with their designers and co-create new products together.

Research example: A big opportunity is to tap into co-creation with NextGen in the ideation stage of innovation projects. While everyone can judge whether they like an idea or not, research shows that only 1% of the population consists of creative minds that can create truly new and fresh ideas. The key question though remains how to find and engage with that 1%. An example of how such collaboration can work is the creative network of eÿeka. They have a network of 400,000 creative minds all over the world, a vast majority of whom (77%) are NextGen consumers.
How would such a collaboration look in practice? Let’s take Oral B as an example, as they set out on an innovation project for a world-first Bluetooth-connected toothbrush. Their briefing to the network was “Tell us what an electrical toothbrush that can connect to the Internet should offer to change your life for the better”. This resulted in about 100 ideas! 

Trend 2: Life’s a Hackathon 

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Another trend we see among NextGen is that their life is a hackathon. They are a real short-cut generation who have developed a form of agility by finding and implementing life hacks. This explains the rise and success of fresh food delivery services (e.g. Hello Fresh), fashion subscription boxes (e.g. Trunk Club), selfie payment systems (e.g. Mastercard), no-cashier store check-outs (e.g. Amazon GO) and even audiobooks (e.g. Audible) amongst this generation. While the older generations would consider these hacks as a cheat, these youngsters, being born multi-taskers, don’t put a value judgement on how one gets information and sees these as an optimization.

NextGen is always looking to do things more rapidly, more easily and more hassle-free.

Brand example: A brand that taps well into this trend is KLM, that created a service called Family Updates. After having booked a flight with KLM, you get the option to create a WhatsApp group in which KLM gives your friends and family updates about your flight. How easy is that.

Research example: To make research easy and more hassle-free, it is key that we start asking questions more naturally, using contemporary methods that are similar to the way NextGen communicates with each other (e.g. WhatsApp, Messenger). In an experiment with Heineken we learned that moving to a ‘more natural’ chat method boosted the level of participation and bonding. Furthermore, it led to more personal conversations and additional insights through more in-context answers.

Trend 3 It’s a Snappy World
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The most used item while texting or messaging with friends is not LOL, HAHA, SELFIE or FOMO; the most used thing is not a word, it is the heart emoji. This young generation is an emojional generation, they communicate using emojis, emoticons or gifs, visual content. To them it’s the most efficient, snappiest way of communicating, the most direct way of storytelling.

Next to that, their attention span is limited, and time is of high value. So, if you want to catch their attention, your communication style may need adapting. Everything needs to be one swipe, tap or click away, snappy.

Brand example: Brands all over the world are aware of this trend and are creating snappy brand experiences, ranging from advertising and activation campaigns to even product design. For example, Glossier developed a packaging for their ‘Glossier You’ solid perfume that opens with the swipe of a thumb. A clever way to tap into a movement that has become an integral part of NextGen consumers’ everyday life.

Research example: For research this means levering the existing shortcuts familiar to NextGen such as swiping left and right. An example of how to use this in a research setting is a Tinder-like swiping tool which we often use in idea screening, where participants can easily indicate whether they dislike or like an idea by simply swiping left or right respectively. This simple tweak makes the research experience more fun, snappy and intuitive for the Next Generation.

Trend 4: Ditch the Box – Blurred Gender

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When we look at the Next Generation, we see that they are the most open-minded generation and do not differentiate based on gender or sexual preference. Gender identity isn’t as black and white anymore as female or male. Moreover, how one identifies can change every day or even every few hours. Nowhere is this more so than with Gen Z and the Millennial generation. So let’s face it, gender lines are blurring.

Brand example: A good example of this trend is the genderless fashion shop called the Phluid project in New York. The space is furnished with unisex changing rooms, unisex toilets and has genderless mannequins. The story behind this fashion shop is that they want to empower people to be themselves without feeling any fear of judgement by others.

Research example: To better understand how we should address gender in research, we did an experiment. Instead of asking “What is your gender” with the standard options male and female, we asked participants to use a slider which they could move to indicate the degree to which they identify with male or female.

When we studied the results, we learned that 12% of all NextGen participants was identifying as gender-fluid. It is clear that we should stop putting people in the standard gender boxes.

So, what is next? Research certainly needs to step up its game, which can be done by small tweaks in line with current NextGen trends. Are you ready to NextGenify your research?

The Authors
Joeri Van den Bergh
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Joeri Van den Bergh is co-founder, managing partner and NextGen expert at InSites Consulting, a global 'new generation' research agency. He has extensive experience of all aspects of branding, marketing and advertising to kids, teens and young adults. His clients include global customers such as eBay, Coca-Cola, Spotify, Danone, Red Bull, IKEA, Heineken, Converse, Nestlé, AXA and Unilever for whom he has provided research and advice on how to target the youth market. He is an awarded global thought leader and marketing author on the impact of Millennials and Generation Z on marketing and business. His best-selling marketing book How Cool Brands Stay Hot: Branding to Generation Y and Z has been awarded several times (a.o. The American Marketing Association Berry-AMA Book Prize).

Nadine Kuijper
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Nadine Kuijper is Senior Research Consultant at InSites Consulting. Her expertise is qualitative research with the focus on FMCG and Health. Before InSites Consulting, she conducted (video) research among the younger generation, graduating from the University of Amsterdam in 2012 with a master in Youth & Media.

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