Businesses Looking for Long-Term Success Should Learn from Gen Z

generation Z

Wolfgang Kampbartold, Vice President of International Market Communications at Deutsche Telekom explains why companies need to follow the examples of younger generations to progress in the modern world.

Gen Z is the first generation to have no recollection of a world without the internet. Defined as those born between 1995 and 2010, they have grown up with connected technology at their fingertips. This has enabled them to develop a unique outlook on life; one fuelled by instant access to information, social networks, and complete interconnectedness. This misunderstood generation, often branded as ‘screen obsessed’, are in many ways taking control of their own future, using technology to stand up for their beliefs, the planet and their peers, as well as to advertise, market, drive sales, become financially stable and make money.

A generation reaching adolescence in the aftermath of the 2008 economic crash, with many entering adulthood during the coronavirus pandemic only a decade later, young people today may have had more than their fair share of challenges to overcome. Whilst only time will tell how this generation will be defined, one thing is for sure; even though COVID-19 has already radically impacted their world, Gen Z is not fazed. This is something businesses should take inspiration from, and quickly.

Businesses must be resilient

Gen Z, who before the pandemic held a lot of part-time, manual jobs such as waitressing or retail, have been badly affected by the pandemic and the lockdown that ensued. Data from the Center for Generational Kinetics (CGK) revealed more than a third of Gen Z have experienced a negative impact on their work-life balance due to the pandemic – but this hasn’t stopped them.

Some of our own research, conducted by Deutsche Telekom this summer, revealed that 92% of European Gen Z could see themselves making money online, whilst 93% believe connected technology is an important tool for learning and education. They seek out answers, teach themselves new skills via online tutorials, join movements and connect with likeminded people on the basis of passions and causes – all through the power of connected technology. This has changed an entire generation’s attitude towards learning, but also opened up an endless digital landscape for them to earn money in a non-traditional way. 

Whilst some companies have embraced digital transformation, future proofed their business and navigated the pandemic seamlessly, those who stuck to their legacy systems and outdated practices are now paying the biggest price. For businesses to become resilient, they must take the lead from young people to flex their models to give technology a central role and use it to enact positive change. 

Businesses must be resourceful

Whilst older generations (and businesses) may just be dipping their feet into connected tech, Gen Z is already fully immersed, utilising the countless opportunities the connected world offers to the fullest. As the first truly digital natives, they know technology can go a long way when running a business, from understanding the needs of customers to creating a borderless, open dialogue with them through social media. All you need to build customer relationships online is the right attitude and knowledge of the social media landscape. 

In the past, certain social, geographical and economic factors would have been a hindrance for the less advantaged, especially when it comes to kickstarting their entrepreneurial journey. Now, with knowledge and tools readily available online, mixed with the life-changing impact of COVID on young people’s career paths, data from Gem Consortium shows 54% of Gen Z are now pursuing entrepreneurships. Other research from The Centre of Generational Kinetics found that 62% of Gen Z say they would start their own business online. 

Young people are using social media to gain huge levels of exposure and opportunity. They are building their own companies from the ground up, turning one-person-shows into profitable businesses with little or no physical footprint. If traditional businesses want to compete, it’s time for them to see connected technology as a resource and invest in a young workforce which knows how to use it best.  

As part of Deutsche Telekom’s recent #WhatWeDoNext campaign, we wanted to highlight some of the exceptional work Gen Z have been doing using connected technology, forming a collective of young people using connected technology to do amazing things. 23-year-old Anna-Laura Kummer from Austria, for example, has been pioneering the realm of sustainable fashion. This young entrepreneur has been using technology and social media to not only launch her own sustainable clothing label, but also to advocate for more sustainable business practices, industry wide. Another collaborator, 19-year-old Philipp Kalweit, is a renowned ‘white hat’ hacker and IT security expert. Having taught himself to code at an early age, he went on and founded his own cyber security business, earning himself a place on the Forbes “30 under 30” list.

Businesses must be innovative

The influence of Gen Z is increasingly apparent in the workplace, with young people driving businesses in directions that no one could have anticipated. We’re seeing them solve increasingly difficult problems, always innovating and coming up with more agile and effortless solutions to once lengthy processes. 

Much of the evolution of business models will happen through the lens of Gen Z. With technology continuously evolving, not only are the youth of today already familiar with the tools used within business, but they will pick up new ones almost instantly. For example, since the pandemic began, Gen Z utilised the latest connected technologies in record levels, quickly able to participate and collaborate remotely. This in itself is a huge shift from both the traditional 9-5 office models, but also a refreshing move away from late night shifts in bars and restaurants many young people were accustomed to. Overall, it will be interesting to see how the disruptions to traditional working models brought about by the pandemic will play out, especially with Gen Z as a driving force for change.

Businesses must listen 

As evidenced by the scale of the ‘FridaysforFuture’ movement across the world, this younger generation demands more. Speaking to Eirini Vougiouka, another member of the Gen Z collective, who set up a local ‘FridaysforFuture’ initiative in Greece, this became even more clear. Gen Z demands more from governments, more from businesses, more from brands. And they show a huge level of digital optimism when it comes to the role of connected technology in their lives. It’s not just about talking about these issues, Gen Z wants organisations, private and public alike, to start keeping their promises, and they will speak up against wrongdoing. 

When this commitment to their principles is tested, that is where we start to see some really exciting examples of the potential of youth and their belief in the power of connected technology to drive forward innovation. 

Many young people feel strongly about sustainability, from ethical manufacturing to waste. This has meant organisations that don’t shift to more environmentally friendly ways of working are losing favour with Gen Z, whilst others, listening and acting to the changing priorities of consumers, have thrived. In the fashion industry, for example, there has been a boom in alternative consumption patterns, with many opting to rent, resale and thrift clothes. Some clothing brands now offer subscription-based services that allow customers to rent items for a monthly fee. Thriving platforms like Depop (part social feed, part fashion marketplace app) offer a ‘more inclusive, diverse and less wasteful’ approach to shopping. 

If anything defines Gen Z it seems to be tenacity, creativity and an unwillingness to accept the status quo, as they mobilise to build a better future for themselves and the generations that will follow. This is the reason businesses across the world must look to support the younger generation, whilst also learning from them and their more open ways of looking at the world. We should all be very excited to see what Gen Z accomplishes next. And this is why we, at Deutsche Telekom, are most definitely here for this generation, and very excited to see what they do next.

Wolfgang Kampbartold

Wolfgang Kampbartold is Vice President of International Marketing Communications at Deutsche Telekom AG. In his current role Kampbartold has overseen the creation of a number of award winning campaigns, all of which have sought to bring tangibility to Deutsche Telekom brand claim, "Life is for sharing”. He also leads the brand’s music marketing division. Before joining Deutsche Telekom in 2005, he has also worked across various marketing functions in the FMCG and media sectors for brands such as Carlsberg, Coca-Cola and RTL.

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