Do retailers need teen consultants to really understand Gen Z?
The Minnesota Vikings of the National Football League are used to working with young men. The team’s latest hire, however, is younger than any of its recent draft picks or free agents. He’s 18-year-old Jonah Stillman, co-author of “Gen Z @ Work: How the Next Generation is Transforming the Workplace.” Mr. Stillman has been hired by the Vikings as a consultant to help the organization better understand and market to his Gen Z peers.
“Jonah has approached his career as a Gen Z advisor, author and speaker with professionalism and passion, and as a lifelong Vikings fan that lives in the Minneapolis-St. Paul market, he has a rare perspective that we believe can positively impact our organization and our younger fan base,” said Kevin Warren, chief operating officer of the Vikings, in a statement. “We look forward to collaborating with Jonah on his unique insights and thoughtful research.”
Mr. Stillman will consult with the team in a wide variety of areas, including team marketing, digital media content and strategy, the fan experience at U.S. Bank Stadium and workplace culture.
He contends that Gen Z, which covers people born between 1995 and 2012, is much different than the Millennial generation due to the influence of technological developments and the Great Recession.
“Many leaders and organizations tend to blend us in with the Millennials, which is a huge mistake,” he told the Star Tribune. “While Gen Z is the most tech savvy generation to date, leaders must understand that we are socializing in new ways. First, we are much more private when it comes to using social media, which means we are using social media in new ways. Gen Z’ers are after more exciting and private platforms.”
People in his generation are drawn to social media apps such as Snapchat that offer “more control over who sees our posts,” he told the paper.
Authentic communication, according to Mr. Stillman, is big with Gen Z’ers in their social and professional lives, citing a national study that said 84 percent of those surveyed “prefer face-to-face communication” over other forms because it is more authentic.
- Vikings Engage Author and Speaker Jonah Stillman to Serve as Team’s Gen Z Advisor – Minnesota Vikings
- Minnesota Vikings hire 18-year-old consultant to connect with Gen Z – Minneapolis Star Tribune
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Have retailers and brands been guilty of lumping Millennials and Gen Z together? Is the Minnesota Vikings approach to understanding Generation Z applicable to retailers and brands?
Join the Discussion!
13 Comments on "Do retailers need teen consultants to really understand Gen Z?"
You must be logged in to post a comment.
You must be logged in to post a comment.
Founder, CEO & Author, HeadCount Corporation
It’s true that Millennials have been getting all the headlines, but I don’t think retailers have been guilty of ignoring Gen Z. I think the Vikings are clever to gain a deeper understanding into Gen Z fans, but I’m not sure this qualifies as something especially noteworthy or a strategy that retailers are missing out on.
Podcast Host, Retail Influencer, Fractional CMO
Retailers and brands in general, with some notable exceptions, have been guilty of simply not following the data. Hiring Mr. Stillman is brilliant on the part of the Minnesota Vikings, but retailers and brands shouldn’t go running for consultants.
In no other era in retailing have the retailer and brands had more accessibility to the everyday consumer. Retailers and brands need to continue to leverage the data that is right in front of them. Their consumers are on social media and are willing and available to give them the information they want to continue to be relevant and compelling.
The Vikings are smart — they found someone who can help them translate. In retail, we already have this … we just need to be listening.
Strategy & Operations Transformation Leader
Rather than going the expensive consulting route, the most effective approach for retailers is to embed within the DNA of their corporate culture a youth movement, led by the digital native generations, which include Millennials as well as Gen Z. Having members of your team and leaders who are a part of these generations, will give you the perspective and understanding of some of the drivers, motivations and what inspires these segments when it comes to shopping, experience seeking etc.
While the tools and mechanisms of digital commerce may have evolved significantly over the past few years, what we know of Generation Z is that they enjoy the experience of going to a store, and will go out of their way to seek a personalized journey. But that is no easy task, as it will take the right strategy, processes, training and of course having members of the Gen Z segment on your own team.
Vice President of Marketing, OrderDynamics
Yes, they have. On the edges the differences between an 18-year-old and a 21-year-old might not be significant. Follow the numbers and run the stats. That’s what EVERY marketer should be doing.
As for hiring an individual Gen Z consultant … that is truly novel. I agree with doing group studies with teams of Gen Zers. I think Jonah has done an impressive job of writing a book — which is way beyond his years and cohort group. Good for him. As to whether any of that single-source advice is useful, I guess we will have to watch what the Vikings do to determine the answer there.
Senior Vice President, Dechert-Hampe (retired)
First of all, congratulations to Jonah Stillman for understanding the value of screaming ” … but we’re different …,” professionally speaking that is. He is of course correct in his assertions that the latest iteration of teens has adapted the traits displayed by every generation of teens (independence, a desire to do things “differently,” maybe even a little rebellion) to the specific events that have shaped their lives. And retailers need to acknowledge those nuances in their products and messaging. But this is just the latest iteration in the cycle — not anything really new. I had to Google it, but James Dean starred in “Rebel Without A Cause” in 1955. Same sentiments — different generation. Again, kudos to Jonah for learning to play our game at such an early age. We might be looking at a future president folks!
Professor, International Business, Guizhou University of Finance & Economics and University of Sanya, China.
Oh, how we love to categorize. As we look at consumer behavior keep in mind that there is no wall between these two generations. Relative to the behaviors mentioned, it is a spectrum rather than a lump. The oldest of Gen Z may be a lot closer to a younger Millennial than the youngest of Gen Z.
Commonly these behaviors are technologically-driven and technology is moving faster and faster. I often think about my grandchildren (four of them, ages nine to 13) and the things we experience as “wow” and they experience as “everyday.”
Net-net, a company better look at these folks and look at them hard. And rather than approaching them because they are current customers, study them because they are future customers.
Founding Partner, Merchandising Metrics
I know what I know and I have several clues about what I don’t know. I have blind spots and there is terrain my radar has never mapped. Blind spots are best addressed by those with 20/20 vision in that perspective.
First, if any of your local Gen-Z customers grew up with and love your brand and have fathers who’ve written best selling books on the nuances of generational marketing and if those fathers managed to convince their kids to co-write a book on the same subject and the kid later sets up a consulting business … then consider hiring them to help you understand that audience.
But if that person is not available, perhaps retailers might tap the wisdom of their own Gen-Z employees, who may actually be working at your store because they love your brand and want more than health care. To execute on this, consider running a contest to staff your own advisory board.
Finally, the real opportunity lies with members of the BrainTrust with Gen-Z family members, why not do the same? Or — RetailWire might consider creating a Gen-Z panel drawn from the BrainTrust family! I’m not kidding — college is expensive! Monetize your kids! (A book idea, if only….)
CFO, Weisner Steel
The poll is more than a little ironic: it asks about “lumping together,” and in doing so lumps together all retailers.
With that in mind, the key to any business is knowing your customers. Sometimes they are a very homogenous or narrowly defined group, be that age, income, geography, etc., and sometimes they are a very broad group that defies categorizing. In a narrowly tailored answer to the question, I suspect that, yes, many have improperly lumped the two together; but there are others with different products who have quite properly lumped them together (and of course many have done neither).
The problem ultimately is not knowing what you don’t know. If you don’t really understand your customer, I suspect no consultant is going to help … whoever they may be.
Wow I thought we were friends? Lol … Just got outta school and saw this. It’s ok, good for him, always happy to see a fellow Gen Zer successful.
Of corse I would say that it is great to get ideas from our perspective. I am also a huge football fan so they coulda called me. Lol!
I think retailers lump us together with Millennials sometimes because they are just getting accustomed to trying to somewhat understand them and now we come along and they are assuming we are all the same generation, when we are clearly different in tons of ways, and they need to start learning our lifestyle now. I think it was a terrific move hiring Jonah Stillman, it shows they are trying to embrace change early.
Way to go Vikings!
sales management consultant
With the extinction of marketing departments through the business world significant oversights like we are discussing here are commonplace. Perhaps that is why 21st century luxury sales are left to price advertising. While generation Z is still in its infancy, the opportunity to introduce ourselves and enlighten this market and are being squandered just like they were for Gen X and the Millennials. The desire to sell at established profit margin and turn levels has obsoleted marketing methods for cultivating interest into new markets. This is seen clearly in the consumers’ abandonment of brand and supplier loyalty programs and retail’s desperate attempts to reinvent and revive the 20th century long dead loyalty plans. This isn’t to say we don’t know there are different generations. We simply don’t know how they buy and their decision criteria and priorities.
CEO, President- American Retail Consultants
This is an abstract use of a young, inexperienced individual to understand something that requires listening, asking the right questions and understanding. Gen Z, which includes people from 1995 to 2012, doesn’t mean that we need to have a 5 year-old or an 18 year old determine how a football organization should focus on selling to Gen Z. These individuals are not part of their target markets (none of these individuals can afford a football ticket) and really have no understanding of what marketing is or how it really works. The dynamics of product positioning, placement, pricing ROI and basic business are difficult enough in today’s fluid environment, but having teen consultants trying to act as experts just because they are in that target group is a poor business decision. Understanding Gen Z requires marketing expertise that focuses on Gen Z.
Director of Product Management, Voyager Labs
Millennials and Gen Z are the most transparent generations ever. They wear their demographics, likes and dislikes, social status and more on their digital sleeves. Simple mining of publicly available data will not only help retailers (and other businesses) better understand the differences between Millennials and Gen Zers, it will help them customize marketing efforts each group and their sub-segments. While actually talking to members of these generations is better than not talking to them, there is more accurate data and better insights to be found in the social spheres.