Three lessons about Gen Z in Asia and Africa – Part I

Gen Z is by far the best representation of what future customers will be like. They are the latest stage in the evolution of consumer behaviour. In order to design new products and services that are relevant and desirable for this generation, it is vitally important that we understand their global traits and behaviours, as well as their contextual differences. In this series of articles, I will discuss some of the lessons learned from a global ethnographic research focused on this generation. In particular, I will illustrate three ways in which Gen Z in developing markets are different from Gen Z in developed markets.

You may know this generation already. They are impressively self-confident and pragmatic; they live in a fully phygital world; they are excellent multi-taskers and life-hackers; they will disrupt workplaces across industries; and they have a highly developed filter for relevance – sometimes also referred to as a ‘short attention span’. During our research, we experienced these characteristics first-hand. However, we also observed clear behavioural differences between Gen Z in developing markets (namely, Kenya and Indonesia) and those that emerged in developed markets (such as Germany and the US). We quickly understood these behavioural patterns were not accidental, rather they were intrinsically linked to the immediate context these individuals lived in. As we looked closer at the research data, we narrowed these causal factors down to three: first, their perceived future outlook; second, the access they had to information; and lastly the role of authority. Let’s start with the first one.

The ‘perceived future outlook’ is not an economic metric. It simply refers to the subjective vision about the future that people build based on their own experiences. During our research in the US, for instance, we met one participant who had invested years in debate clubs on the assumption that this would help him get into Harvard. When he failed to gain admittance, his vision for the future and his immediate environment turned quite negative. In developed markets, Gen Z feels that competition and unfairness is increasing while opportunities are decreasing. This is important because it is affecting how they invest their time on a day-to-day basis. They are intentionally investing in themselves to have the best chance to succeed in an uncertain future. They are taking extra courses for their college exams, learning additional languages, and travelling, among other things.

By contrast, in Kenya and Indonesia, Gen Z tends to have a more positive view on their immediate circumstances and their potential future. In these countries, progress was more readily apparent (at least in comparison to their parents’ generation), so there was an increased sense of optimism that we did not observe in Europe or the US. Gen Z participants in these markets felt confident with the opportunities around them and were less concerned about the future. As a result, they were more comfortable with spending their free time in non-productive ways such as playing video games or shopping online – so as long as they were busy. For instance, we met a participant in Jakarta who dreamed about becoming the first female pilot in her family. She was aware that aviation school was tough, so if plan A didn’t work out, she was also content with going to college out of town and becoming an engineer. For the time being however, she was not doing anything to prepare for either option.

In conclusion, our research points out that in developed markets, one of the opportunities to engage with this new generation lies in helping them make the most of their time now to assure their long-term goals. In emerging markets, where Gen Z have a more positive outlook, opportunities lie in helping them succeed at achievable, short-term milestones that may be useful for multiple future scenarios. Additional questions that arise in this context are: How might we tap into Gen Z’s ‘non-productive-busy’ time? How might a generally optimistic stance impact the design of new services and experiences? And how does this affect customer-adoption?

The second part of this series explores factor two: access to information

April 10, 2019