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

In this series of blogposts, we have shared how and why Gen Z in developing markets are different from Gen Z in developed markets. The first article focused on the impact of a positive future outlook, and the second article on how access to technology and information have caused different behavioural patterns. This last article focuses on the role of authority and its effect on the next generation of customers.

In today’s world, power distance has decreased. This means the gap between people and authorities is much narrower than our parents’ generation – and by authorities we mean parents and teachers but also institutions and brands. One of the reasons for this is connected to our previous factor: access to information. Essentially, the more exposure people have to different arguments, opinions and points of view, the more likely they are to question sources of authority. This is especially true for Gen Z, who draw from a variety of sources to inform their decisions. For them, information and rules are there to be analysed and justified, and not simply accepted.

In the US, Germany and Brazil, we learned that the educational system is increasingly encouraging students to become critical thinkers and form their own opinions. Parents and teachers in these countries told us how their authority is constantly being questioned, and how this is different from millennials when they were in their twenties. Gen Z told us how important it is for them to have horizontal relationships with these figures, to debate with them, reach agreements with them, and learn from one another. When it comes to brands as another form of authority, what we saw in developed countries is Gen Z’s complete emotional detachment from brands. Instead, we saw a strong focus on the functional aspects of what a brand does – i.e. whether or not it is going to do the job well.

In Kenya and Indonesia, we also heard multiple stories that showed that Gen Z expected mutual respect and understanding from authorities, and that this was where genuine trust and admiration came from. However, while in developed countries the power distance between authorities and Gen Z appears to be narrowing, in developing countries it still remains robust. In these countries, parents, teachers or brands still play an influential role in Gen Z’s life and decision-making processes, and this is especially clear with brands. Gen Z in developing countries talk about brands from a much more emotional standpoint. They buy certain products, go to certain places or engage with certain platforms because they are associated with status, belonging, or safety – emotional needs that we did not observe in developed countries. The shifting, yet flexible, role of authority in developing countries, as well as Gen Z’s latent emotional needs, represent a clear opportunity to capture and engage with this new generation of customers.

In conclusion, while Gen Z is indeed an unprecedented global generation, different contexts determine different living and consuming behaviours. Perceived economic outlook, access to information, and the role of authority, are three contextual factors that illustrate this. Recognising these and other factors is important in a fast-changing world that demands new responses and strategies to them. The companies that succeed in the years to come will be the ones that realise that the task ahead is not just to understand Gen Z, but to understand what they tell us about the realities we live in, and how this will impact the next generation of customers.

April 29, 2019