Snackable Lesson 2 of 7:
Inspiration & Learning

In yesterday’s lesson, we talked about the deluge of visual information that’s flooding Generation Z every moment of every day. It is so constant that their brains have actually evolved to process inputs more quickly.

There is a video I like to show at conferences. It has no volume; it is just a recording of a teenager scrolling through the Explore section of Snapchat during a mobile diary study entry. It shows what she was doing in that precise moment in time. The clip is only 30 seconds long, but it is enough to make your head spin. Every time I watch it, I feel dizzy. In one section, the teen scrolls so fast that the images have not even loaded yet. Impatient or bored or maybe just out of habit, she keeps scrolling anyway.

The stats say that on average, Generation Z has an 8-second attention span. However, that is only 8 seconds once you have succeeded in catching their attention in the first place!

This generation is making gut decisions about what interests them, in a matter of nanoseconds, and once they decide that something is interesting or worthy of their time, they click. For about 8 seconds, they will focus on the pictures, watch a few seconds of video, or maybe even scan some text. That is a good 4 seconds less than those 25-35 years old.

That means that once you catch their attention and spark an interest, you only have 8 seconds to get them to fall in love. It is harder than ever before to stand out.

But just when you thought things were looking bleak, consider this: the moment Generation Z decides they are interested in a story or a personality, they go nuts.

I mean, really nuts.

If you can capture their attention during that 8 seconds… You are set.

A switch flips and they turn into mini-stalkers (and I do mean that in the most endearing way). These youth deep dive into whatever sparked their interest, searching for every shred of information they can find. They seek out exclusive information, hidden secrets. The harder it is to find, the greater the gratification. The quirkier the better: “Can you believe [insert personality here] hates ranch dressing? Who in their right mind hates ranch dressing?”

Generation Z wants to know everything about the people they follow, whether a niche musician or a YouTube celebrity. They need the behind-the-scenes story, and want to know about authentic and personal insights into their lives.

What’s more, they crave learning. If they spark an interest in a YouTube or Instagram creator, they will spend hours a day watching their videos, their Instagram stories, and getting more and more engaged. Some even create fan accounts on Instagram to aggregate information about a specific person they follow, to follow other fan accounts. They curate feeds on a certain YouTuber or Instagrammer by following other fan accounts, the personality’s friends and family who might share personal details about the person. They’re also bouncing around between multiple apps to find new, fresh information: Instagram and YouTube of course, but also Snapchat (for the behind-the-scenes videos and photos), Twitter (mostly for professional announcements that a new video or audio has been released), Facebook (if the person they are following is older), and multiple music apps if the person is a musician. These are just a few!

Gen Z expects that creators will post every moment of their lives. They expect videos, photos, stories, trips, fashion—at all hours of the day. Instagram provides the aspirational slice-of-life exhibition they crave. But they use at least 2 to 3 other apps or sites to find fresh, different information. Given the fact that they do not read nearly as much as past generations, is really incredible how good these kids are at online research and finding out things about a particular interest, band, or personality. In large part, it is because they are willing to spend the time doing it. They will watch every YouTube video their favorite creator ever made, find out her age, significant other, family, friends, where she lives, personal details of her life and become super-fans on Instagram and Snapchat and Twitter and anywhere else. So, just know that you will need to serve up content that meets this need. Once they love you, you need to keep the content love affair going!

Insatiable, self-directed love of learning

When on their phones, Generation Z consumes three key types of content: inspiration (feeling motivated or interested, usually by example); education (learning or doing something new); and entertainment (zoning out while binging on YouTube or Netflix).

While they tend to associate positive emotions with inspiring and educational content, they tend to associate negative feelings with entertainment: after consuming this content, they feel guilty about not spending their time in a more productive way.

One 19-year-old named Ashley told me, “Even when I relax, I like to feel like I’m doing something. Don’t get me wrong, I love movies, but towards the end of a movie I always feel like I’m wasting my time.” She told me that this is why she prefers gaming to watching movies, “Story games are kind of like movies in that they have plot twists. But in a game, I’m controlling the outcome. I’m part of the story. It feels like you’re in it. You get to figure it out.” She went on to describe the thinking that happens during a game, telling me how you have to critically plan what to pick up, where to go, and if you make one decision versus another, there is a “butterfly effect” and the game ends in a different way. She told me this was the third time she was playing a specific game, and each time the outcome has been different. She often watches playthroughs on YouTube to learn the strategy behind the games she plays. She spends a couple hours a night playing games, and another couple watching gaming videos on YouTube.

Inspiring content motivates Generation Z to want to do something, to be active for a cause, or to better themselves or their world in some way. The most inspiring content for Generation Z comes through personalities they follow, mostly Instagramers and YouTubers.

Once inspired (which we talked about above), they move to learning.

They mostly use YouTube for content focused on learning, and they soak in hours of DIY and how-to videos, on basically any topic you can imagine.

Here are a few examples of the types of videos they are watching:

How to…

  • Code something

  • Advance in a video game / computer game

  • Apply makeup (for myself or others)

  • Style or make clothing

  • Learn a musical instrument

  • Cook something extravagant

  • Improve photography or digital editing skills

  • Craft (e.g., how to make a pom pom rug or how to make slime)

  • Solve math problems

  • Build a business (usually focused on some sort of passive income)

  • Write a great college essay

  • Deal with a bully

  • Get involved in activism, like stopping gun violence in schools

YouTube videos are the primary source for learning, though some topics (activism especially) might actually require a search. Notice that learning something new is not necessarily tied to what kids are doing in school—it is anything they believe will help them accomplish a goal in their life, hobbies, or future career, or anything else.

It is clear that this is a generation that loves and values learning. On average, they watch YouTube videos 3 hours a day. Wow.

This generation assumes that whatever they need to learn, there will be a YouTube video up and waiting, an omnipresent education in their back pocket.

Interactive lessons often are watched in the moment they are needed, in the context while someone is focusing on improving a skill. For example, Generation Z who like to bake may pull up a video on cake decorating techniques once they are already in the kitchen with the cake made and tools in hand, many who have already started the task and realized they didn’t know what they were doing. In past generations, people would watch a cooking show or read a cookbook first, then later apply the recipe. This generation is pausing videos, doing things, and playing them again, going back and re-watching and re-trying. They are constantly learning, trying, doing.

The moral of this story, for you my marketer friend, is that for Generation Z especially, it is hard to capture attention. But once you do, good golly lights and sirens! These kids are amazing. Unlike constantly-distracted Millennials, Generation Z can tune everything else out in order to focus and learn—and they will be excited to do so!

So find a way to grab their attention and get them interested. Once you do, do not share everything on every platform. You will literally be able to manufacture delight each time something fresh and new is discovered, so scatter tidbits from place to place in order to make the scavenger hunt real. This keeps them focusing, keeps them going down the rabbit hole, keeps them interested in you and your brand.

So what does this mean to you, my fine marketer?

  1. Want engagement? Focus first on attention: It is incredibly difficult to consistently capture attention of a Generation Z audience. If you can get past this and spark their attention, you will be rewarded handsomely, with hours and hours of incredibly focused, stalker-style engagement.

  2. Generation Z scrolls so, so fast: Just because they scrolled by your ad doesn’t mean they did not see it. This generation scrolls so much faster than Millennials and older generations that Facebook and Instagram now measure relative scroll speeds to measure attention (as they should). Don’t be concerned if your ads are getting less minutes of view time with this generation: it does not mean their attention is less; it just means they may scroll faster.

  3. Piggyback off an existing interest: To increase the chance of being noticed in a noisy world, tap into what your audience is already interested in. Get to know your customers and develop personas that clearly outline related interests.

  4. Quality content wins every time: Quality content is still the name of the game for Generation Z. Even better: it does not have to be fresh content. They are just as interested in evergreen articles, especially related to skill-based learning, as long as they are still relevant.

  5. Email is not dead: Social media has an opportunity for better, bigger engagement than email. While an email will never go “viral”, it is an effective communication strategy because it is routinely used by Generation Z. It should be combined as a part of an integrated marketing strategy for a consistent base of awareness and (if relevant) e-commerce.

If you enjoyed this lesson, please show your support by buying the book!

If you’re interested in talking about a research project of your own, we should meet!