Canadian youth are intelligent, diverse and fickle: study

A new study that looks at the values of different generations finds that young millennials and Gen Z's favourite brand is - surprise - themselves.

For brands trying to reach young Canadian consumers don’t just have to worry about competing with each other — they have to compete with the consumers themselves.

That’s one of the takeaways from a new study from the Zeno Group’s initiative, The Human Project. “Their favourite brand is themselves,” said Therese Caruso, managing director of global strategy and insights at Zeno Group New York of the demographic, which looked at young millennials Canadians between the ages of 15 and 25.

The Human Project began in 2015 in an effort to find how brands could identify with certain demographics based on their values. While in its first year it looked at families with children under 18, this edition looked at young millennials and Gen Z, which it defined as people between the ages of 15 and 25.

The study looked at more than 5,000 youth in six countries, including Canada, through a mix of online surveys and focus group, resulting in findings that were both quantitative and anecdotal.

Caruso presented the findings at Sponsorship Toronto’s Sponsorship Week conference the morning of Oct. 26, to help brands understand the values of young Canadians and how to better reach them.

While Canadian youth were very similar to the broad global sample, Caruso told MiC the biggest difference is that the Canadian group was “a little more feisty” in terms of their beliefs, with a focus on individuality, diversity and social awareness.

“From our conversations and focus groups we found that Canadian youth are very educated about their place in society when it comes to their economic social backgrounds,” she said.

Indeed, in the online surveys (which were conducted in partnership with Minneapolis-based analytics firm Iconoculture), the Human Project found that 94% said it was important for one to be unique and possess their own style, 91% found people who were different from them very interesting and 63% said they didn’t worry about what others thought of them.

That emphasis on self-love and awareness largely plays into their relationship with brands, said Caruso.

“They use brands to help them be their best self,” she said. “They want to be reached in a tangible way, and they want to know how brands can help them. They wonder, ‘Are you going to send me free products? Is this going to help me look my best? Are you going to show me how to become a YouTube star?’ They expect brands to engage them more actively and offer some sort of activity or task, rather than just give them a product to buy.”

Unsurprisingly, the generation loves technology: 82% have smartphones, and 87% report texting daily.

But Caruso described the group as the first “post-technology” generation (“older millennials can remember a time before smartphones, this generation cannot,” she said), and said this affects the way they use technology.

From focus group observations, Caruso said technology is more of an unquestioned part of the demographic’s everyday lives, and it lacks “a bit of the magic.” Even so-called unplugging is not as big of a deal for younger respondents, said Caruso. “While on the older side, people may make a big deal of putting their phones away at a dinner table, like ‘Oh, I’m turning off my phone, I’m putting it down,’ [younger respondents] tend to just put their phone away without saying anything.”

A love-hate relationship with technology was also observed across the board. While youth love the versatility of technology and the access to information, it can also cause anxiety and fear of missing out.

“The number one thing respondents spoke about was distraction, and they said it’s terribly time-consuming. For example, if they don’t keep their Snapchat stream going, it gives them this tremendous anxiety.”

Despite their tech-native status, not all are comfortable with online over-share — 52% of Canadian respondents said they are comfortable sharing data online. However, this number was higher than any other country studied.

This could impede brands in reaching youth through traditional online means, said Caruso. Another issue with this generation: “Their definition of loyalty is very different from other groups,” she said. “They will abandon a brand in a second if they see that another brand has a different feature.”

Image courtesy of Shutterstock