Millennials’ power and influence in the global market is undeniable. Over the last decade, they have become the holy grail consumer and employee for most industries. But a slightly larger, equally formidable generation has come of age, and it’s practically custom made for direct selling.
Generation Zs were born between 1996 and 2009, and they recently edged past millennials as the world’s largest generation. Their numbers alone command attention, but this group’s characteristics should make direct selling companies take particular notice.
Zs expect to use high-tech tools in every facet of their lives. But they also want authentic, personal interactions, and they’re passionate about humanitarian and social justice issues. They intuitively understand the concept of brand. And they’re more committed to training than perhaps any generation that’s gone before them. Technology. Tools. People orientation. Brand. Training. These are among the Core Principles of direct selling success. Gen Z’s motivations, skills and personal qualities are closely aligned with what makes our industry unique, what makes it work.
Right now, fewer than six percent of people involved in direct selling fall into the Gen Z category, according to the Direct Selling Association (DSA). But that’s because the oldest among them is only 24, just starting their adult lives. DSA research also indicates that a whopping 91 percent of Gen Zs are interested in entrepreneurship. Their attitude toward business ownership and their alignment with our Core Principles make now the time for our industry to get Zs’ attention, to let them know we are built on ideals that matter to them. If we can catch the first wave of potential Gen Z customers and distributors, others are more likely to follow.
PRIMED FOR ENTREPRENEURSHIP
The oldest Gen Zs watched their parents struggle through the Great Recession, and now all of them are feeling the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because job security has not always been a given in their world, according to a Deloitte survey, Gen Zs want “diverse and entrepreneurial opportunities with the safety of stable employment and will remain loyal to a company if it can offer this,” Sarah Sladek, CEO of consulting firm XYZ University, agrees. “Zs tend to like the idea of being in control of their destinies,” she wrote in a recent study.
Direct selling gives people more control over their income and work lives through opportunities with companies that typically thrive and even grow during tough economic times. Our industry’s stocks outperformed the Dow Jones Industrial Average throughout the spring and summer, and while domestic direct selling revenue had been flat to slightly down since reaching an all-time high of more than $36 billion in 2016, “it is our belief that 2020 sales will reach, and likely exceed that record figure,” said Transformation Capital CEO Stuart Johnson in September.
Direct selling companies might also see higher rates of Gen Z customers making the transition to distributor. Says the Deloitte survey, “Gen Z prefers to work in industries that they interact within their personal lives as opposed to industries they aren’t frequent consumers of.” So, keep your eye on the customer-centric ball, and Gen Z may naturally fill your field team ranks.
RAISED ON TECHNOLOGY
Working Gen Zs have been touching and swiping screens practically their whole lives. They don’t just use technology. They live digitally. If you want to capture Zs’ attention, invest in development of the tools that have become extensions of their fingertips: primarily mobile technology and social media.
According to a study by the Center for Generational Kinetics (CGK), more than half of Zs use their smartphones more than five hours a day. These devices are their connection to everything from Uber rides and DoorDash food to video chats with friends and live streams from their favorite artists and influencers. “Companies and marketing leaders must understand that because Gen Z lives on their smartphones, every interface they design needs to work seamlessly on mobile,” the CGK study says. “Design with a mobile-first philosophy.”
Mobile-first has become an increasingly important part of tech strategies across our industry.
Mark Pentecost, CEO and founder of health and wellness provider It Works!, says his company’s mobile app helps Z distributors hit the ground running. “Gen Z wants their tools accessible on-the-go,” he says. “They don’t want to wait for a Business Builder Kit to hit their doorstep to start making money. We help them make money their first day in business. Through our Sampling App program, they can sell samples and earn cash immediately.”
And don’t bother putting Zs on your snail mail and email marketing lists. XYZ researchers found that 85 percent of them say they learn about new products through social media. But they’re rarely on Facebook or Twitter—they spend their virtual time on Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube.
Not only does Gen Z expect to use technology to discover and share new products, but many also want to be the ones to develop it. According to online job search company Glassdoor, Gen Zs applied for jobs as software engineers more than any other position in late 2018-early 2019. If you want your tech team to be on the leading edge, let it get some Zs.
DRAWN TO RELATIONSHIPS & FAIRNESS
Gen Zers may rarely be without their devices, but they still are hungry for in-person interaction and authentic connections, demographers say. This makes Zs the perfect fit for our channel, which is built around the belief that relationships are key to success. More than any other industry—certainly more than the gig competitors—we give people a chance to make meaningful personal connections while sharing products they believe in.
Gen Zs’ people-orientation fuels their passion for making the world a better place, and our industry needs to be mindful of how important this is to them. “While philanthropically minded companies have been successful marketing to Millennials,” XYZ researchers say, “Zs will hold their feet to the fire, expecting brands to change the world in innovative and measurable ways.” The Deloitte study echoes this conclusion: “The core values of the generation are reflected in their prioritizing social activism more than previous generations, and in the importance, they place on working at organizations whose values align with their own.”
To attract and keep Z customers and distributors—our industry must invest time, money and resources in causes that resonate with Zs, including the impact of poverty and hunger, human rights, and equality, according to research from Cone Communications.
“Gen Z doesn’t form opinions of a company solely based on the quality of its products, but also focuses on its ethics, practices and social impact,” says Kindsey Pentecost, Chief Marketing Officer for It Works!, whose Gives Back Foundation supports organizations that work to prevent human trafficking, feed the hungry, and support military veterans and their families.
Gen Z also is more diverse and inclusive than any generation before them. “Generation Z came of age just as the Black Lives Matter movement was cresting,” says a recent article in The New York Times. “And they are far more comfortable with shifting views of identity than older generations have been.” More than one-third of Gen Zs surveyed by the Pew Research Center said they knew someone who preferred to be addressed using gender-neutral pronouns.
The DSA is leading our channel’s effort to stay focused on diversity and equity, recently announcing that it has partnered with a Cultural Transformation consultant to begin “the hard work of turning [our] commitment into concrete, measurable action.” The industry has made progress, writes DSA President and CEO Joseph Mariano. “But it hasn’t been enough. The events of recent months have highlighted the need for all of us, including direct sellers, to take the next necessary steps to ensure that the American dream of opportunity, freedom and equity that direct selling embodies is a reality for all.”
SAVVY ABOUT BRAND
Make no mistake, Gen Zs are watching you for that “concrete, measurable action.” That’s one way they’ll know if they can trust your brand. “Authenticity and consistency within a brand are key” when it comes to appealing to Zs, Kindsey Pentecost says.
Zs have become masters of brand consistency, having carefully developed their own images online, say XYZ researchers. “Through social media (especially SnapChat and Instagram), they curate their personal brand to reflect how they want to be perceived. Zs are their own brand managers, monitoring comments, likes and views to measure brand value and success.” Leverage your Zs’ inherent branding and social media talent, helping them apply it to their business building to become an influencer who represents your brand accurately and consistently, too.
Gen Z distributors and consumers want to connect with brands that are serious about doing good in the world and helping them succeed, but also with those that are serious about keeping their loyalty. Gifts and exclusive offers are excellent ways to do that. “We have found that unique giveaways are a great incentive,” Kindsey Pentecost says. “Freebies like event tickets, Bluetooth headphones and wireless chargers and speakers attract this younger generation of distributors and potential consumers.”
DRIVEN BY EDUCATION
“Zs came of age during an era of disruption, and Zs were raised to compete,” writes Sladek of XYZ. As a result, Zs are becoming the most educated generation in history, says the Deloitte study. “So, organizations that focus on investment in learning and skill/capability development become more attractive to this education-oriented cohort.”
Our channel differentiates itself by providing professional and personal development at a level few other industries can claim. Make your training accessible through webinars, YouTube videos and mobile apps, and you’ll keep Zs interested. Nearly 40 percent of the Gen Zs XYZ surveyed said they prefer to learn online—just make sure you provide hands-on training opportunities, too, because more than half said they want to learn by doing.
Generation Zs don’t know a world without constant, rapid change. They are adaptable, comfortable moving beyond artificial boundaries, and more open to new ways of thinking and working than any generation that preceded them. As our industry evolves, searching for innovative ways of strategizing and operating, Generation Z can keep us from looking backward.