Why Millennial's and Gen Z are the Marketing Leaders of the not so distant future
Updated: Sep 15, 2020
Often referred to as the younger generations, millennial's and Gen Z are typically considered as the junior members of the workforce, often portrayed as the “needy” entry-level grads with unrealistic expectations of culture and happiness. However, millennials are now in their 30s, some even fast approaching their 40s (probably faster than they’d like to admit!) and most have over 10-15 years experience since graduating. It’s time to consider that while millennials and Gen Zers might not have 30+ years of work experience of some of their seniors, they have a lifetime of digital marketing experience.
Born between the early 1980s and mid-1990s, millennials were the first generation to grow up with the emerging digital technologies of today. They were the early adopters of the internet when it first became normal for families to own a shared home computer. They witnessed the evolution of the mobile phone, as smartphones became part of the everyday. Ask any millennial, and we can all relive the countless hours spent listening to the dial-up internet connections, talking to friends on MSN, hacking our Nokia 3310’s ringtones, writing our own blogs/websites (honestly what did we even have to say at 13?) and learning HTML just so we could customise our Myspace profiles.
Meanwhile, the generation that followed, Gen Z, also referred to as the iGeneration, have never known anything different. Born between 1996 and 2015, Gen Z is the hyperconnected generation, having grown up with smartphones, apps and Google, many learning how to download an app before they even learnt to write. Gen Z is the generation of personal brands, without any formal marketing training, Gen Z is more conscientious of their online brand than most global organisations.
As millennials began their marketing careers as fresh-faced graduates, digital marketing was beginning to surface, slowly at first with Google AdWords launching in 2000, followed by the launch of social media platforms Facebook, Youtube and Twitter during 2004-2006.
However, it wasn’t until 2006 and the launch of Google Analytics followed by the first mass-market smartphone, the iPhone launching in 2007, that search truly exploded.
During this time, many millennials were fresh-faced marketeers, in junior-level roles tasked with “doing” but also keen to learn. We quickly became the hands-on experts for managing digital marketing activities. As new technologies emerged and continuous algorithm changes launched, we learnt to be adaptive, lateral-thinkers. We had to pitch new ideas and technology to get the test budget to prove things could work, quickly learning that demonstrating ROI was the key to success. All great qualities necessary for a marketing leader of today.
Meanwhile, while millennials were learning everything about digital marketing, our more experienced marketing leaders were no longer performing within a hands-on capacity. Focusing on creating strategies and leading teams, they saw digital marketing as a passing fad. Quickly, it became apparent that marketing leaders were out of touch with today’s marketing world, often relying on their more junior, millennial colleagues to educate them. Now I’ll admit this is a generalist view, and some immersed themselves on courses, while others attempted to learn the basics, but very few have the hands-on experience of managing digital marketing campaigns that millennials do.
As for Gen Z, they’re not far behind, as they begin to emerge in the workplace, they bring a different set of values with a digital native skillset. Used to a continuously evolving digital landscape, Gen Z are used to fast growth and evolution. They are rejecting the notion that you must have 30+ years of experience to be a leader, a generation of entrepreneurs, Gen Z are ready to challenge the traditional managerial framework.
So what does this mean for the future of marketing leaders? More and more often, CEO’s are looking for digitally and commercially savvy marketing leaders. Marketers that can demonstrate their worth in the boardroom, while leading a team of experts to deliver highly optimised campaigns, while it’s true that you don’t have to be a PPC expert to lead a PPC team, it is still important to understand enough to lead. All traits that millennials and Gen Z are demonstrating. CEO’s no longer want to accept that marketing is a dark art, they see it as a business science, one that can be explained with facts and figures. The old marketing way of “it can’t be proved/tracked/evidenced” no longer stands up against questioning, and in fact, is beginning to discredit marketeers.
It’s important not to forget that brand still matters. The experience customers have when engaging with a company is still a fundamental of marketing, but as marketers, we must continue to evolve and develop to find new ways to articulate the benefit of this to businesses. The fundamentals of marketing are expanding. Digital and data are now driving a new era of marketing. It’s the era of millennial and Gen Z marketing leaders.