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What comes after the "digital natives"?

The generation after millennials isn’t just one generation.

That’s according to Alexandra Samuel, technology writer, researcher and speaker, who presented at the Customer Intelligence Summit about the generation after the digital natives—what many refer to as “Generation Z” or simply “Gen Z.” Her presentation provides an intriguing and compelling look at how Gen Z consumers are growing up, and the implications for businesses and employers in the next decade.

3 generations within 1 generation

Samuel used the Vision Critical platform to engage with more than 10,000 North American parents on their families’ use of technology. Her research identified three major parenting styles today when it comes to technology use. These different styles, Samuel argued, will shape the attitudes and behaviors of young customers, ultimately influencing their habits as consumers and employees.

Samuel placed Gen Zs in three major buckets based on how they are being raised.

Digital Orphans are growing up in families where parents see technology as the new normal—most likely at the expense of having connection to one another. “These kids are online, but they’re raising themselves,” explained Samuel. “That’s why I call them Digital Orphans.” Digital Orphans will grow up much like Millennials, Samuel predicted.

Digital Exiles are in families that have deliberately turned off screens where parents keep their kids offline as much as possible. In theory, these kids are being raised having a lot of offline experiences their techie peers lack—but they may struggle to find their own way online as adults, in the same way that many Gen Xers did.

Digital Heirs have parents who have embraced they technology, but who are actively guiding their kids’ entry into the digital world. These parents see tech as a central piece of their kids’ lives, said Samuel, but they also pay attention to the concerns of excessive tech use. Digital Heirs are unlike any other generation we’ve seen before: they are the first true generation of second-generation internet users.

The impact to your business

Samuel’s research shows that families today are practically evenly split when it comes to their approach to tech. That means businesses and employers need to be able to competently cater to three major consumers and employees in the future.

Digital Orphans, who are already active on networks like Facebook and Instagram, will grow up with social media fluency, but many of them may be at risk of practicing online indiscretion in the future. Digital Exiles, meanwhile, have less opportunities to learn about technology, which means they may find themselves out-of-sync with an increasingly online education system, workplace and culture.

Digital Heirs are being coached by their parents in technology use, and Samuel predicts that these consumers will demand that businesses up their game. These young consumers won’t tolerate subpar digital experiences. Samuel’s research shows that by the time Gen Zers reach high school, Digital Heirs will have significantly more skills than their peers, having experiences in programming, blogging, building websites and editing videos.

Different groups demand different things

Businesses will need to cater to a marketplace that will have all off these three groups of consumers, said Samuel. To prepare, companies need to think about what makes these groups different from one another—and from today’s customers and workers. For example, while Exiles might demand easy experiences online, Heirs might want more customization and co-creation. For employers, Orphans might have the tendency to be indiscreet on social media, while Heirs might be harder to control given their tech-savviness.

To prepare, companies need to think about what makes these groups different from one another—and from today’s customers and workers.

In the end though, Gen Zs will bring varied talents and sources of inspiration to the workplace, said Samuel, and that diversity will bring enormous value to companies.

Samuel’s closing advice: start engaging with these consumers now to get to know them and to keep up with their evolving motivations and preferences. “You can start preparing for this divided customer base, and divided workplace, by asking your customers about how they navigate their use of tech at home,” she explained. “You can become the kind of business that knows how to serve all three types of these customers.”