Brand Breakout Summit/2020: Presentation of Results from WP Engine’s 2020 Gen Z Report

For Gen Z, the most Internet-dependent generation in history, the physical and digital worlds have begun to blend in a way few ever envisioned. This presents opportunities and challenges for today’s brands, but to reach Gen Z you must first understand their needs. In this video, WP Engine’s VP of Communications, Eric Jones, reveals the results of our brand new study on Gen Z and explains Gen Z differs from previous generations through their identity, influence, and inspiration.

Check out the complete Gen Z 2020 report: Generation Influence: results from the 2020 Gen Z report

Video recording of session

Slides from the session

Eric Jones, VP of Communications, WP Engine discusses: 

  • Understanding the identity or the characteristics that make up Gen Z, as well as those influences on Gen Z, so we can get them to either believe or trust what we may want to say as marketers.

We’d do really well to study and understand Gen Z behaviors so that we can not only build the digital experiences of tomorrow, but better understand how the workplace of tomorrow needs to exist.

Full text transcript


– Hello and welcome to our presentation on Generation Z. I’m Eric Jones, I’m the vice president of Global Communications here at WP Engine.


So why do we bother studying Gen Z in the first place?


Quite simply, it’s because Gen Z influences more of the direction of our digital path than any other generation, and it’s in understanding where that path lies that we’re able to build a platform that can best support those new expectations around digital experiences.


For this study, we took a look at four different generations, we took a look at boomers, we took a look at millennials, we took a look at Gen X, we took a look at Gen Z.


We did it across four different countries, the United States, the UK, Europe, and Australia.


Now each one of those generations is defined by a particular incident that happened during that generation’s early existence.


For the boomers, it was the Kennedy assassination and the Vietnam War,


For Gen X, it was the rise of MTV and the Challenger explosion.


For millennials, it was 9/11,


And for Gen Z, probably even more than the launch of the iPhone, this generation is going to come to be known for the pandemic that we’re all currently undergoing right now all around the world.


Now, who did we speak to? We spoke to over 1200 members of these generations here in the United States.


I’ll be concentrating on the United States for purposes of this presentation.


They hail from all regions of the United States, and they’re broken down roughly 50/50 between male and female.


We also worked with the number one research firm in the area studying generations, the Center for Generational Kinetics.


Now, another important point to understand about Gen Z is they actually currently make up 40% of all consumers, that’s both a global and a United States stat, and as of 2026, they’re going to start to be over 40% of the workforce as well, so again, we’d do really, really well to study and understand their behaviors so that we can not only build the digital experiences of tomorrow, but better understand how the workplace of tomorrow needs to exist.


The presentation is going to be broken down into two different parts, the identity or the characteristics that make up Gen Z, as well as those influences on Gen Z, how we can actually best get them to either believe or trust what we may want to say as marketers.


Diving into the identity part of the equation, what we learned is that Gen Z, in fact, their characteristics are very, very unlike those of the other generations.


For instance, they’re the most internet dependent generation of all, anybody who has any Gen Z

kids at home will know this, they love and are actually very comfortable being glued to their various devices as long as you’ll let them.


So when we dive in, what that actually means is, for four hours, if they go for more than four hours without access to those devices, they actually begin to feel very, very nervous.


In fact, 58% of them cannot go for more than four hours without that type of access.


Needless to say, no other generation has this same issue.


Secondly, Gen Z happens to share more publicly when they’re online, they’re more comfortable doing so.


They don’t necessarily feel a need to keep things private.


So what does that actually look like in practice?


It means they’re more willing to share pictures, videos, even memes.


In fact, across almost all those areas, more than half are more willing to share those publicly than they are one-on-one or in some private fashion.


Even selfies, they’re almost at a 50/50 percent likelihood to either share that publicly or to do so privately.


The only area where Gen Z’s actually more likely to share something privately than publicly is in the area of sharing a website.


And what do they do when they’re online and engaging in digital activities?


The reality is, they love to create.


It could be creating images, photos, editing them,


It could be creating videos and editing them, it could be making an app.


Now this question was worded in a way if they had the skills or talent to do so, they’d want to create an app or they’d want to create a game,


In fact, it’s that game area where they far outpace other generations,


They’re really, really keen on it, they love it and they want to share it with other people.


Another area where Gen Z’s behaviors really come to the floor is how they feel about the internet, and they really do see it as a force for good in this world.


In fact, 79% of all Gen Z view it as a positive influence in their lives, and they think it’s helped to make us more connected>


Now, for boomers, that number’s only 70%.


Flipping over to artificial intelligence and the role that that plays, more than half, again, 64% of Gen Z see it as having a positive impact on the world.


Versus boomers don’t feel that way, less than half, in fact, feel that AI will have a positive impact on the world.


And then, of course, we know they’re creators now, we know they love working online, but where are they putting it all?


And it’s pretty obvious that it’s on a website.


Overall, across all generations, in fact, more Americans have websites than actually own businesses, and when we flip to, well, what are people building those websites on?


We learn that Gen Z, far and away, prefers building with WordPress.


In fact, over 64% of all of Gen Z has had some type of engagement with WordPress, whether that’s working in WordPress itself or working with others who are working in WordPress, and that’s far more than other generations.


As far as their digital representation of self and what types of activities they’re willing to engage more online than in real life, in fact, one of those is being involved in social causes,


72% feel like they can be just as involved with a social cause online, exclusively online, versus doing something in real life.


Flip side is more than half are likely to disagree with somebody online versus disagreeing with somebody in real life.


Now, another really, really interesting area, and, you know, I think this really gives you a view into the mind of Gen Z is over half of Gen Z is friends with somebody that they have only known online, meaning they’ve never met them in person.


That’s an incredible stat, and it’s very, very particular to Gen Z.


Another one is 47%, so almost half of Gen Z, will say something online that they would never say in person, that number drops to only 27% for boomers, so again, it actually kind of highlights the fact that Gen Z is very comfortable online, and they view it almost equivalently with in real life.


And the last stat that I think is really, really interesting is that almost a quarter of Gen Z agrees with the statement that they will trust someone that they meet online more than someone that they might meet in real life.


That is a staggering stat, I think, that you would be more likely to trust somebody online rather than meeting them in person.


Perhaps that’s because of the wealth of information that’s available about people online now, and it’s easier to quote, unquote, fact check, than it has been before and than you’re able to actually do in real life.


One of the interesting things that we did in this study last year was we wanted to examine how entrepreneurial this generation is, and the good news is about half of Americans either will or are likely to open a business at some point in the future.


Those numbers are actually down from the prior year, but we’ve seen Gen Z’s numbers decrease less than those other generations.


In fact, given the pandemic and given the fact that so many Gen Z-ers are graduating from college, one of the things that we’re seeing is with their jobs, in some cases, falling through due to cutbacks among the brands that they were trying to work for, they’re going out and they’re hanging their own shingle, and so it’ll be interesting next year taking a look at these statistics to see whether, in fact, for Gen Z, it goes up.


So again, Gen Z, more entrepreneurial, even though that number’s down from last year, it’s still far, far less of a decline than with those other generations.


And I think this goes without saying, but the name of the game is being online, and over 60% of Gen Z is likely to do something online.


In fact, that number holds for all generations, and I would expect that, especially given the situation today, that that number next year will be up as well.


Another interesting thing about Gen Z, and we’ve heard this a lot, is they don’t necessarily see themselves with brands.


Brands don’t define them, that they’re, in some ways, less likely to buy something solely because of the brand that product is or comes from. 


56% of Gen Z is perfectly comfortable fitting in rather than standing out, and we see here that only 48% of Gen Z, in fact, uses brands to define their lifestyle.


Now, shifting gears to the other side of the equation which is the influence side of the equation and what are they doing online? How do we get their attention? And how do we ultimately break through and inspire advocacy and loyalty among Gen Z?


We took a look with the study this year at a whole slew of different products, and we tried to examine what the preference was for those products in terms of being sold online.


In fact, those products being bought online versus in person, and for three key products, travel, events, and books, it’s more likely to be bought online than in real life.


An interesting one is, you’ll see at the very, very bottom of the list, groceries.


I think, given the events of the last couple of weeks, we would very strongly expect to see that number rise dramatically in next year’s report.


From a consumer perspective, another thing that matters to Gen Z regarding those products is the uniqueness of those products.


They care about customization, in fact, three-quarters of them would prefer to be able to customize a product versus just over half for boomers.


Another interesting thing is they’re more likely to buy a product, by a long shot, than boomers if they know that other people like that product.


Now you could say they’re easily influenced by other people, but I think it actually has to do with that element that we’ve long talked about with Gen Z, which is authenticity, meaning they want to know that other people, in fact, have used the product and it works.


When they’re buying online, we see that, by far, all the generations prefer to buy through a website versus through an app.


The only area where that wasn’t the case was in ready-to-eat foods, and again, given the situation around the world with the pandemic, I think it’s very likely that not all restaurants that we were buying from had apps and so it’s quite conceivable that almost across every single category next year, we’ll see the triumph of the website over the app.


Now, another interesting thing is that Gen Z fully expects that within the next 10 years, in fact, 60% of them, expect that all shopping will take place online.


And wow, you know, when you pull out your crystal ball, maybe that’ll happen far sooner than we realize given, again, the situations of the last couple of weeks.


Now, if you’re building a website, as many of us are, for Gen Z, how do you do it?


What are the best ways to capture their attention?


And this is one of those remarkable generational divides that we have and we’ve seen for the last three years doing this study, which is Gen Z wants to be entertained first and foremost.


This means that your product, your service, your company, needs to be fun, needs to be interesting, needs to capture their attention, so lead with that type of content versus informative content if you’re trying to capture the demographics of millennials or Gen X or boomers.


Another interesting thing is regarding their websites, the younger generations are far more likely to want an internet that predicts what they like, want, or need at all times versus a preference for an internet where you can retain your anonymity.


So we’re nearing in, this number’s up slightly from last year, we’re nearing in on that 50/50 split, but interestingly, the numbers with boomers are falling sharply.


They far would prefer to remain anonymous when doing things online, again, no such preference on the part of Gen Z.


Another thing that’s really interesting is what do they care about in terms the products online?


Quality products, customer service, great reviews.


These are the things that stand out, but interestingly, the one area where, again, Gen Z zigs, is they want a great website.


That matters more to them in terms of how much they’re willing to trust a company than a lot of these other areas.


From an ad perspective, for those of us who are marketers, the most trusted ads across all generations are those where the images are undoctored and they feature real customers. 


That’s true pretty much across the board, but it’s especially true of Gen Z.


And another interesting thing is when you’re buying from a company,


Gen Z is more likely to both buy from a company that contributes to social causes that they identify with, but they’re also more forgiving of companies who are involved with social causes that they don’t necessarily involve with, and those numbers are flipped for boomers.


And what influences loyalty to a brand? We learn that it’s habit, we learn that it’s alignment with values, we also learn that it’s in alignment with lifestyle.


But for Gen Z, the one wrinkle, again, is they do care about it being cool and they do care about that cool factor more than other generations.


Lastly, we took a look at values in another way, what are the values that matter most to generations?


And one startling finding is that Gen Z values tech-savviness almost as much as freedom.


Generations were largely similar in a lot of the values, but I thought that was an interesting one that such is the premium that they place on technology, that it’s almost up there with freedom.


So now, what does this all mean?


I think the big thing is that the world is increasingly moving to one experience, one that bridges reality with digital, and that experience is increasingly being led by the youngest among us, by Gen Z.


And they’ll continue to be the ones that forge ahead and teach us all what the future looks like. Thank you.




– Hi everyone, I’m John Hessinger, vice president of the Marketing Demand Gen and Growth here at WP Engine, joined by my colleague Eric Jones who gave the presentation you just saw, thank you again, Eric, for that, very enlightening, as it always is. 


This study draws a lot of attention. I especially like the point that you made early in the presentation about how we can really absorb this and think more broadly about the insight that it gives us, right?


It’s not just about how we create digital experiences for this new generation and track that consumer, it’s really this cohort is now actively in our workforce making business decisions as an influencer, making technical decisions, and so I think, for me, it is an interesting way to think of it more broadly as a very active part of our business community these days.



– Yeah, I totally agree, John. I think I, like many people, was struck in a time of COVID.


I feel like we’ve all been given a little bit of a wake-up call, if your business isn’t fully digital or even partially digital, you’ve got some serious issues and some major uphill climbing to do.


Meanwhile, the original digital natives, Gen Z, this is what they’ve grown up with and this is what they’re familiar with, and in some ways, the world has completely moved to them, and they are very much leading all of us on this new path of, if not fully digital, then at least digital-first

in our thinking, both in business and in life.



– Right, yeah. Well, why don’t we go to a couple of questions that we’ve gotten from participants.


I’m going to go to the last first, I think this is very relevant and timely, and I think with your expertise in the cause area, this is a great question for you.


Are there things that brands can do to ensure they aren’t bandwagoning with social causes to attract Gen Z?



– This study’s really, really… There are some high-level findings, and then there are some more specific and I would say more practical findings that are helpful for marketers. 


Every year, this is our third year doing this study, we try to refresh it and we try to change up to about 50% of the study, so we have some really, really good tracking questions from the origin of the whole study dating back a couple of years, and then we have new ones to keep it relevant.


So what I would counsel brands, and this is based on the findings in the study, is we’ve seen in the last two studies a very clear generational divide between Gen Z and everybody else, and that is they want to be entertained. 


We asked this question in two different ways, and that’s entertainment over information, so they want to be entertained, all other generations want to be informed.


We asked this question in two different ways throughout the survey, so we get two different slices of it. 


One question is, “Why do you, as an individual, want to access the internet?”


And for Gen Z, 65% say,  “Hey, it’s to be entertained.”


Now, it flips completely with millennials, Gen X, and boomers, and they want to be informed, so for millennials, it’s 56%, for Gen X, it’s 71%, and for boomers, it’s 67%.


So lesson one, if you want that demographic, if you want to attract that demographic, try to be entertaining in terms of the content that you’re posting.


The other way that we asked the question is, “If you were accessing specific branded content on a website, would you want it to be informative or entertaining?”


And here, we’ve seen a major jump on the Gen Z side, and they’re up 50% over last year, so they’ve gone from about 30% wanting to be entertained the last time we did the study, this time, it’s about 45%.


So it’s a major, major jump, and those are sort of two different ways that we’ve drilled down on that clear generational difference.


Another big lesson is authenticity, authenticity absolutely matters to this generation.


We ask a whole range of questions about advertising, about branding and what works, and they don’t want to see celebrities, they want to see real customers, they don’t want touch-ups,


So there are any number of facts and figures that support, you know what, as a brand, please be direct and please be authentic.


Time, time matters. We’ve seen, probably over and over again, that this generation probably has the shortest attention span of any generation, and so as you think about your digital experience online, you better make sure it loads quickly. 


Because another thing about this generation is they’re likely accessing the information on a mobile device, they’re more likely to use a mobile device than other generations, and so that speed of experience on a mobile device is even more important.


Another one is predictive, so again, in a clear divide between them and other generations, now we’re almost up to 50% will leave a site if that site doesn’t predict what they like, want, or need.


We’ve been asking that question now for the last two years and it is up once again.


And then lastly, I would say we asked a question around what causes trust in a brand for Gen Z, and here was the list, products, quality of product is number one. 


Reviews and ratings, number two.


Customer service, number three.


Interestingly, number four was family or friend recommendations, so not as important to them as even just helpful stranger recommendations or reviews,


And then coming up on number five is actually a great website, and this is an interesting one because Gen Z actually has a higher preference for a brand having a great website than other generations as well, so those are just a couple of quick findings that I think would be helpful for folks.



– That’s awesome information, I think you actually touched on a couple of other questions that came in, I’d love to get like a 30 second answer on this one,


I want to give you a chance to pitch the launch of this as well, how does Gen Z react to brands acting like people on social media?


I think you just kind of touched on that a second ago, but what’s your 30 second elevator pitch on that informal communication style of brands?



– Don’t use celebrities, please use real customers, please don’t touch them up in any way, the quotes should be the real, authentic quotes, not some doctored-up marketing language. 


And everyday language, not, again, sort of brand language is what I would counsel.



– Awesome, well, Eric, really appreciate it, really appreciate the insight and the Q&A session.


I wanted to give you a chance to actually answer the question that came in, when is it publicly available? Give us the plug.



– So our study is going to be officially launched on July 7th, so you’ll be able to go to your website, it’s available in three different areas, so in the UK and Europe, in the United States.


We have three different cuts, in the US, and then also in Australia, so there are specific cuts by region for those three areas,


And also I would ask if anybody’s interested, we’re more than willing to actually give the full presentation to your brand or to your agency.



– Awesome, well as always, incredible thought leadership, thank you for the time today.


To everybody else on the call, thank you so much for joining, thank you for the questions and hope you enjoyed it, enjoy the rest of Summit, thanks.


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