Are you ready for Gen ZEOs? Expert details what this generation brings to business world

Generation Z Americans — those born between 1997-2012 — saw the iPhone, the Department of Homeland Security and the election of the first Black U.S. president come into being during their lifetimes.

Gen Z is now the second-largest age group, totaling 70 million people (about 21% of the population), and possibly the most racially, ethnically diverse generational group, according to Statista.

As the oldest Gen Zers just crossed the quarter-century mark in 2022, business leaders might be considering what this emerging group brings to New Jersey businesses.

For insights, ROI-NJ turned to Mark Beal, a Rutgers University School of Communication and Information faculty member and Rutgers graduate. He coined the term “ZEO” to refer to Gen Z individuals.

ROI-NJ:  What special attributes or qualities do you believe Generation Z brings to businesses?

Mark Beal. (Rutgers University)

Mark Beal: Gen Z is an unprecedented generation of entrepreneurs. During their lifetime, they have had innovative technology and digital and social media platforms readily available that they have leveraged to launch startup companies, nonprofit community organizations and content creation businesses. Gen Zers are tech-savvy digital natives who aspire to bring their skills and experiences to companies in New Jersey and beyond in a way that delivers measurable business-building impact and value.

ROI: Your book, “ZEO: Introducing Gen Z, the New Generation of Leaders,” also raises the point that Gen Z is entrepreneurial. Does Gen Z define and approach entrepreneurship differently than other groups?

MB: There have been many generations of entrepreneurs dating back hundreds of years. But, no generation was raised on innovative, transformative technology and communication products and platforms more than this generation. They have the opportunity to launch a global business from the palm of their hand where their followers and customers may be based across all regions of the world.

ROI: How do you see Gen Z’s entrepreneurial mindset playing out in workplaces today, and as they form new businesses?

MB: Gen Z brings innovation and transformation to companies in New Jersey that employ them and to startup companies they launch on their own. Gen Z works smarter, not harder. They will introduce tech solutions that will contribute to solving business challenges and completing work assignments more effectively and efficiently.

ROI: What strategies have you observed or recommended for New Jersey businesses to attract and retain Gen Z workers in a competitive market? What can businesses do to effectively integrate Gen Z into their workforce and benefit from their perspectives?

MB: As I present to companies in New Jersey and beyond, I recommend that they empower their ZEOs, recent college graduates they have hired, and their current interns.

Empower these members of Gen Z to flex their entrepreneurial mindset and invite them to solve a business challenge or launch a new line of business and revenue stream. By officially establishing and marketing a ZEO incubator or think tank, an employer is going to have a distinct advantage in recruiting and retaining Gen Z employees.

Additionally, take a page out of the playbooks of Target, Converse and the National Hockey League — and launch a Gen Z collaborative with students at universities and colleges across New Jersey. Annually, issue a statewide invitation to Gen Zers in New Jersey to connect and collaborate on a 12-month program where Gen Z has access to a company’s executives and the company has access to Gen Z’s innovative and transformative ideas for the future.

ROI: With the rapid advancement of technology and the digital landscape, how do you see Gen Z’s tech-savviness influencing the future of business and marketing in New Jersey?

MB: Because Gen Z has grown up on technology since they were infants, they are transforming media, marketing and the workplace.

They will inspire New Jersey companies to evolve from traditional push marketing to engagement marketing. Gen Z doesn’t simply want to have a transactional relationship as a customer like previous generations. They want to join companies as brand advocates, which goes well beyond simply being a customer.

As the purpose generation, Gen Z will also inspire employers and companies who they are customers to be more purposeful in the way in which they conduct business, contributing to better communities and states including New Jersey.

ROI: How is Gen Z distinct as a consumer market? Can New Jersey businesses tailor their marketing and communication strategies to resonate with Gen Z and effectively engage this generation as consumers?

MB: Gen Z is the first generation of consumers that does not consume content via traditional media channels, such as television, radio, newspapers and magazines.

New Jersey businesses who want to engage Gen Z consumers as customers and, ultimately, convert them into brand advocates, need to produce and distribute informative, engaging and fun content on the channels that Gen Z primarily consumes including the big three: TikTok, Instagram and YouTube.

ROI: Any anecdotes about a ZEO?

MB: In 2020, as the pandemic shut down the economy, two Gen Zers from New Jersey, Jesse Kay and Alex Sheinman, recognized that many people were losing their jobs and having trouble paying their bills and feeding their families.

They could have decided it was too insurmountable a challenge for them to support.

Instead, as entrepreneurs and members of the purpose generation, they ideated like a Madison Avenue advertising agency and developed a campaign, Makin’ Lemonade, a virtual lemonade stand. Once they fine-tuned the campaign, they recruited, engaged and mobilized Gen Z college students across the U.S. to serve as campaign ambassadors by producing content and distributing across their social media channels.

Approximately 10 weeks later, they raised more than $125,000 and donated it to nonprofit organizations, including those in the food insecurity space. The Makin’ Lemonade campaign serves as just one proof point demonstrating how Gen Z entrepreneurs leverage technology and tools to effectively engage audiences in a purposeful way that contributes to a better world. Now, just imagine what Gen Z employees can do for New Jersey businesses.