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The Key Differences Between Millennials and Generation Z

Every generation experiences the world around them differently, and as the times, technology, and overall approach to purchasing behavior change, marketers and business owners must adapt. 

Each audience has its own unique nuance. Taking the time to understand subtle or even apparent differences between generations can help shape the messaging and overall approach to specific audiences. Demographics are typically made up of age, sex, location, ethnicity — even religion can play a part. And, while these are generally the right places to start for most marketers, purchase behavior is even more divergent amongst the various generations.

Who are Millennials?

At Gen Z Guru, we define the generation as those born between 1980-1994. 

Understanding how to speak to Millennials and have them engagingly take on the messaging means that you’ll need to know their motivations. If you were to ask older generations, you’d likely hear how Millennials are self-centered, lazy, and aren’t happy working.

However, these characteristics don’t define Millennials. These definitions are stereotypes that don’t help marketers or business owners establish a target audience or create effective strategies to manage them. Here we’ll paint a picture of who Millennials are so that you’re better able to understand core motivations and behaviors. 

Millennials are savers. This demographic sees swelling debt and far less earning than their Baby Boomer parents. Not only do Millennials make less money, but they also own far less property. All of this contributes to money-saving behavior — which is ammunition for marketers. Messaging that caters to a budgeting generation can help with conversions. Self-reliance and financial security are essential for Millennials, so use it to your advantage. 

Millennials research before spending. This ties in with their money-saving mentality, as this generation is far less likely to make impulsive purchases. Millennials read blog posts, watch unboxing videos, reviews — anything they can get their eyes and ears on before making a purchase. This goes for more than just the quality of a product. Brands also need to be mindful of their core values, as Millennials will abandon a company based on their alignment or misalignment with specific values. 

Millennials care about more than just the product. Moving forward with the core values of a brand, this generation takes environmental, worker treatment, and health considerations into account. Their food, clothing, and even technology are a necessity, but one they will spend more on if they know that the brand aligns with their values. Healthier food options, choosing Lyft over Uber, and obsessions over brands like Patagonia or Toms are just a few examples. Millennials care about more than only the product.


Millennials ask around. It’s not uncommon for those in this generation to look for recommendations or utilize social media for advice on purchase behavior. Referrals, testimonials, and positive feedback from current customers is a great place to start — but creating an overall positive customer experience is where the real money lies. When Millennials feel they are being taken care of, they will go above and beyond to work as advocates for your brand and get their friends to ride the train with them. This is the reason why influencer marketing works so well with this generation.

Generation Z born 1995 2012

Who is Gen Z?

Generation Z was born between 1995-2012. 
This generation, like every other, has its own unique selling points. When we sit down to identify key characteristics of Gen Z, we typically look at seven traits.

  • Phigital
  • Hyper-Custom
  • Realistic
  • FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)
  • Weconomists
  • DIY
  • Driven

You’re probably wondering what some of these mean. Specifically, Phigital, FOMO, and Weconomist.  

Phigital – Those that are comfortable in both the physical and digital worlds they live and operate in. 

FOMO – “Fear of Missing Out” People that don’t want to miss out on limited time opportunities, offers, or events. 

Weconomist – Customers that grew up with a  sharing economy – companies like Lyft or Airbnb — where silos don’t exist. 

While these seven traits are a great overview of Generation Z — what are some of the more actionable considerations we can derive from this blossoming generation? 

Generation Z is realistic — This generation sees (or attempts to see) the world as it is. For that reason, attempting to create idealized expectations or results from products or services falls flat on Generation Z. They want the dry, cold, hard truth — and they’re skeptical of anything that sounds “too good to be true.” 

Generation Z appreciates innovation. Not only do they appreciate it, they expect it. Raised in the most technologically progressive era humanity has ever seen, Generation Z focuses heavily on the ways in which companies adapt and evolve to meet their expectations. They expect brands to meet them where they are, whether it be on a new social media platform, device, streaming service, or even brick and mortar stores. 

Generation Z is self-sustaining. While it may be a leap to make this claim, this generation is far more interested in entrepreneurship than those in the past. While many of Generation Z are interested in creating their own ventures, businesses, and opportunities — that doesn’t mean they don’t have jobs. This generation lives off of both jobs and side hustles. This means that they are willing to work but also chase their own endeavors, which has resulted in more 1099 employees. 


Generation Z are digital natives. Compared with Millennials who grew up on the cusp of the digital era we live in today, Generation Z has been raised almost entirely on modern technological standards. What does this mean? Well, many older generations see this as a major roadblock and negative lifestyle that inhibits their ability to develop and function properly. However, that’s not necessarily the case. Generation Z’s familiarity with innovative and digital standards is a predictive one, in which every generation to come will only become increasingly similar. To ignore this blossoming generation’s expectations, task-switching capabilities, and almost instinctual technological familiarity is dangerous — because it’s the future.

A Shifting Time

Many of these differences boil down to subtleties; however, they translate into tangible variations in purchasing behavior. For example: 

  • Gen Z is realistic, which means they trust companies less than previous generations. This may mean that they won’t provide personal or secure information — but will advocate for companies that demonstrate social responsibilities. 
  • Millennials are online shoppers, and while it would make sense for this trend to continue on with the next generation — that hasn’t been the case. Generation Z actually likes to shop in-store to see, feel, and get a sense of the quality they’re purchasing. 
  • Generation Z isn’t as brand-focused as Millennials. What we mean is that Gen Z celebrates individuality and doesn’t want to be trapped in any box. 

The differences between Millennials vs Generation Z are vast. It’s no secret that the next generation of buyers will have some serious purchasing power, but the ways in which they purchase are new. Therefore, marketers and business owners need to take a close look at how they engaged with customers in the past and make sure to be armed and ready for the future.

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