GLOBAL: Marketers need to rethink how to research young people since traditional qualitative research methods no longer work for Gen Z, according to an industry figure.

In a WARC Best Practice paper, How rethinking qualitative research can help brands understand Generation Z, Emily Goldhill, a strategist at Livity, argues that there are three notable trends that distinguish this age group from previous generations and which qualitative researchers have to consider if they are to develop effective strategies.

Primarily, of course, Gen Z are digital natives for whom the internet and digital platforms have opened up new possibilities denied their elders; the experience of being a young person has fundamentally shifted.

At the same time, these possibilities – where multiple things can be consumed simultaneously and new passions can be discovered and explored at a click or a swipe – make their identities much harder to define, and in turn, their attitudes and behaviours.

Armed with a sense of empowerment, they are agile and multi-disciplinary, no longer content with limiting themselves to having expertise in just one area.

Consequently, researchers shouldn’t expect to be able to get results by just asking questions. “It is essential to become embedded in their space – mental, physical, and virtual – through deep ethnographic online and offline research,” Goldhill advises.

She holds up Nike’s Nothing Beats a Londoner ad as a great example of how spending time in young people’s worlds can make a massive difference to a brand.

But it’s crucial that this immersion doesn’t tip over into invasion, she cautions. “Gen Z are still developing emotionally and mentally and may have limited world experiences making them more vulnerable than other audience groups” – ethical practices, from parental consent to risk assessments, must be followed.

That’s particularly important since, unlike traditional qualitative research which is focused on spending time with consumers physically, Gen Z research will require gaining access to the digital conversations they don’t want to share with the wider world.

That may be better achieved by using peer-led researchers who are already located in youth culture, who share a common language and common experiences, so enabling deeper insights to be uncovered.

Goldhill also advocates a probing approach rather than passive listening. “Their fragmented identities mean that the first thing they say may not be the honest truth and often, it can take them longer to articulate what matters the most.”

Setting creative tasks can also be a useful way to unlock insight from a generation that has grown up with easy access to information and discovery.

Sourced from WARC