Are brands ready for Gen Alpha?
There’s no guarantees and no determining just what Alphas will get up to – given how nascent their generation still is. We ask the experts how brands should prepare
08 November 2023
Generation Alpha is the age group to watch. They're the children of millennials and the older end of Gen Z. Currently aged 13 and under, they stand on the cusp of adolescence and are poised to become a favoured demographic for brands. As their purchasing power increases and their online influence grows, this emerging generation will leave a profound mark on brand culture, strategies, and trends. In a world where Gen Z is characterised by the digital age, climate concerns, financial shifts, and the recent impact of COVID, it's crucial to understand what trends we can expect from Gen Alpha and how their digital behaviours will impact marketers.
Matthew Straker-Taylor, a strategy partner at Ogilvy UK, reveals a staggering projection: by 2025, Generation Alpha's numbers are set to reach two billion, making them the largest generation in history so far. And according to a recent Bain & Company study - Generation Alpha is set to grow three times faster than other generations through 2030. So how influential will Gen Alpha truly be?
A digital-only generation?
Ben Worden, head of planning at Wunderman Thompson, says, "While they know how to hold a pen (much like I know how to hold a sword from watching it in movies), they would be far more at ease coding or recording a podcast than writing an article. This is symptomatic of a generation growing up where tiny connected screens dominate almost every aspect of daily life."
Born as tech-natives, Gen Alpha is undoubtedly more digitally forward-thinking than their Gen Z counterparts. They're already adopting technology and social media at a faster pace, owing to their early exposure to mobile phones and immersion in virtual realities.
Worden further adds, "Previous cohorts such as Millennials and Gen Z adopted technology as they progressed through traditional rites of passage. In contrast, Generation Alpha was born into a world where supercomputers and technology were ever-present. Their milestones and ambitions may well be entirely different."
Their ingrained understanding of the digital landscape will likely impact how other generations interact with technology. Though it is too early to determine whether their perceptions will change as they grow up.
Straker-Taylor thinks that Alpha’s past and future will be rooted in digital: “Their lives will be uniquely intertwined with technology and social media. They’ll never know a time without smartphones and the internet. Some in that age group are already developing a deep interest in digital experiences such as Web 3.0, with peer creators on platforms like YouTube heavily influencing their preferences and purchase decisions.”
Grey’s planning director Ed Hayne isn’t so sure: “It’s naïve to suggest that their life is purely lived online.
"In fact, the data tell us that they’re less screen-obsessed than their older siblings. A relative statement, but indicative of my generation’s concerns around the role of technology in their lives, coupled with a desire to break free from the claustrophobic lockdown years.” He believes Alphas will increasingly seek a hybrid approach, with brands delivering hyperbolic digital realities or embracing experiential alongside online offerings.
One thing remains indisputable, however, according to Sue Unerman, Chief Transformation Officer at EssenceMediacomX, “Things have changed, they are changing faster. Gen Alpha expect action and they won’t settle for fine words.” With Alphas valuing sustainability, inclusion and being more open to world views than the Gen Zers.
Identity, beliefs and brand relationships
Unerman expects Alphas to care more about ethics and what impact businesses have on the world. While Straker-Taylor believes climate change will become more concerning for this age group.
Worden, on the other hand, thinks Alphas will be savvier than previous generations: “My kids have friends who make so much money on eBay that they need to file tax returns. Our 15-year-old neighbour has already started investing and saving for retirement. Where do they fit in our current customer segmentation? And who knows what they’ll be up to by the time they are 25…”
Given the ongoing cost of living and economic crisis, it is perhaps not surprising that Alpha have formulated a cautionary approach and are planning against austerity already.
“The specificity of their circumstance will help us predict how future cohorts might engage with brands,” says Straker-Taylor.
My kids have friends who make so much money on eBay that they need to file tax returns. Our 15-year-old neighbour has already started investing and saving for retirement. Where do they fit in our current customer segmentation? And who knows what they’ll be up to by the time they are 25…
Ben Worden, head of planning, Wunderman Thompson
“Gen Alpha will challenge us to learn new things,” says Worden. “They are creating their own language, their own systems, and their own way of life. If we, as marketers, don’t immerse ourselves and ask questions about what they are up to, we have no chance. If we don’t build things that they are looking for, they’ll just make it themselves.”
Unerman agrees: “We have to unlearn our industry habits as the old rules won’t apply. My advice to any business is to get ahead and be aware that this generation will have no patience.”
As Alpha’s status as prospective consumers emerges, brands will also need to prioritise serving them with efficient tech as Alpha won’t stand for slow load and download times, given their digital native backgrounds.
“Immediacy enabled by technology is a biggie,” says Hayne. “It’s an obvious point, but what surprises me is the level of disdain for brands that can’t deliver it. Fuelled by the development of AI, expectations around instant gratification will only rise as it gets more intelligent.”
Brands need to be innovative and prepare themselves for changing course. Straker-Taylor recommends that “brands engage with issues that matter to Gen Alpha, moving beyond commodities to foster deeper connections” and work towards surpassing expectations, especially as Alphas are likely to have a tendency towards more sustainable and ethical solutions.
“We’re talking about over two billion people, some of whom haven’t even been born yet,” says Hayne. “Plus, we’re notoriously bad at predicting the future.”
There’s no guarantees and no determining just what Alphas will get up to – given how nascent their generation still is. What is known is how vocal Gen Z has become with technological developments amid reduced stability in life - and Alphas are likely to inherit this characteristic considering their inherent expertise using digital platforms for entertainment, news and connection.
“Brands should be tapping into Alphas' shared experiences and building communities based on their unique interests and values,” says Straker-Taylor. “But most importantly, they need to be ready for the changes that Alphas will inspire.”