Best Practices for Researching Generation X, Y and Z

By Charlotte Pearson

Generation X, Y and Z

Depending on where you look you can find starkly different age brackets for each generation. However, regardless of the definition you subscribe to, one of the most striking things about the generations is how varied the ages are. For example, Millennials (Gen Y) go from mid-30’s to late teens.

My first top tip isn’t even about one specific generation but about the generations in general. With such varied age ranges, you can’t necessarily apply all the same principles to all participants within one generation. Rather than looking at the generation as a whole, there are times when you might have to look at sub-groups within the generation or use different strategies to segment your participants.

Whilst I am a great advocate of thinking more specifically than just segmenting by the generations, there are some quick and easy ways to tailor research to the different cohorts. Gen X,Y and Z have grown up with different influences during their lifetimes meaning their behaviour is slightly different so taking this into consideration helps identify which strategies work better with the under 18’s and what works better with someone in their early 40’s.

Generation Z

This group have grown up with the internet and more importantly, internet on the move. Make the most of their familiarity with technology, make your research mobile compatible, give them something to complete on their smartphones or tablet.

Marketo highlighted some key behaviours of Gen Z which are important to consider when planning research. They have a short attention span, are often seen to be multi-tasking across multiple device screens, are keen to have an impact on the world and are keen gamers.

The key to researching Generation Z is keeping your research tasks short, interesting and fun. Tasks that take too long to complete will see the attention of your Generation Z participants wane. Three or four short tasks will give you much better results with this generation than one long one.

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"The key to engaging Gen Z in research is keeping tasks short. interesting & fun."

Online gaming is commonplace amongst Gen Z; introduce an element of gamification to make your tasks more fun and interesting. Surveys can be especially boring to this generation; marking their answers on a 1 to 7 numerical scale will switch them off instantly. Instead, use something that is more visual and something they can relate to. Rather than text, consider emoticons to represent your scales.

Personalisation matters to Gen Z and have a certain level of expectations around this, communications with them need to be personalised and tailored to them rather than being more generic like it may have been previously. Making the effort to make them feel at the centre of your research is key to them joining in.

One thing to be aware of is that this cohort are conscious about privacy. They are more likely to question why you need information; you need to be transparent with them explaining why you need it, how it will be used and what their benefits of sharing are. Generation Z are the future participants, so it’s important that when you interact with them, you get them engaged in research. Their desire to help save the world should give us researchers an advantage but it’s important for the end of the fieldwork not to be the end of the relationship, instead show them upshots of the research and how it fits in with the bigger picture.

Generation Y

For Generation Y, (also known as Millennials & Digital Natives) technology has been an important part of their lives and have grown up with rapid improvements in technology. They are pretty much always constantly connected so online research is relatively simple for them and it doesn’t faze them.

Research by Intersperience showed that Digital Natives place high value on the social side of the internet. Give Gen Y participants a social aspect, build collaborative tasks into your research plan and allow them to interact with each other. Social media plays an important part of the lives of Gen Y; look to find ways to incorporate this, whether setting them a task to find information out through social media or something else.

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"Millennials crave social. collaborative research tasks that facilitate interaction."

Generation Y becomes difficult to research when you think about their ages. You might have a participant who is 17 and another who is 31; a research task that suits the 31 year old, might not suit the 17 year old. I mentioned earlier that sometimes you have to look at sub-groups within a generation and Gen Y is one of these cases. Subtle changes such as how a task is worded can make a huge difference to your participants. Put yourself in the place of your participants and ask yourself ‘would I know what is expected of me’ and ‘is this something I want to get involved in’.

Generation X

Gen Xers have lived through the emergence of the internet, something which will have had a massive influence on their lives. Whilst they haven’t grown up with technology to the same extent as someone born during the 90’s, they are still avid technology users and online enthusiasts and don't differ all that greatly from Gen Y.

Whilst the majority have a great affinity with technology, you do come across some are more wary and less confident using the internet. Because of this, you’ll find that paying attention to your instructions and ensuring that it’s clear what is expected of them and how they are to complete their online tasks is a big help and encourages them to complete more readily than if they were just left to their own devices.

Compared to Gen Y, they are more restrained with their social media usage and tend to just use it to interact with friends and family so building it into research won’t get you the results you are looking for. Instead, look to problem solving tasks in order to engage Gen X -a real strength of theirs.

Researching Across Generations

Realistically, most research you run will include a cross section of people from different generations so the main thing I can say is just be aware of who you are researching. Don't write your research plan oblivious to differences. Think who you are targeting and be careful to make sure that your research is tailored as much as possible for each of the generations and includes strategies that appeals to all respondents.

A great way of researching across the generations is finding families and getting the whole family involved. Gen X participants can provide you with Gen Y and Z. Your tasks can then be shaped to involve the whole family, making them more interesting for everyone involved.

10 Must Know Millennial Marketing Myths Infographic

Want to know more about generational differences or similarities? View our 10 Must Know Millennial Marketing Myths infographic. Or book a free demonstration of our online market research platform to conuct your own research with ease.

Charlotte Pearson

Charlotte Pearson- Head of Client Services

Personal Bio: Working across media, fashion, FMCG and retail accounts, Charlotte provides crucial support to our part service and DIY clients. She works directly with brand & insight managers to ensure research success.




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