Lazy. Self-entitled. Unfocused. The youth of today get a lot of slack. But is it totally justified? According to Darren Guarnaccia, not so much.

Millennials and Generation Z get a lot of bad press about their lack of ambition, or unwillingness to pay their dues like Gen Xers and Baby Boomers did. While I can appreciate why some might feel that way as a Gen Xer myself, I also clearly remember getting painted with that same brush in my early twenties as well. It seems every generation feels the following generations are soft and lazy to some extent. But, there is something more to it as well. These younger generations have seen the impossible become possible, and are more empowered than any generation in the past to assert their demands for a better way.

When I was fresh out of college, I was full of all sorts of interesting and crazy ideas. I was ready to change the world, and highly impatient when I was told the world doesn’t work that way, and that I needed to put in my time, and pay my dues. Over time, I fell in line, and patiently earned my stripes. That’s how it happened for most people back then – it was just how the world worked. Back then, I could see all around me the established order of things, and picked my best path to success.

Fast forward to today, and the Millennial and Z generations have witnessed dozens of disruptions that changed the fundamental order of things – at every level of society.

They’ve seen, time after time, the impossible become reality. They’ve borne witness to unrelenting change, and a constant parade of innovation that has reinvented industry after industry.

Take a moment to consider how you’d think differently if you grew up in that era where this was your normal. These young people grew up with the birth of the internet, witnessed the rise of Amazon and the destruction of brick and mortar brands, and saw Uber fundamentally change the way we get transportation. 

“How do you market to these people who feel they have the power of the world in their hands? Why, you let them exercise that power with you. You celebrate their individuality.”

From the rise of Facebook and the iPhone, to Airbnb and Spotify reinventing the way we go on vacation and listen to music, these people have come to learn that if you don’t like how something works, you can change it. Even things that were fundamental and established for hundreds of years. Nothing is sacred anymore, and that has taught them the power of asking, “Why not?” They’ve learned that “because it’s always been that way” isn’t a defensible answer. They’ve learned they have the power to shape the world at a very early age, and they aren’t afraid to use that power.

So what does that mean? That means these generations march to the beat of their own drum. They aren’t interested in following the career track their parents did. They’ll move to a city that’s cool just to live there, and worry about a job later. They’ll join groups and causes because they speak to them at some level.

What does that mean for you as a brand then? How do you market to these people who feel they have the power of the world in their hands? Why, you let them exercise that power with you of course. You celebrate their individuality and unique needs. More than any other generation before them, you need to understand them and talk with them, not at them. You need to participate with them, invite them into the conversation, and demonstrate how you share their values and beliefs.

These generations won’t tolerate being told this is the way it is. They want optionality. They want to be special. They want you to care about them specifically and what they specifically want from you. They want to feel served, understood and valued. This is true more of these generations than previous generations where this was seen as nice to have. Successful brands will embrace this approach.

As Burger King famously stated in the ’90s, you need to let your customers “have it your way”. Because nothing is sacred, and these young people are asking, “Why not?”

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