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Philosopher Dr Brennan Jacoby says brand longevity will be dependent on the world view of tomorrow’s young consumers.
Generation Z have always known life with the internet and understand themselves in the context of this fourth dimension.
To see the world through the eyes of a customer has always been the great challenge of business. The growth of empathy marketing and user experience design confirm this. Equally, the escalating rate at which Fortune 500 companies lose their status (a 33-year tenure in 1965 fell to a mere 18 years in 2012) highlights the difficulty of the task.
To stay alive, brands must dig deeper. Today, brand longevity calls for more than traditional UX and a refined empathy for consumer taste. It calls for an understanding of something philosophical and seemingly abstract, but wholly critical: weltanschauung.
Weltanschauung translates directly from German to mean world view. It’s what a person or group is made up of, what they take to be true about the world, other people and themselves – their deepest, core beliefs and values. Ignore the world view of your audience and you will miss the opportunity to serve them well – something that is obvious with current attempts to understand Generation Z and their use of technology.
Understanding Generation Z as mere consumers of technology misses just how pervasive technology is for this portion of society.
As half of 13–23-year-olds reportedly log about 10 hours a day online, Generation Z has a reputation for being addicted to technology. But this interpretation of their behaviour betrays a traditional assumption (or part of a particular weltanschauung) about the relationship between these young people: that the user exists apart from the technology.
Understanding Generation Z as mere consumers of technology misses just how pervasive technology is for this portion of society. They aren’t just digital natives, they are digital beings. They have always known life with the internet and understand themselves in the context of this fourth dimension. As one Generation Z researcher explains about the way this portion of the market uses technology: ‘It’s not an addiction, it’s an extension of themselves. Are you addicted to your right hand?’
As attempts to understand Generation Z illustrate, the way a brand interprets a generation greatly influences whether that brand writes off the generation’s behaviour as dysfunctional or understands it as legitimate. Understanding the assumptions running in the background of your own brand is, it turns out, just as critical as delving into the world view of the market you want to reach.
In the future, a brand’s use of Generation Z data will amount to caring for a specific part of that consumer.
Switched-on brands that have embedded concepts such as weltanschauung in their practices will be more self-aware and better positioned to respond well to their market. Where Generation Z are concerned, such brands will be even better prepared to serve them – not to mention the emerging Generation Alpha. And if these younger consumers are partially constituted by technology, questions about how a brand deals with their data take on greater significance. If younger consumers regard their use of technology as an extension of themselves, then in the future a brand’s use of their data amounts to caring for a specific part of those consumers’ being.
For future-facing businesses, teasing out a group’s weltanschauung means doing the work of examining life. The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates famously held that the unexamined life is not worth living. But for brands today, unexamined work is a missed opportunity. Understanding the world view of tomorrow’s consumers will differentiate brands and enable them to better serve society.
Dr Brennan Jacoby is philosopher, brand consultant and founder of Philosophy at Work.