Our research aimed to identify the self-definition and perspectives of today’s university students and go deeper in understanding of their free time activities, behaviours in (micro)communities, their engagement and availability to engage in brands. After universal questions, we enquired about specific topics such as their attitudes to, experiences in and familiarity with music festivals and the individual festival EFOTT (National Touristic Reunion of University and College Students). Based on their answers we are able to deepen our knowledge from a primer satisfactory research.
We followed a pre-defined list of questions to map the typical lifesytle of university students as our target group, their attitude to social activities and university identity, their bonding to universities and their social-, consuming-, and social media/communication habits.
The assessment of our research has revealed, that COVID-19 fundamentally catalysed an alteration in the consuming habits Gen-Z. We saw that the target group in focus is visibly in direct contradiction to what marketing and brand communication tools we had been thinking to be valid for decades. Due to the social anxiety and distress thanks to the pandemic, the real-life interpersonal and close relationships strongly influenced not only the consummation and purchasing habits but also social behaviour as well as media-consummation. The strong need for resemblance and to connect has brought up so powerful tendencies that seem to somewhat undermine traditional marketing devices.
The interview has shown that the subjects bind preferably to their communities and interpersonal relationships rather than to institutions, brands, venues, even to influencers or thought leaders, as – revealed by the research at several point – they feel to be in a common ground with each other rather than with any of the upper. Besides, we need to emphasise Gen-Z’s intriguing lack of engagement and the reluctance to engage. According to the research, the target group under discussion is almost exclusively willing to engage by their interpersonal relationships, friends, group of friends and their own, individually and independently selected values (e.g. line-up, services). Results were consistent about that due to the phenomenon ‘resemblance’, the impact on consummation decisions was less of influencers and more of peers. Finally, one of the most important finding of our research was, in addition to the upper consuming habits, that on the field of social life, unequivocally offline-, real-life meet-ups are preferred to connecting online.
Moreover, the target group, due to COVID-catalysed juvenile anxiety, fear of separation and desire to connect, are even willing to to cross their own comfort zone by taking initiatives or experimenting. On one hand, university students explicitly aspire for finding mutual ground, a platform to connect, thus they even take the risk of initiation. On the other, under peer-pressure, they give up their need for own time-table planning or their selection of line-up.
University to form identity
The answers of the first interview questions, pointing at university identity, have directly shown that university life means a bigger personal freedom, a more diverse and flexible lifestyle and a higher sense of autonomy for Gen-Z. Based on their autonomy, the young adults report on such signs of awareness (value orientation, conscious selection etc.), which were systematically recurring in several aspects during the interview.
Interestingly, as for micro-communities at universities, pre-organised university clubs, workshops or circles, thus various ‘artificial’ communities (e.g. film-clubs, study circles etc.) are less attractive and non-engaging as they are sensed to be too organised and mandatory compared to the fresh experience of freedom and autonomy for the young. Commitment and engagement in these programs are only available when friends and closer relationships presence is guaranteed and almost only by resemblance and communal experience is Gen-Z willing to get involved.
Free-time activities and social connections
It is an impressive result of our research, that yet we’ve learnt Gen-Z to be digital natives, according to their decisions and social connections, real-life encounters are unequivocally and evenly preferred to online attachments or communication. After COVID-19, the value of interpersonal relationships has definitely gained appreciation and become irreplaceable. According to our target group, they undoubtedly go for in-person encounters and prefer making friends and new relationships in in-person situations, rather than online. As for interpersonal connections, online channels are more likely to be used for logistics and organising programs. To top it off, when making decisions on programs and free-time activities, the opinion of professional influencers are less decisive compared to the impact of friends.
We have found out, that the target group’s high demand to connect – as well as their fear from separation – is so powerful, that the young are even willing to take initiatives. Presumably, COVID-19 had had a robust impact in Gen-Z, thus all in all not only live encounters, free-time activities together or community organisation has gained strong appreciation, but the demand for true connections, the demand to be together with someone.
Reluctance for commitment has also come up in a further aspect. The respondents reported they cannot point out a definite gathering place (e.g. a certain local pub) explicitly. Seemingly, our target group is not primarily attracted, thus engaging to distinctive venues or brands, but to their own private interpersonal relationships, the ones similar to them, walking in the same shoes as well as to entities sharing or holding values important for them.
Social media and online shopping patterns
Consciousness has become a strong factor in social media and online shopping habits as well, as Gen-Z feel they are impacted by a growing amount of negative influences online, so no wonder they are liable to be highly more focused and selective about following valuable or beneficial contents. They have proved to be sensitive of manipulation and declared that they find algorithms and pop-up random videos (on the non-topical type of social media) are annoying, thus they mindfully and strictly select which content to follow. Taking over the decision which content to be shown, they might easily skip a brand from their social feeds for good.
Festival planning is strongly connected to (spring-time) line-up announcements for them – in this aspect, they don’t seem to differentiate between any brands on the festival market, no festival intrigues only because of their ‘good vibes’. To make a more serious commitment – buy a weekly pass – they expect a really good line-up. Yet, on the other hand, Gen-Z are always willing to give up their need for conscious planning and demand for a favourable line-up due to peer-pressure, also they even take the risk of experimenting!
All in all, we find that, as for consuming patterns, Gen-Z are becoming harder to engage as commitment to traditional brands, venues or even influencers are increasingly replaced to decisions by the impact of closer interpersonal relationships. Considering the conclusions of our research, if your brand’s marketing strategy targets this generation, you may pick more appropriate marketing devices and avoid less effective ones based on the above.