How Gen Z and Gen Y hack their way through micro-passions - an interview with Audible

For our recently launched bookzine frAGILE, we connected with 26 senior marketing executives to hear their take on the next generation and how they connect with these youngsters as a brand. One of these talks was with Barbara Ward Thall, SVP Global Brand Marketing at Audible, an Amazon company selling and producing audio entertainment such as audiobooks. One of the (many) interesting concepts mentioned during this talk is NextGen’s quest to micro-craft their unique selves through a variety of interests, and the role of lifehacks in all this.

Let’s start with a general question: when you think of NextGen (i.e., Gens Z and Y), what comes to mind, how would you define them?

I’m a Boomer, so a lot of the way that I think about the NextGen segment is in contrast with the way that I have thought about my own generation. I feel like one of the things that stands out for me is the Millennial desire for authentic experiences, things that perhaps are more grounded, have more meaning. It seems to me that it’s a generation that has watched some of the mistakes of the Boomer generation… or perhaps not the mistakes, but the outcome of some of the attitudes and tendencies of the Boomers and Gen Xers that have not led to personal fulfillment. And even though the NextGen segment is the most technically advanced and, in some ways, the most modern, I feel there’s almost a little bit of backlash towards the previous generations’ quest for fulfillment through traditional markers of success – status, the acquisition of material goods, etc. – and the singular focus required to achieve those things. They don’t seem as interested in joining the rat race as much as they are trying to find authentic meaningful lives, whatever that means for them. So, I think it’s a generation that really is accepting and desirous of a broad range of passions that may or may not be mainstream or generally accepted as worthwhile.

What could be a reason for having a broader range of passions or interests?

I think part of it is an outcome of being raised on the likes of Tumblr, Instagram, YouTube and other micro-blogging platforms. It’s that they are exposed to so many diverse passions and interests. I think it opens up the minds of that generation to see that someone has a Tumblr with pictures of every bathroom they’ve ever been in, or a YouTuber that’s created a career out of their passion for make-up, Rubik’s cube or Frisbee tricks. These technology platforms have enabled exposure to so many diverse interests; and they too want to explore their own interests and develop their persona and identities accordingly.

You mention meaningfulness and authenticity, where do those come in?

I wonder… it’s almost like the Boomers and the early Gen Xers were so focused on finding a singular passion, building that passion to an end. Giving them an edge-up in their career, a specialty, by being singularly focused. And I wonder, again, if this generation hasn’t seen the perils of that kind of focus. Perhaps they just find it more interesting to be the kind of person that’s like “I’m into microbreweries and I’m into watches and I’m into Japanese culture and I’m also really into some other random thing”. And tomorrow, that whole list of interests could be different. Maybe it’s just the collection of those tiny micro-interests that adds up to uniqueness.

Do you see any differences when it comes to how they consume information, in particular audiobooks?

I see a big difference. This generation has no bias about the value of reading, that it is somehow better than listening, more intellectually nutritious. The older generations, when you say “Hey, you don’t have to read Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, you can now listen to it performed by a wonderful narrator,” they are interested, but what we see is a higher perception amongst the older generation that listening to Faulkner is not as valuable as reading it. That it’s somehow cheating… The youth don’t have that same perception at all. They don’t put a value judgement on how they get their information. And I think it is a generation that is more about lifehacks, so to speak: how can I optimize everything, optimize my exercise, optimize my nutrition, optimize my physical space, optimize my technology, and so for them listening to information which can be done anywhere while multitasking etc. is an optimization, they don’t see it as a cheat at all.

Black Gen Z woman wearing headphones with Audible logo

I also think that listening as a behavior and a way to consume information and entertainment, in the past, has been very rooted in book adaptation. Audiobooks were a translation of an existing thing. So, you have a book, now we are going to narrate it and perform it, and that’s an audiobook. It’s not been rewritten for any specific audio purpose, it’s just an adaptation layer. My hope is that this generation will give rise to a new class of creator, that will help us evolve the form.

How do you as a brand connect with the young generations?

I think the big theme of connecting with the young generation is around the value of experiences, and maybe it actually relates a little bit to the notion of ownership, in that maybe our generation is one that owns things and acquires things. Again, I think this generation prefers experiences and esoteric knowledge. If someone of this generation has $2,000 in the bank, I believe they’d be more likely to use it on travel, an activity or adventure than on buying an object. So, a fantastic audiobook and voice narrator that has the ability to take you out of your everyday and immerse you in a new world or expose you to a new idea, is pretty powerful.

Want to know more about Gen Z? Discover what our Gen Z thought leadership and expertise can do for your brand.

Ready for the Zoomers - Gen Z report

Ready for the Zoomers?

Gen Z are the digitally native generation: social-media-literate, always-on and hyper-informed. With many Gen Zers coming of age during the pandemic, the past two years put a mark on their lives and outlook on the future. In this report, we shed a light on what makes Gen Z different from the generations before them and what they expect from brands.

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