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What Gen Z can teach you about pension communications

Gen Z experience the world in a very different way to the generations before them so there’s a lot that we can learn from them.

We spent a day talking to a group of 16 year-olds about pensions, communications and trust. During activities that involved giant payslips and chocolate coins, representations of pensions as people and a lot of discussion around trust and communications, here’s what Gen Z taught us.

Your comms need to stand out in a world of constant digital distractions

From their infancy Gen Z have been surrounded by technology and communications tools that all compete for their attention. They consume almost all of their information digitally, they socialise digitally, and they consume culture digitally. It’s not that they are easily distracted, more that they are living in a world that constantly demands their attention.

The media that they consume is designed to get their attention and then keep them on that platform for as long as possible. TikTok’s algorithm is so sophisticated that it knows within a handful of videos what content you are interested in and what it needs to serve you next to keep you there. This generation moves from dopamine hit to dopamine hit at an alarming rate. Just imagine what impact this has on their brains.

Your communications will land in this environment.

To grab the attention of Gen Z you need to get to the point quickly and find ways to keep them interested. To do this effectively you need to understand what is most important to your readers and, where possible, ditch the detail.

Communicate ‘just in time’

We know from research that we commissioned from Dan Young of Shed Research Consulting that if you want to get financial education right, you need to provide it ‘just in time’. Teaching young people about pensions before they start saving into them is a bit like giving them driving lessons before they’re allowed to be at the wheel. These 16 year-olds may very well be the first generation to be automatically enrolled at 18, so we need to make sure we get it right for them. When we asked them if this was the right time to learn about pensions they said:

  • “Year 10, 11, 12 is the best time to talk us about this because we’re only just starting to handle money.”
  • “If we’re able to handle our money before we’re forced to do it, then it doesn’t feel like…a daunting prospect.”

Be open minded

These teenagers were totally unfazed by the idea of giving up some of their pay. In fact, they thought it made sense. These memes and GIFs exemplify how calm, relaxed and positive they felt about giving up some of their pay for pension savings.

workshop participants show GIFs they made on their mobile phones

Many might have expected them to be outraged about having to give up some of their hard-earned cash, or to write off pensions as being something that’s too far into the future to be valuable. This was definitely not the case. So don’t make assumptions about what they might think. Let them show you the world through their eyes.

Don’t use jargon. If you have to, explain it in situ

During the payslip task we asked the group to tell us what they thought PAYE stood for. Here’s what they said:

  • “Is the P personal?”
  • “People’s?”
  • “Public”
  • “Payments and youth enrichment?”

In short, they had no idea. If you use jargon and don’t explain it in situ, be prepared for your readers to fill in the gaps, incorrectly.

Make it about them

Surprisingly, this group of 16 year olds were open to different channels of communication. The format was almost irrelevant. They say that “if it’s to do with my money, I’d be very interested, regardless of what the format is”. Remember that this generation are served digital content on a daily basis that complex algorithms have chosen just for them. So they are a generation that expects hyper-personalisation. Generic comms that are designed for a broad group will not land well. Make it about them.

Be prepared for them to fact check you

Gen Z mine their sources of information forensically. This is a generation that doesn’t trust easily. They are hyper aware of bias. They are conditioned to fact check everything in the post-truth world. If someone’s talking to them, they will check out what else they’ve said, who else they follow and who follows them on social media. They will try to corroborate by looking in other places. If they find that someone’s words and actions don’t align they will reject them. It’s hard work being them. But they are better equipped than the generations that came before them to do this.

Bear this in mind with any messages that you want to share with them. If anything comes across as vague, like you are trying to conceal something, or at odds with values that you promote elsewhere, they will reject it. Speak plainly and truthfully. If you can’t – don’t say it.

You have to earn their trust

The force of their opinions about the people and brands that they trust is more powerful than you might think. This generation is able to soundly condemn anyone or any brand who doesn’t align to their values. And authenticity is key – what you say and what you do must also align.

As the ‘Redefining Authority’ report puts it:

“[Gen Z] are simultaneously more exposed to the failures of traditional authority than ever and more equipped than ever with tools to respond to it, to challenge it, and to make it work for them.”

The best way forward is to ask them what they want

What we learned above anything else is that you cannot assume. Spend some time with the people you are writing for and get to know them. Better still, involve them in the process.

A wise friend of Quietroom, Amy Clamp, told us that Gen Z are the ‘architects of the future’. We need to let them become the architects of their financial futures.

Here are 3 easy ways to get started

1. Seek to understand them
Talk to them. Find out how they interact with the world around them, what is important to them, who they trust and how they prefer to receive information. Bear in mind that the way they experience the world will be different to the generations that came before them.

2. Involve them
The best thing you can do is to collaborate with them. Start with a blank sheet of paper, forget what you currently do and ask them what would work best for them, what they’d like to know and what would grab their attention best.

3. Test your ideas with them
Test language, prototypes, and designs with them. Get their feedback and iterate until you get it right. Start small, and build from there. You’ll be amazed at what you come up with, with the help of some fresh thinking.

And more than anything else, don’t underestimate Gen Z. These are the questions that they came up with after only an hour and half of talking about pensions. They are insightful, sophisticated and incredibly impressive. Embrace the challenge that they bring.

sticky notes of workshop participants' questions

If you’re interested in collaborating on any content for Gen Z, get in touch