Millenial working woman. Picture: THINKSTOCK
Millenial working woman. Picture: THINKSTOCK

SA’s young people – those aged below 35 years – make up 66% of the country’s population. Yet there are significant differences within this market; the experiences and outlook of a 20 year old versus that of a 35 year old are not the same. Segmenting markets is becoming more complicated for marketers and if they are to secure a long-term future for their businesses it’s crucial for brands to understand these segments.

Segmenting customers in a country as unequal and diverse as SA is far from simple. In addition, the pace of technology and social change over the past 20 years, together with the country’s political history, adds a unique perspective to generational dynamics. And that’s without even considering the different perspectives you might find in a village in KwaZulu Natal, a suburb in Cape Town and a township in Gauteng.

To better understand young South Africans, we analysed GfK data and gleaned some interesting differences and similarities between “centennials” (those aged 21 and below, who make up 41% of the SA population) and millennials, aged 22 to 35, who account for 25%.

Born-free versus living free

Born when democracy in the country was in its infancy, centennials (or Generation Z) did not experience the struggle against apartheid. They know SA as a noisy, unequal, complex country that is healing, growing and changing with them. Many of them are the most educated in their households, and face pressure to succeed and contribute to the family. About 51% are students and 25% are unemployed.

By contrast, the first millennials (also known as Generation Y) were born 10 years before the advent of a democratic SA and the last were born at the close of apartheid. They have experienced rapid change in the social, economic and political landscape, making them optimistic and resilient. Around 43% have children, 21% are single parents, and 15% have lost their job in the past year or so. 

Digital native versus digital early adopter

Centennials were born after mobile phones were first introduced in SA. Because they are the first generation to grow up in the world of mobile phones and social media, centennials achieve a natural balance between real life and the online world.

Millennials were entering their teens when mobile hit SA. They became a generation of early adopters; they understand the impact of technology on the world and are passionate about incorporating tech into their lives.

Among centennials, 30% are what we classify as leading-edge technology consumers, compared with 16% of millennials. Where millennials adopt new technology for control, access to cutting-edge features or to improve health and wellbeing, centennials look to new technology to save them money and offer fun, excitement and personalisation.

Working smart versus working hard

Both groups of ’ennials embrace values of adventure, freedom and curiosity. Millennials show their hedonistic nature with the higher value they attach to enjoying life. They are more bound by duty and social status than the individualistic centennials. Centennials value power and wealth and look to achieve through being enterprising rather than working hard.

Internal focus versus external appearances

Our research indicates that millennials believe that external appearances are key, and they are looking for social recognition. They feel their outward appearance reflects their inner wellbeing; 56% say their individuality is reflected by how they look while 54% say individuality is reflected in what they buy. More millennials (13%) get cosmetic and elective surgery for beauty than members of Generation X. Centennials are more internally focused.

The Internet is the common ground

Nearly as many millennials (77%) and centennials (78%) had accessed the Internet in the previous 30 days, according to the research. In both groups, 38% spend more than 10 hours a week online. However, centennials use significantly more free video downloads, streaming services and cloud storage than older generations.

Millennial and centennial consumers alike have high expectations from brands and innovation. They want products that are tailored to their personal quirks. They love collaboration and like to be involved in making products more relevant to their personal lives. For these consumers, disruption has become the norm and they expect marketers to come up with innovations that they didn’t even know they needed.

Rachel Thompson is insights director at GfK SA.

The big take-out:

Simple segmentation no longer makes for accurate, targeted marketing. Within the youth market, there are stark differences between “centennials”, aged 21 and below, and millennials, aged 22 to 35, driven by technology and social change. Understanding what makes these groups tick is crucial for business sustainability.