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Study: Gen Zs and Millennials are ignoring emails, putting the future of market research at risk

Kelvin Claveria
Kelvin Claveria (@kcclaveria)..

A recent study shows that 56% of Millennials and 67 % of Gen Zs “rarely” or “never” use email to talk to friends and family; 31% of these young consumers also claim to have more than 1,000 unread emails. So why are market researchers still relying on email surveys to reach these groups?

The way some people talk about how younger generations communicate, you’d think the English language—and civilization itself—was on its last legs. “Nobody writes in complete sentences anymore!” “Why can’t they just put that in a proper email?” “Why are they constantly on their phones?” “What’s with all the skull emojis?”

But let’s be honest: how we communicate has never been static. It’s been constantly changing for over 5,000 years, and it will continue to change.

At the same time, the pace of communications continues to accelerate—and our options for how we speak to each other continue to multiply. During every minute that passed on the Internet in 2021, according to the World Economic Forum, there were 69 million WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger messages sent; 197,600,000 emails delivered; two million Tinder swipes swiped; and 695 Instagram stories shared.

For the market research industry, the lesson is clear: we need to constantly re-examine the communication channels we’re using. We need to use the platforms best suited for the people we’re trying to reach and capture insights from. 

This need to engage your consumers where they are is particularly important if you’re conducting market research with Gen Zs and Millennials. Young consumers tend to be early adopters of new communication channels, so if you’re relying on outdated approaches, you’re at risk of blowing up your market research and sample costs, slowing down your projects—or, worst, getting feedback that don’t accurately represent the attitudes and opinions of your consumers.

Is the email inbox finally out?

Earlier this year, we partnered with our sister company Reach3 Insights and used our mobile market research platform to engage 705 Gen Z and Millennial consumers in the US to learn about the communication preferences of younger consumers.

Our biggest takeaway? Young people are ignoring emails.

Almost two-thirds (65%) of both Gen Zs and Millennials claim to use a messaging app or social media platform to communicate with friends and family “almost always” or “most of the time.” Similarly, 68% of Gen Zs and 79% of Millennials "almost always" or "most of the time" use SMS/text message to chat with friends and family.

But when asked about email, 56% of Millennials and a whopping 67% of Gen Zs told us they “rarely” or “never” use email for those purposes.

More worrying for brands who still rely on email surveys, our research indicates that younger generations are the least likely to prioritize your communications. In fact, almost a third (31%) of Gen Zs and Millennials claim to have over 1,000 unread emails in their inbox.

31% of Gen Zs and Millennials have over 1,000 unread emails in their inbox.

If Gen Zs are important for the future of your brand, now’s the time to re-evaluate the market research tools you’re using to engage the youth market. Using the latest Gen Z market research software offerings in the market is not enough—you have to consider the bigger picture.

Email surveys are dead tech

As you re-examine your strategy for Gen Z market research in 2022 and beyond, consider the following:

1. Take the time to understand how young people engage.

Instead of forcing old-school market research tactics to Gen Zs and Millennials, take a step back and find out how they prefer to provide feedback. Younger generations are inherently social, and their personal and professional lives bleed seamlessly into each other. You need to align your research tactics with how young consumers like to talk to their friends and family. 

2. Go mobile-first.

The evidence is clear and unambiguous: email is not how young consumers want to engage with brands. Mobile is where it’s at with young consumers; they spend almost every waking hour, both at work and in their personal lives, on social media and SMS, both at work and in their personal lives.

But don’t mistake being mobile-friendly with being mobile-first. Young consumers —and, really, most people — can tell the difference between an experience that was designed for mobile in mind versus one that was first meant for desktop and forced for mobile. As you evaluate your market research techniques and technology, choose approaches that are inherently mobile-first.

3. Continue to adopt.

Preferences are not set in stone. You need to continuously monitor how Gen Zs and Millennials communicate. These generations are not inherently loyal: they change employers, brands and platforms all the time. The mode of communication used by their parents, or pushed by their employers, doesn’t hold much long-term sway.

Many people assume that, with all that time spent cranking out texts or posting to social media — and skipping email — these generations, especially Gen Z, are somehow less engaged or less serious in their communications. That’s simply not the case. These young consumers want to have their voices heard. (They’re not afraid to use social networks like TikTok to voice their opinions about social and other important issues.) But Gen Zs and Millennials want to provide feedback on their terms, and in the channels they already use. 

Re-evaluating your market research tactics for the future

With each new generation and each new technology, our old ways of communicating don’t die; they simply evolve. Email isn’t gone, especially in the business context, but it’s no longer the go-to way of reaching people’s hearts and minds—certainly not those under the age of 40. We still use pens and paper—just not to remind a spouse or child when to take out the trash. Indeed, in five years’ time, an SMS text might be seen as “old technology” by the next generation of consumers.

Whoever the audience, learning how to communicate with them fluently—across a wide range of platforms—is critical. There are now over 67 million Gen Zs in the U.S.—a cohort that will soon pass the Boomers in size. Insight professionals trying to reach this new generation will have to engage them where they live and breathe—and yes, they’ll have to figure out when to use that darn skull emoji too.

For more tips on Gen Z market research, check out our ebook The Insight Pro’s Guide to Gen Zs.Gen Z market research software guide

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