Michael Wood, founder of 747 Insights, leads the team that's behind "Generation Nation." Now in its second year, “Generation Nation" is the most in-depth generational study ever. Michael has been at the forefront of youth and generational research for more than two decades, first at TRU, the firm that contemporized youth insights, and now at 747 Insights. We recently sat down with Michael to learn more about last year's release of "Generation Nation" and what’s in store for later this year.
Is it too early to begin to form a clear picture about Gen Z?
Granted, they’re young and still developing but we’re already starting to see evidence of what this generation is going to be like as adults and the impact that they’ll have on society. For starters, they are the most diverse generation to date. They truly are the most accepting of diversity -- in fact, it’s simply normal to them -- and they challenge deep-seated social inequities. They can’t remember a time when content wasn’t immediately available, and they don’t remember life without mobile technology. They’re upbeat, brimming with ideas, brand-ambivalent, and ready to shake up the system.
You spent a lot of time at TRU studying youth. Why move on to the older cohorts now?
I spent nearly two decades at TRU studying youth, essentially watching Millennials grow up. Young people have always been a fascinating group to study. But to truly understand one generation, we believe you should do so within the context of how they compare to others. That’s why I’m thrilled that we successfully launched Generation Nation last year and are releasing the next wave in a couple months. From this research nerd’s perspective, this is a dream come true! We now have comparable data across four key generations: Gen Z, Millennials, Generation X and Boomers.
Some argue that generational research paints with too broad of a brush. Why do you think generational research is important?
Well, I understand that argument. Do the findings in our study apply to absolutely everyone? No, not at all. We’re not describing every single member of Gen Z or every Boomer. But generational theory is proven and sound. We’ve found significant, fundamental similarities that we’ve been able to help companies get a leg up when it comes to understanding and connecting with people of all ages. Generational research comes with a predictor tool; because we know how these individuals were shaped and formed, we’re better able to anticipate how they’ll react to new ideas and messaging. Our goal with generational research is not to put people in a box. Our goal is to take the lid off the box and say, here’s some context around the mindset of whom you might be talking to.
What were a few of the biggest key takeaways from last year’s Generation Nation study?
There were several big findings that came from the first wave of the study. For starters, I’m fascinated by how the luster of “patriotism” has faded from the younger generations, who worry less about national flags and instead believe in the right to social justice regardless of its location. There’s been a general concern about whether Millennials were prepared to handle the great recession. And even though the economy implosion hit them during a particularly vulnerable lifestage, our study has revealed that Millennials are incredibly resilient, realistic, and optimistic. That’s good news as they enter the workplace in record numbers. At the mid-point in their life, Gen X is heads-down, getting things done. This cohort is stressed out — in fact, roughly 30% say they’re very or extremely so, higher than any other generation. And Boomers are still (if not more) complex and nuanced — often shaped by how they’ve adapted (more or less) as they try and settle into their golden years.
Why is 747 Insights conducting this study for a second year in a row?
Because there’s no doubt we live in a time of profound political, cultural, and technological change. And consumer attitudes and values are changing at a rapid pace as well. Just think of everything that has happened in the last 12 months. At TRU, we learned the importance of comparing data year after year. A snapshot in time is helpful, but to truly identify real changes in attitudes and values, it’s essential to look at comparable data over longer periods of time.
What are you looking forward to with year two of Generation Nation?
We’re excited about the opportunity to explore new topic areas and see how key tracking measures have changed. I’m also thrilled to be partnering with Tim Hoskins and the amazing team at Quester on this year’s study! With Quester onboard, we’re adding an impressive qualitative component, driven by artificial intelligence. I believe this will add an invaluable layer to the study, answering many of the “whys” coming out of the quantitative data.
Who are some of the companies and organizations that subscribe to Generation Nation?
It truly runs the gamut. Ford, Disney, Reebok, Fruit-of-the-Loom, Leo Burnett, Spark Foundry, National Geographic, the NBA, AARP, TRUTH, Responsibility.org were some of the charter subscribers our first year. And we’re excited to see new companies and organizations joining the ranks for year two.
You’ve been at this for quite some time, think you’ll ever tire of studying consumers?
Never. I’m fascinated by consumer behavior and all of the cultural, social, personal, and psychological factors that influence how people act and the decisions they make. And believe me, with two Gen Z daughters at home, I need all the consumer intelligence I can get.
747 INSIGHTS is a boutique research firm that helps businesses, associations, and educational institutions better understand and make meaningful connections with their constituents. They bring a unique depth of generational expertise to this project based on their vast experience leading qualitative and quantitative research projects and consulting with the world’s leading brands and organizations across numerous product and service categories.