For much of the last decade, marketers have poured millions of hours and billions of dollars into trying to decode the most enigmatic generation of our time: Millennials.

And why not? Studies show that Millennials are powering the US economy, accounting for $600 billion in current annual spending and a projected $1.4 trillion a year by 2020. And with that much economic clout, Millennial preferences have disrupted entire industries.

But somewhere along the way, as we marketers were trying to figure out this generation, we missed something important about Millennials: They grew up.

Today, the oldest Millennials have reached the age of 37. Many are now marketers themselves, and they are wisely setting their sights on engaging with the up-and-coming Generation Z (Gen Z).

Consider the power of Gen Z

Born between 1996 and 2010, Gen Z is already 61 million strong in the United States, outnumbering Millennials by nearly 1 million.

They are now 8-22 years old—not an age range you'd normally expect would justify heavy marketing expenditure. However, studies show they will represent 40% of all consumers within two years and that they already influence an estimated $166-334 billion of family spending annually.

It is critical to begin understanding members of Gen Z and nurturing long-term relationships with them. But it will not be easy. Gen Z is the first generation of true digital natives. Gen Z-ers spend 74% of their time—outside of school or work—online, according to Commscope. They are constantly bombarded by marketing content and ads, and those messages are beginning to become white noise to them.

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image of Emily Ketchen

Emily Ketchen is head of marketing, Americas, at HP, where she is directly responsible for the design and implementation of demand strategies that deliver over $15B in revenues.

LinkedIn: Emily Ketchen

Twitter: @Emily_J_Ketchen