As millennials (Gen Y) matured and came into their financial prime, marketers zeroed in on the generation before shifting their attention to the following up-and-coming age group, Gen Z. Now, as Gen Zers come into adulthood, marketers are looking to the next crop of consumers: Gen Alpha, the children of millennials.
While Gen Alpha (whose name was originally coined by social analyst and demographer Mark McCrindle) doesn’t have a definitive, universally agreed-upon age range yet, it’s generally accepted that Gen Alpha’s oldest members were born in the early 2010s. This means that Gen Alphas are still children who, without financial income of their own, rely on their parents—largely made up of millennials and older Gen Zers—to make purchases on their behalf. Like Gen Z’s influence on older generations, Gen Alphas’ interests and preferences have similarly impacted their entire households.
In this guide, we explain the characteristics of Gen Alphas, look at behaviors (like how and where they discover products), and unpack why it’s not premature to engage with this generation in order to build long-term relationships.
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Gen Alpha characteristics
Gen Alpha is the first generation born entirely in the 21st century. The number of Gen Alphas is expected to reach 2.2 billion worldwide by the end of 2024, according to marketing agency Razorfish. By 2025, there will be more Gen Alphas than baby boomers. Many believe Gen Alpha will be the largest generation.
Gen Alpha is only the second digitally native generation, making technology a constant in their lives. In the US, 36.2 million children (ages 0 to 11) are active internet users, exceeding teen (ages 12 to 17) internet users by 11.6 million, per eMarketer’s August 2023 forecast.
Unlike older cohorts, Gen Alpha has never been without smartphones or social media. By some estimates, the average Gen Alpha has over 100 photos of themselves posted on social media before their first birthday, according to generations expert Dr. Eliza Filby.
In the US, the estimated 45.6 million children that make up Gen Alpha are already more diverse than the general population. According to the US Census Bureau in January 2023, the growth in diversity is due to two key groups:
- Hispanic people represent 18.9% of the total US population, but 26% of children.
- Around 3% of the US population is mixed race, but this more than doubles to 7% among children.
Marketers should keep the makeup of this generation in mind. Gen Alphas will expect the diversity they see in their peer groups to be reflected in brand marketing as well. This also includes diverse representation in terms of age, sexual orientation, gender, and more.
Comparing Gen Alpha with Gen Z
While Gen Alphas and Gen Zers may be siblings in some households, there are clear differences in their lived experiences, tech adoption, self expression, and more.
For Gen Zers, the defining moment of their childhood is considered the Great Recession of 2008, according to McCrindle Research, which may have impacted their family’s financial security. When most of Gen Alpha was in elementary school, the COVID-19 pandemic caused stay-at-home orders.
As a result, Gen Alpha’s relationship with technology quickly accelerated as parents looked to devices like tablets to entertain their children. This coincided with schools relying on virtual tools for remote learning.
Over half (54%) of Gen Alpha kids have their own tablets, according to a Morning Consult survey as reported by Business Insider. Indeed, Gen Alphas are sometimes referred to as “iPad kids” because Apple introduced its tablet in 2010, around when the generation’s oldest members were born.
These factors have influenced Gen Alpha’s mindset about technology. As the second digitally native generation, Gen Alpha has adopted technologies like smartphones and social media faster than Gen Z.
Some 63% of Gen Alpha value having the latest technology, according to Razorfish and GWI data from 2022. Gen Z, although tech-savvy, is not as eager. Just 31% of Gen Z places value in using the latest in tech.
Differences continue in how Gen Alpha expresses themselves. The Razorfish report also found that 92% of Gen Alphas feel that being their authentic self is important. When compared with Gen Zers, Gen Alphas are also more likely to voice their opinions and share their views with others.
For both generations, online gaming serves as a way to unwind and socialize with friends, according to Razorfish. Gen Alpha is twice as likely to see gaming as a creative outlet, whereas Gen Z plays online games as a form of escapism.
What Gen Alpha means to marketers
Although still children, older Gen Alphas started to turn 13 in 2023. In just five years’ time, they will begin to hit adulthood.
McCrindle Research estimates that by 2030, Gen Alpha will make up 11% of the total workforce, while the previous generation, Gen Z, will account for 34%.
Because of loose definitions for when the Gen Alpha age bracket begins, there is a Gen Z-Gen Alpha gray area—dubbed Gen Zalpha—for anyone born after 1996. Gen Zalpha’s spending power is expected to grow three times faster than any other generation’s by the end of this decade, per Bain & Company.
Nevertheless, after dedicating so much effort trying to understand Gen Zers, and millennials before them, marketers would be wise to make space for Gen Alphas as they grow up.
“I don’t think it’s ever too early,” said eMarketer’s Suzy Davidkhanian, vice president of content, during an episode of the “Behind the Numbers” podcast. “Brands need to really understand who the up-and-coming consumers are so they can get ready to welcome them into their spaces,” especially since children can influence their entire households, Davidkhanian added.
According to a December 2022 survey from Morning Consult, which defines Gen Alpha as consumers ages 0 to 9, a child’s influence on household purchases starts from around the age of 5. Eighty-five percent of parents with children ages 5 to 9 report that their children have asked for products seen in stores. TV and online ads are purchase drivers as well.
Marketers also need to keep in mind who Gen Alpha’s parents are. Seventy percent of Gen Alpha parents are millennials, 60% don’t have a college degree, and 47% live in suburban areas, Morning Consult found.
Gen Alpha parents are comfortable talking to their kids about a wide range of topics, with many already discussing their own personal mental health (46%), their own personal body image (45%), race/racism (34%), the environment/climate change (34%), and gender norms (27%).
Catching and keeping Gen Alpha’s attention
Gen Alpha is drawn to authenticity, interactivity, and gamification. Here’s how marketers can catch and keep Gen Alpha’s attention:
- Stores are the primary source of influence for Gen Alpha purchases, according to Morning Consult. In-store promotions and activations may be the best way to target younger consumers.
- Work with YouTube influencers on branded videos. Nearly 60% of Gen Alpha parents say their children watch shopping content (e.g., haul and unboxing videos), where they are exposed to new products and brands, per Morning Consult.
- Marketers can leverage Gen Alpha’s propensity for gaming by incorporating gamification into brand marketing. Lego, for example, has games on its website, while other brands have built experiences within Roblox, a popular video game among kids.
- Interactivity is also key. Gen Alpha, as true digital natives, can spot paid promotional content a mile away. To keep Gen Alpa from scrolling past, leverage polls or promo offers.
- For the generation that attended online school at an early age during the pandemic, no distance is too far when it comes to connecting or shopping. Gen Alpha is more than willing to shop globally.
As marketers look to build brand affinity with young consumers, marketers should be mindful of targeted ads for kids.
In February 2023’s State of the Union address, President Biden called on legislators to “ban targeted advertising on children.” While a true ban seems unlikely, stricter privacy policies for kids’ data is possible.
Where do you find Gen Alpha online?
If you’re looking to engage with Gen Alpha, the best place to do so is on mobile. And chances are, that mobile device belongs to a Gen Alpha user, not their parents.
Between 2023 and 2026, children will make up a small share (under 4%) of total smartphone users, according to eMarketer’s forecast, but that is likely to rise as overall mobile usage increases and it becomes more common for children to receive a smartphone at a young age.
According to eMarkter’s US forecasts, by the end of 2024:
- 36.2 million Gen Alpha consumers (ages 0 to 11) will be internet users
- Over 10 million Gen Alphas will own a smartphone
- The number of Gen Alpha social network users will reach 6.5 million
Gen Alpha’s exposure to mobile will shape how they interact with the world. To reach an entire generation immersed in a “mobile reality,” marketers will need to develop seamless digital experiences across platforms and target Gen Alpha with mobile-first strategies.
Interestingly, Gen Alpha has been described as tech-empowered, not dependent. This means that the generation, despite being more digital-forward than older cohorts, is willing to cut down on screen time because of how long they’ve been using it. Essentially, the novelty of a smartphone has worn off for Gen Alpha.
Nearly three-quarters (74%) of Gen Alphas prefer to do things like go outside, exercise, or limit technology use to manage their mental health, Razorfish found.
When Gen Alphas are on their phones, chances are they’re watching content on YouTube.
According to eMarketer’s 2024 forecast, 58.0% of US children will watch YouTube at least once per month. Unlike other platforms, YouTube is easily accessible for children because it does not require users to create an account with a verified email.
While on YouTube, Gen Alpha is learning about brands from creator content, watching product unboxing videos, and tuning in to watch YouTubers play video games.
Brands need a presence on YouTube. The video platform was named the coolest brand by Gen Alphas in 2023, followed by Netflix, Amazon, and Sour Patch Kids, according to kids-focused research firm Beano Brain as reported by SGB Media.
In comparison, Meta has struggled to connect with younger users.
Facebook, for instance, is losing ground with Gen Z thanks to apps like TikTok. Only 1.8 million US children (ages 0 to 11) will be Facebook users in 2024, per eMarketer’s forecast. Instagram doesn’t fare much better: Just 2.5 million US children will use the app in 2024.
Meta has had difficulties enticing Gen Alpha to engage with its metaverse as well. In April 2023, Meta opened up access to teens (ages 13 to 17) in North America to its social VR platform, Horizon Worlds. When launched as a beta product in December 2021, Horizon Worlds was for users 18 and older.
Meta’s attempts to include younger users has sparked worries over possible dangers. Online harassment, mental health, and privacy concerns have been brought up by some lawmakers and the Federal Trade Commission.
While TikTok has Gen Z hooked, Gen Alpha isn’t on the app as much.
Kids spend more time watching YouTube than TikTok, Disney+, and Netflix, according to eMarketer. But for TikTok, usage among Gen Alphas could rise as the app itself ages alongside its younger user base.
Just 5.5% of US kids under 12 will use TikTok in 2024, per eMarketer. In comparison, 71.2% of teens (ages 12 to 17) and 77.2% of young adults (ages 18 to 24) will be on TikTok in 2024.
In 2023, TikTok ramped up its ecommerce efforts with the US launch of TikTok Shop and its continued development of an Amazon-like flywheel.
Although social commerce has not yet caught on for US platforms, TikTok’s social commerce push may capture young consumers’ attention as a new, innovative way to shop online.
“TikTok has done a really good job of turning its users into buyers, but there’s only so far it can go,” said eMarketer’s Sara Lebow, senior analyst and host of the “Behind the Numbers: Reimagining Retail” podcast. “We talk a lot about how Gen Z’s shopping habits are still malleable … [but] most Gen Zers are already adults, so their shopping habits are starting to firm up.”
“I think it’s going to take Gen Alpha aging into their own spending power for social buying to hit the next level,” Lebow continued.
Banking and payments
Well before Gen Alphas come into their own, and their millennial parents are no longer financially responsible for them, banks have an opportunity to connect with the next generation of account holders.
Recently, youth and teen banking has grown in popularity. Given the age range of the target consumers—6-to-18 years old—banks and financial institutions are using different strategies to court young bankers.
These strategies include youth- and teen-focused banking apps that offer a savings account, a debit card, and financial literacy learning modules. These apps also feature parental controls, allowing parents to monitor their child’s spending and enable peer-to-peer (P2P) money transfers from a parent’s to their child’s bank account.
Experiencing mobile P2P payments through Venmo, Zelle, and other services will shape how Gen Alpha exchanges money and pays for goods and services. Although slightly older, 31.9% of young Gen Z (ages 14 to 17) internet users will use mobile P2P payments in 2024, up from 29.5% in 2023, according to eMarketer.
Cash App, for example, has been offering teen (ages 13 to 17) accounts with limited features since 2021, and Venmo followed with a similar offering in 2023. For P2P providers, reaching Gen Z and Gen Alpha consumers through their parents—and onboarding younger users’ social groups—can fuel gains.
Defining the generations: What are the other age cohorts?
- Gen Alpha: Born between the early 2010s and 2024. The second generation of digital natives, Gen Alphas have never been without smartphones or social media. They are drawn to authenticity, interactivity, and gamification.
- Zalpha: Someone born on the cusp of Gen Alpha and Gen Z that shares traits of both generations.
- Gen Z: Born between 1997 and 2012. A socially conscious generation that prioritizes mental health, sustainability, and racial equity, while shaping consumer habits with a tech-savvy approach.
- Zillennial: Someone born on the cusp of Gen Z and millennials that shares traits of both generations.
- Millennial (Gen Y): Born between 1981 and 1996. Millennials grew up during the dawn of the internet and have quickly embraced technologies like social media and smartphones. Millennial consumers are drawn to ease and convenience.
- Gen X: Born between 1965 and 1980. They are characterized by their independence, skepticism toward authority, affinity for technology, and preference for authenticity in brands and marketing messages.
- Baby boomer: Born between 1946 and 1964. They have a strong work ethic, traditional values, brand loyalty, and significant influence on consumer trends and societal norms.