Despite how much Generation Z has been discussed, no one seems to understand them. In all fairness, it is hard to keep up with Gen Z. They have their own language, trends, and values that are constantly changing. The Economist referred to Gen Z as “stressed, depressed, and exam-obsessed,” but Gen Z is more than that. Generation Z is the generation born in the late nineties and early 2000s. Unlike their predecessors, Generation Z is the first digitally native generation and for marketers, the most important generation as they have an estimated disposable income of $360 billion in the US alone.
Looking at data and insights from Assembly, Bloomberg, Nasdaq, Pew Research, The Economist, Deloitte, Google and Statista (among others) we decode Generation Z to debunk common myths and understand how to market to Gen Z.
Who is Gen Z? And what are some Gen Z characteristics?
Generation Z is defined as those born between 1997 and 2012; currently aged 11 to 26. Because of this, they are the first digitally native generation. Many Gen Z-ers cannot remember a time without mobile phones or social media – the youngest in the generation was five years old when the first iPhone was released.
Today, Generation Z accounts for 26% of the global population and are projected to make up 27% of the global workforce by 2025. According to Pew Research, when compared to Millennials, Gen Z-ers are less likely to drop out of high school and most likely to be enrolled in some sort of higher education (i.e. college or university). This is because Gen Z-ers are more likely to have at least one parent who completed college or university.
Gen Z-ers are currently teens and early adults, meaning they’re at different life stages. The younger ones find themselves living at home and influencing their household’s purchases while those born toward the beginning of the cutoff are starting their adult life, living independently and having their own disposable income. Those in between are completing their studies and experiencing the start of financial independence as well as freedom from parents.
Assembly identified six defining characteristics of Gen Z:
- Passionate disruptors: Gen Z has ambitions to change the world and believe that social media can help them do so
- Globally connected: Gen Z-ers are globally interconnected despite geographical borders
- Shapeshifters: Gen Z challenges societal norms and labels
- Entrepreneurs: Gen Z value success
- Purposeful: Gen Z is purposeful with their time and money,
- Vulnerable: Gen Z struggle with mental health issues due to the immense pressure they put on themselves.
Your strategy to market to Gen Z shouldn’t target that group alone. Gen Z shares many similarities with Millennials and Generation Y, among others. The best brands are connecting audiences across generations and that's exactly how to advertise to Gen Z. Some brands that are succeeding in advertising to Gen Z are BIC and Dove. BIC paired 81 year old Martha Stewart with 51 year old Snoop Dog to promote their new EZ Reach lighter. Dove’s Real Beauty campaign tackles the discussion of beauty standards across multiple generations of women.
Let’s tackle some common myths to see how to market to Gen Z.
Myth 1: Gen Z is weary about the future
True. Assembly reports that 71% of 16-25 year old Gen Z-ers are frightened about the future. The majority of Gen Z came of age during the Covid-19 pandemic and were raised in the aftermath of 9/11 and the Great Recession. Add to that the Black Lives Matter Movement, the Me Too movement, and now the War in Ukraine. Is it any wonder that being surrounded by war, disease, financial insecurity and social unrest means Gen Z sometimes has little hope for the future?
The American Psychological Association (APA) Stress in America 2020 report concluded that Gen Z recorded higher stress levels when compared to other generations. The trend continues today as Deloitte’s 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey proves that Gen Z is still struggling with financial anxiety, with the ever-rising cost of living being their top concern. According to Assembly, 41% of Gen Z-ers are not able to live independently without the help of their parents and 49% of them believe they will never earn enough to support a family of their own.
So, how to market to Gen Z? Gen Z feels as though life is chaos and looks to brands for reassurance about the future. This gives brands the opportunity to build a community centered around topics that are important for their generation – mental health, inclusivity, climate change, representation. For Gen Z, the future is scary and brands should try to help ease the fear.
Myth 2: Gen Z is a conservative generation
True. Having grown up in a time of uncertainty, Gen Z is conservative with their money as well as with their actions. Although they have billions in disposable income, getting them to spend their money is difficult. On average, Gen Z saves a third of their income, according to Bloomberg. 25% of them own stocks and 14% invest in retirement accounts.
This generation engages in risky behavior far less than past generations. Less Gen Z-ers have tattoos, with 77% of them reported having no tattoos, 20% more than Millennials (Statista). Compared to previous generations, Gen Z has lower rates of teenage pregnancies. They also consume less alcohol, claiming that they are concerned about how alcohol impacts their mood and image; 49% of Gen Z claims that their online image is on their mind when out drinking. When compared to previous generations, Gen Z’s conservatism appears to come from their preoccupation with other urgent matters.
Despite having the disposable income, Gen Z is hesitant when it comes to spending and this is something marketers need to keep in mind. Campaigns that might have leveraged “fun” may no longer work with this generation. They save their income which means marketers have to show value to convince Gen Z-ers to purchase.
Myth 3: Gen Z hates working
False. Though Gen Z-ers are leading the Great Resignation, it isn’t because of a dislike of work. Gen Z-ers like Millennials want more out of their job – higher wages, better benefits and better work-life balance – they want fulfillment. Gen Z-ers are leaving their positions for jobs that are a better fit. According to LinkedIn, Gen Z’s job transitions increased by 80% from 2020 to 2021. They have high standards for their workplace and expect companies to fit all of their criteria. Though they are weary of the future they are very demanding of their employers and workplace. They voice opinions and have strong views on issues like mental health and burnout.
In order to understand how to market to Gen Z, marketers need to understand that Gen Z-ers are unafraid. They are vocal about issues that affect their communities and have no problem cutting ties with anything or anyone that they believe doesn’t add value to their life, including their jobs. If Gen Z is looking for fulfillment from their career, it is fair to assume that they have the same expectation for brands.
Myth 4: Gen Z are conscious shoppers
True. Gen Z-ers are careful with their money as 69% of them prefer saving up for something they really want. Assembly’s bespoke data also revealed that Gen Z-ers are spending more time browsing the internet and in turn making more considerate and educated purchases. This generation is a true believer in “voting with your dollars”. Deloitte’s Global 2022 Millenials and Gen Z survey found that more than 64% of Gen Z-ers are willing to pay more for sustainable alternatives.
They are cautious in their purchases as they believe that their purchases should reflect who they are and what they value. Not only should a product align with Gen Z’s values but so should the brand; Gen Z does a deep dive into the brands they purchase from.
Marketing to Gen Z is all about convincing them to buy; that is the problem. Besides making a product or brand trendy, marketers have to convince them to trust the brand as they (Gen Z) believe brands are a representation of themselves. They care about where their money is going but have no issue spending more if it means supporting a good cause. Gen Z focuses on price and value. Value can come from purchasing something at a cheaper price and saving a few dollars or from purchasing something more expensive that lasts longer, eliminating the need for repurchase. Marketers therefore need to consider not only highlighting product attributes but also the added benefits and value they can offer.
Myth 5: Gen Z lacks brand loyalty
It’s complicated. It’d be wrong to say that Gen Z has no brand loyalty, instead let’s say that Gen Z holds brands accountable. Their loyalty to brands stems from alignment; how well does a brand align to their personal values and beliefs. They have higher expectations of brands and want brands to be beacons for positive change. For much of Gen Z, brands need to be inclusive, empowering, and involved in social and political causes. 71% of Gen Z is more likely to purchase a product if an ad deals with mental health advocacy, according to Assembly.
Brands can build loyalty with Gen Z as long as they are open and transparent. Marketers need to listen to their Gen Z audience and give them what they want – community. UGC content aside, it's about engaging with your audience and having open channels of communication. Transparency is also key. Gen Z can see right through you, if you mess up, acknowledge it and learn from it. Gen Z cannot be reached as easily as previous generations, they are looking for brands to show up when it matters and have no problem cutting ties with brands that fail to do so. 55% of Gen Z do not consider themselves to be loyal to any brand. It is still possible to build loyalty with Gen Z as long as your brand values consistently align with your actions; you have to gain their trust because Gen Z will always put price and value before a brand’s name.
Myth 6: Social Media is the best way to reach Gen Z
True. Content is king. Though word of mouth from friends and families is the most influential factor among Gen Z, social media influencers are second. Social media is influential across the globe but it's not a one-size-fits-all strategy. Each market needs a tailored approach to ensure success.
Gen Z prefers video-centered platforms like Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat. TikTok is Gen Z’s second most used platform behind Instagram. It’s important to note that Gen Z also utilizes social media platforms for research; searching for products directly on social platforms instead of Google. This has led to the success of the TikTok hashtag #tiktokmademebuyit, which has more than 2.3 billion views and the hashtag #tiktoktaughtme, which has 12.5 billion views.
Michaela Parmar, the Strategy Account Director of Assembly said “Influencer-led, native creative is proven to be three times more effective than standard ads on TikTok”. Influencers have been developing their craft on these platforms for a longer time than a brand’s creative team. As native users, they know the ins and outs of social media and they know exactly how to market to Gen Z. However, there is more that goes into influencer marketing than meets the eye. Just because an influencer has great engagement and thousands of followers does not mean that a sponsored post will do well, let alone translate to sales.
So, how to market towards Gen Z?
One of Gen Z’s most notable characteristics is the fact that they obtain the majority of their information from social media. 97% of Gen Z learns about new products from social media. Which means that content is king so marketing to Gen Z is all about incorporating social media marketing into your overall marketing strategy. Focus on creating visually appealing content with a purpose and empowering ads that resonate. This is a generation that is trying to make an impact in the world and want the brands they support to do so as well; all of which should come across in your marketing efforts.
Social media marketing is the best way to market to Gen Z and using influencers or UGC content is the best way to be seen. With that being said, this generation can smell a sponsored post from miles away so the trick is to find social media influencers or creators that align with your brand and target audience. Brands can also use the platforms to create awareness and foster community. Each social media platform fosters different types of content; for example, TikTok values personal and transparent content while Instagram favors curated content. Marketers should tailor their content accordingly.
Why should you market to Gen Z?
Gen Z has become the most important generation to marketers – accounting for 40% of global consumers. Not only do they hold an immense amount of disposable income but they also influence their household’s purchases. Generation Z is often a misunderstood generation. Many make the mistake of assuming that being a digitally native generation is a negative when in reality it's a positive attribute for marketers. Gen Z demands more from brands and can see through performative campaigns that aren’t genuine. Marketing to Gen Z isn’t hard, you just need to be genuine – easy, right?
As Assembly put it, Gen Z is “nowstalgic” which means brands need to be aware of their history and how they can leverage it. Brand history is important, you can either ignore it or utilize it. Take a look at Adidas, throughout its existence Adidas has swayed in and out of its history, choosing to remember it while also choosing to forget it. In the late 1980s, Adidas was looking to sell and hired a consultancy firm to do an audit of the business. That is when Peter Moore and Rob Strasser, two ex-Nike managers, realized Adidas had a gold mine in their hands. Moore and Strasser leveraged Adidas history and the philosophy of its founder to rewrite the brand identity and inspire a new corporate identity. Two of the brand's best sellers, the Stan Smith and the Superstar were some of Dassler’s original designs and are now part of a shoe line called the Originals. Throughout all the changes in ownership, Adidas thrived because it centered its identity around its original founder.
What do Gen Z consumers want?
Living in a time of rapid change, Gen Z longs for a time when things were simpler. Their desire to revisit the past has influenced fashion, entertainment, and technology. Y2K fashion (early 2000s fashion) saw a 625% increase in search volume from 2019 to 2022 (Assembly). The Motorola Razr phone sold out in 2 minutes of being released in 2020. Klarna recently released their first global annual summary of this year's purchases and nostalgia was front and center with vintage tech and Y2K fashion being among the top trends. As trend expert Agus Panzoni puts it, “though this trend is nostalgic to older generations, it's mainly led by Gen Z… they are a generation that characterize themselves as changemakers rather than adherents to the status quo. Gen Z are looking for forms of music and aesthetics that revolt against cultural norms to define their multi-faceted and bold personality which can explain this upswing in counter culture”.
Brands need to analyze how Gen Z currently interacts with their brand and market category in order to understand how to market to Gen Z; seeing how the generation currently interacts with your specific market category will help you tailor your marketing strategy. For direct to consumer brands, marketing on social media platforms like TikTok might translate to sales but for others, such marketing approaches can only be used to increase brand awareness.
Generation Z can be a tough one to comprehend. This generation has lived through disease, war, social unrest and is looking to brands to be actors of positive global change. As long as you keep transparency, authenticity and community at the forefront of your marketing strategy, Gen Z will follow.