Now that most have millennials figured out, here come the next batch of consumers. Stamped Post-Millennials, iGen, the Wii Generation, the Homeland Generation, and the Plurals, Gen Z is coming in hot and in spite of their youth, they’ve got money to spend.
Marketers who focus only on demographics and assumptions are going to blow it with these consumers. Their views, philosophies and expectations are different than any other generation and connecting to these kids requires getting to know them and then being real for them.
Gen Z don’t see things as digital or real life. To these kids and young adults, it’s all just part of a total experience. Growing up in the midst of dichotomies, this generation doesn’t draw the same distinctions, boundaries, or categories as previous generations.
Where Gen X and
Baby Boomers might
see a dichotomy,
Gen Z sees a
In general, they don’t see the world in binary terms. To them, things aren’t either/or. They just are. For instance, the world isn’t digital or real. It’s Pokemon Go, or at least it was last year.
They also want their digital and in-person experiences to be synergistic, to blend together. Unlike previous generations, they don’t necessarily find it rude to use their phones while having in-person conversations. And for sure, they continue to use tech when in-store.
Who Are Gen Z?
Depending on who you ask, this generation includes people born starting around 1994 to 1997 and wraps up sometime between 2010 and 2013.
Gen Z consists of 72 million people between the ages of four and 21. They make up about a quarter of the population right now, and by 2020, they’ll be 40 percent of the population.
Most of these kids still live at home and spend their parents’ money. They get an average of $16.90 a week in allowance, and that combined with a bit of income from various types of jobs and gifts gives this generation $40 billion in spending power. And it gets better. Gen Z teens influence family spending to the tune of $600 billion per year.
These are digital
While their grandparents’ computers took up half the living room and their parents slimmed down with tablets and smart phones, Gen Z consumers will use driverless cars, 3D printing, and nanotechnology.
And Their Parents?
Who’s raising Gen Z? Who’s giving them influence over $600 billion to spend every year? For the most part, Gen Z parents are members of Gen X. Long overshadowed by the Baby Boomers and the Millennials, the “Breakfast Club” generation didn’t have the internet while growing up, but they’ve evolved along with tech and rely on it in their daily lives. They can text easily, but they can also pen a handwritten note. Almost all of them (95 percent) have a Facebook account, but the majority (62 percent) still read a newspaper everyday.
Gen X was the first generation raised by a significant number of divorced parents, and they’re worried Social Security won’t be there when they retire. To some degree, they’ve lost faith in social institutions. That, coupled with being highly educated critical thinkers makes them open to letting their kids take different paths.
Gen X has also experimented with different parenting philosophies. They’ve tried helicopter parenting and also championed the free-range kids movement. So they’ve both handed their kids video game consoles and iphones but also embraced back-to-nature movements and screen-free times. These cool parents try multiple approaches to parenting, so Gen Z kids experience a variety of outlooks. Most importantly, parenting for this generation has evolved from a top-down authoritarian approach to a feeling-centric, listening-oriented collaboration.
Gen X parents value the opinions of their Gen Z kids. The parents hold the purse strings, but marketers don’t necessarily need to appeal to them. They need to reach the kids. When Gen Z kids convince their parents to spend money, it’s not just on video games and sick (exceptionally cool) clothing. It’s also on vacations, groceries, and household things like blenders and furniture.
While their parents are depicting perfection on FaceBook and Pinterest, Gen Z are posting a lot more #NoFilter and #NoMakeup type posts on Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube.
When UK company, BodyForm decided to make a feminine hygiene commercial to appeal to a younger generation, they nixed women blissfully skipping through wheat fields and swimming happily for a more realistic depiction of the experience. For the first time ever, a feminine hygiene company showed how much moisture their pads could hold by using actual menstrual blood instead of blue liquid.
Is this too much for you to handle? Well, it’s not too much for Gen Z. In fact, before launching their “blood normal” campaign, the company polled Gen Z, their parents, and the Millennials in between. Respondents from ages 13 to 50 requested this type of advertising. If it weren’t for the inclusion of Gen Z, the poll could have taken a different direction.
ze sie hir co ey They’ve been called the trans generation because they’re the first generation to grow up with transgender people in the public eye, but the oldest (and even some of the youngest) are exploring and creating options that go beyond male and female. They are embracing nonbinary genders and introducing pronouns such as ze, sie, hir, co, and ey to the world.
Ambitiously, Responsibly Unemployed
In 1978, 60 percent of teens had summer jobs, but now, only 35 percent of teens work during the summer. But just because today’s teens don’t lifeguard, flip burgers, or babysit doesn’t mean they’re irresponsible and lazy. Gen Z spends a lot more time in school, classes, and extracurricular activities than their parents and grandparents ever did. They are motivated by future success rather than immediate finances.
The oldest Gen Z kids have their minds set on being entrepreneurs rather than employees, independence instead of dependence, and ingenuity not rehashing old themes. When MTV asked 1,000 teens what they want to call their generation, they settled on “The Founders.” They grew up during a recession, think creativity is essential and prize its expression through business enterprise. A lot of them saw their parents struggle and now, they want to dream and design their way to entrepreneurial success.
When MTV asked
1000 teens what
they want to call
they settled on
They’re not jaded
yet—they still think
they can change
In that same vein, spending their parent’s’ money doesn’t mean they don’t realize the value of a dollar. They actually bring deals and discounts to their parents attention and expect any marketing messages to be as personalized and relevant as the social interactions that keep them thumbing all day. What shows up on their devices has always been informed by algorithms and personal data—marketing messages must be just as relevant.
Beyond looking for deals, Gen Z are very into quality; they actually demand it and love luxury. Unlike Millennials who tend to spend their money on experiences, this generation is focused on stuff. They spend more on clothes, shoes, and accessories than Millennials. When buying gifts for others, they devote 58 percent of their budget to tactile, physical objects.
Regardless of whose money they’re spending, they are not brand loyal. If they’re not satisfied, 52 percent switch to a brand that offers better quality. The cool factor, as expressed by social media influencers, is also critical. Gen Z are two to three times more likely to be influenced by social media than by sales or discounts.
80% of Gen Z are
This generation of super-branders brand themselves on social platforms, and they trust their peers. They listen to bloggers, vloggers, Instagrammers, Tweeters and Snapchatters. Brands that want to reach this demographic know that 70 percent of successful brands use Instagram influencers.
For Gen Z, social media apps are of course for personal interactions, but these platforms are also retail spaces. To get a sense of how that works, look at Supreme. Born with Gen Z in 1994, this skate apparel company is now a billion-dollar enterprise. Haven’t heard of it? Ask anyone under 25—they have, especially if they’re one of the 24 percent of Gen Z males who can’t live without YouTube.
Dubbed the Chanel of street wear, Supreme is also a case study in guerrilla marketing. Every release is limited, people clamor for their wares because they truly run out—a quick scroll through the company’s very simple website shows more sold-out than in-stock products. Supreme promotes in the physical world with bumper stickers, minimalist street posters, and limited edition calendars. These all tie to real life and online endorsements from Tyler the Creator, Vashtie Kola, Kanye West, RiceGum, Odell Beckham Jr., and other sports stars,
rappers, and YouTubers. This multichannel approach reaches Gen Z and drives them to want anything with the Supreme label.
Supreme is also clever, which Gen Z appreciates as well. When the online community started saying that people would buy anything with the Supreme logo on it, the company put its logo on a brick. That move both validated and mocked the haters. It also brought in revenue because Gen Z (and the Millennials they look up to) loved those bricks.
That’s the kind of self-referential, self-aware mockery and realism Gen Z admires. They grew up in a selfie world, but they aren’t about plastic, fake portrayals of life. They recognize, value and demand realism.
The Speed of Instantaneous
Whether you’re playing with branded bricks or taking a real and gritty approach, speed is key. You have eight seconds to make an impression. A synapse of time to hook Gen Z. Why should they like your Instagram post? Watch the rest of your video? Read the rest of your advertisement? Page through your catalog? You have mere seconds to convince them that you, your product, and your marketing channel are worth the additional time.
Remember, they’re digital natives with immediate and continuous access to whatever information they have ever wanted; they will not compromise on speed and immediacy.
Shopping in the Continuum
The idea that Gen Z are exclusively digital, is wack (not true). Almost all of them (98 percent) shop in brick-and-mortar stores and love being there. They actually shop twice as much in person as online. But they never really disconnect. While in-store they are still on Instagram, SnapChat and of course, texting to check in with friends or family before they buy something.
So Gen Z get acquainted with a brand or product on mobile devices, and then head to a store to check out the actual product. When at a store, Gen Z expect personalism and great customer service. Gen Z are not influenced by sales people, they have plenty of information at their fingertips and none of it involves sales pitches.
Marketers who want to reach these digital natives need to create synthesis between digital, physical, and in-person touches. An effective example of this is when retailers track online behavior to inform digital and print campaigns. Or use geo-fencing or other tech to send digital notifications, deals, and alerts to people when they’re near a physical location. Successful marketers are tying channels together into one continuous experience and are connecting with Gen Z who need everything presented cohesively and quickly.
When marketing a physical product to Millennials, marketers tend to focus on how it creates an experience, but the focus needs to be back on the product itself to appeal to Gen Z. Marketers should be ready to make this switch.
They’re unique. They’re gritty. They’re on and offline at the same time, and expect instant, continuous access to brands and products. That means clever, realistic, personalized marketing—simultaneously digital and tactile. Gen Z are open-minded and adaptable, and they want brands to be that, too.