For so long, we have been focused on Millennials—who they are, what they want, how they will change the world of brands. We have focused to the extent that it might seem like no other demographic matters. Well, think again. Although still young in age, the newcomers or Gen Z— those born roughly from 1995 onward with some narrowing this range to no more than 15 years, such as 1995 to 2006—have quickly come of spending age. This is worth noting as estimates have sized this group at 61 million people or 25% of the population. This means Gen Z is larger than the generations before them—yes, larger than Millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers. In terms of spending, experts say Gen Z already represents a $600 billion market and that number is expected to reach $3 trillion in another two years.
So now that we’ve got your attention, what is it that this generation wants? Tiffany Zhong, age 21, founder and CEO of Zebra Intelligence, shares some insights and misconceptions about her generation.
1. Quality please
Gen Zs are mobile natives. They’ve grown up on smart phones. But this doesn’t mean they have a short attention span says Zhong. “When everyone says ‘Gen Z has a short attention span,’ that is not a proper generalization for the whole generation. If you think about Netflix and Netflix bingeing as a thing, it’s not an attention span problem it’s a quality problem. Quality of content.” In other words, she says, Gen Z is discerning. With so much content coming at them, Gen Zs will swiftly sift through content that is not worth wasting their time on. “Think of your phone. You are scrolling through Instagram and Twitter. Gen Zs grew up looking at all of this content. We are very good at sifting out good quality to bad quality.” She adds, “It’s not just a teen thing, but it’s based on so many different factors. To grab our attention, if you create an ad or a video it has to be really good to retain our attention.”
2. The side-hustle generation
“I want to brand Generation Z, the side-hustle generation, because think about all of the different opportunities given to us with our phone, we can drop ship from China, start new companies, make meme accounts and generate thousands of sponsored tweets or retweets,” says Zhong. With Gen Zs buying and flipping streetwear brands such as Supreme for thousands of dollars, she says, “They are figuring out how to make money. It is a whole new trend that is completely inspiring. It’s a whole new generation and personality type that has not come with previous generations.”
Because Gen Z is still young, Zhong notes that the sentiment has been they have no money, let’s not target them. That’s not true, she says. They have money, the question is, what are they going to spend it on? That, she says, comes down to what they care about. When considering what they care about, Zhong adds that this generation is also driving movements. “Gen Z is the generation that is starting a ton of movements that are actually being heard. Like March for Their Lives, and different organizations coming together around climate change and global warming. It is an activist generation.”
3. The brand connection
So how do brands reach Gen Z? In short, be authentic and know your audience. “You have to deeply understand who your audience is and what they are expecting from their brand. Is that short form or documentaries? If you are Coca Cola, you have to reposition yourself and pivot and not just do it for a marketing gimmick. You can’t just say this influencer has this many followers, let’s work with her because she is popular even if it is off brand for us. It’s understanding what the perception is of your brand, getting that concept and collaborating with your users."
You have to ask, “As a brand, how do you make customers feel?” says Zhong. Brands can’t look at Gen Z customers like robots, they have to consider that they are talking to someone real. And, Gen Zs want to feel like there are real people behind a company.
Zhong recommends validating ideas before you do anything—whether it’s making a landing page with a pseudo purchasing flow to see if people are actually going to commit money or making an Instagram account to see how people react. “There is a lot you can do before you have to commit to supply chain,” she says.
She also suggests rewarding customers for loyalty. “You can build loyalty based on campaigns and branding and actively working on rewarding your top customers, which most brands don’t do, most brands can’t even track that.” If a person loves your brand, she suggests giving them some exclusive merchandise if they are a top spender for the year. That way customers can say, “I am special, I am part of the VIP crew.”
4. Social capital and price
“Price doesn’t matter as much if it’s something that is in hot demand and scarce quantity. If you have an item your friends don’t have and you gain social capital as a result, you will continue to buy it, if it will make you the cool kid in town,” explains Zhong.
“What Supreme started was understanding the trends that were happening. All of these skaters were wearing a mix of both expensive luxury brands like Gucci and pairing them with Levi’s—different types of products, one luxury, one more general consumer—that is how they started thinking how do we merge the two to make something cool that spans both sides.” Then, she says, “They created hype around these limited edition products, the fact that you can only get 300 shirts or 200 pairs of these shoes, they’re hard to get, people want it more. They utilized this well and had smart collaborations with luxury brands. Luis Vuitton and Supreme did popup stores together with more streetwear, skater-wise outfits. All of these untraditional type partnerships.”
5. Influencers and content creator
While Gen Zs definitely follow influencers, Zhong says, everyone is a content creator now. Everyone has influence, it’s just at what scale and impact do they have that influence. For example, she says, “I have influence over tech folks, startup people and VCs. My friend has influence over a specific set of college students in So-Cal and northern California around make-up products. She is not famous by any means, but the majority of her followers will buy those makeup products she recommends as it relates to beauty products. It’s how you want to think about influencers.” She adds, “Imagine if someone did a campaign where x-amount of people posted at the same time, that would be a combined influence power.”
6. What role does health and wellness play for Gen-Zs?
Gen Zs, are all about personal preferences, but there is a bigger trend says Zhong around living healthier, living for a more wholesome, happier lifestyle. “We are exposed to a lot because of social media. We see that this influencer is now doing the Paleo or Keto Diet and that brings awareness to these new things and maybe we should start eating healthier and drinking juices and whatever you are in to.”
7. Not a “one size fits all” generation
Ultimately, Zhong says companies need to not try to fit this generation into one group, but listen carefully to the differences amongst this generation. “Make an effort to listen to this generation. Most people don’t want to spend that time and five years later they are shutting down or filing for bankruptcy. So many fortune 500s are in a bubble because they think they know what is going on.
“It is the most diverse generation out there. You can’t really target them like one whole thing,” she says. “You can’t have one campaign for all of these ethnicities and backgrounds.” Instead, marketing to Gen Z needs to be much more targeted. “You need very specific targeting on Instagram and Facebook.” There is so much more to gain, she says, from very relevant campaigns for the different types of people that make up Gen Z. “It’s not one size fits all. You have to know your customers.”