A Quick Guide to Understanding Gen Z

The basic principles for connecting with my instant generation.

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Millennial mania is soon to be replaced by the next generation: Gen Z. Born between 1995 – 2012, we’re the first generation of digital natives and our influence continues to grow by leaps and bounds. By 2020, Gen Z will account for 40% of all consumers and influence nearly $4 billion in discretionary spending.

Needless to say, brands are desperate to figure out what makes us tick. As a Gen Z-er myself and a proud Muse intern, I’m happy to offer my two cents on how to connect with my generation.

Don’t mistake us for millennials
People assume that the Gen Z cohort shares a lot of crossover with millennials, but we’re actually pretty different. Here’s why:

  • Diversity: We’ve experienced, firsthand, the drastic shift in our country’s ethnic makeup. Nearly 50% of Gen Z is comprised of ethnic minorities – more than any other generation before us.
  • Higher expectations: We demand a lot more from brands than millennials. We want personalization, better service, a good workplace, fancy gadgets and interaction. We’ve grown up in an age of constant innovation and new technology, and expect it at a snap-of-a-finger speed.
  • Social media: We use social media differently than millennials. Instead of catching up with friends and connecting with our networks, we use it for entertainment. Make us laugh. I’m constantly on the lookout for funny videos or posts to re-share.
  • Brand loyalty: Gen Z isn’t quite as loyal to brands as millennials. About 60% of millennials reported brand loyal purchasing patterns, while only 42% of Gen Z-ers cited similar brand loyal behavior. If you’re going to win me over, you better work for it.

Setting a new bar
So what does Gen Z really want from you? Here are five tips straight from a Gen Z-er.

1. Communicate your why.

As Simon Sinek says, "People don’t buy WHAT you do; they buy WHY you do it.” This couldn’t be more true for Gen Z.

If you offer the same products and services as other companies, WHY should we choose you? Are you challenging the status quo? Are you creating new opportunities? Are you giving back? Gen Z cares about your purpose.

An example of a company with a genuine WHY is Pura Vida Bracelets. Their WHY is focused on celebrating little pleasures in life and giving local artisans in third-world countries more economic opportunity. They express their purpose through the company’s website, products and social media. (Side note: I am wearing my Pura Vida bracelet right now. I love them.)

2. Back up your words with action.

It’s one thing to communicate your WHY, but you know the saying: Actions speak louder than words. Your behind-the-scenes and outward-facing work need to be in harmony with your purpose. If it’s not, you better believe that Gen Z will call you out.

My previous example, Pura Vida Bracelets, has employed more than 650 artisans in Costa Rica, El Salvador and India. They've also started a charity collection and over the years they’ve partnered with more than 175 charities around the world to donate $1.7 million to different causes. When I heard that, I bought even more bracelets.

While it’s not always possible for every company to give proceeds to charity, small steps can lead to greater change.

3. Inclusion and acceptance matter.

More than 70% of Gen Z believe racial equality to be the most important issue today. And 60% of Gen Z support brands that stand for equal rights for all people.

One of my favorite brands, Levi’s, has been a longtime supporter of the LGBTQ+ community. Early on, the company was one of the first few to join the fight against HIV/AIDS and was the first Fortune 500 company to offer partner benefits to its LGBTQ employees. For the last six years, the company has celebrated its PRIDE clothing collection. All of the proceeds go to OutRight Action International, an organization working to advance human rights for LGBTQ+ people across the world.

What does this mean to me? Levi’s is genuinely committed to being an inclusive brand. The jeans I'm wearing mean way more to me than any other pair of jeans.

4. Communicate quickly and clearly.

Gen Z is the instant generation. Our attention span is roughly eight seconds – much less than millennials. We consume information fast and we’re always ready for more. Are you ready to deliver?

Our media of choice includes Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube. They deliver snackable content that’s also visually compelling and easy to share with our communities.

If you want to connect with us but aren’t using these platforms – get there! Spend the time and money creating crisp photography, interesting videos and share-worthy posts. If you don’t feel equipped, you can always hire a Gen Z-er to your marketing team to help you out. (Subtle hint: I’ll be available at the end of fall semester!)

5. Interact with us.

Just because we expect quick, visual information doesn’t mean we don’t want to personally connect with you. Communicate with us like we’re having a one-on-one conversation. This includes making us part of your feedback process, asking about new ideas and involving us with new initiatives. According to a study, our generation enjoys attending events, creating digital content for brands, participating in online games and submitting ideas for product designs.

Make Gen Z a part of your process – you'll be surprised by how much more successful it can make your brand. We’re not a complicated generation. We just know what we want and how we want it. You can reach us, you just have to do it right!

Need help connecting with your audience? Drop us a quick line.

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