Much has been said about Generation Z’s conscientiousness (or “wokeness” in their terms) as evidenced by their values and activism, but less mention has been given to this demographic’s rising spending power. Gen Z - which starts from roughly the tail end of the 90s to the end of the 2010s - represents over 40% of global consumerism, is the most active online generation, and the most likely to put their money where their mouth is.
Given their greater technical fluency, younger consumers are being dubbed the world’s first ‘digital natives,’ making them the most reachable generation via e-commerce, social media, and other online channels. With over 50% of the online world between ages 18-34, the internet is largely designed by and for this age group, so if your customer segments include Gen Zers, you’ll want to update your strategy accordingly.
As shrewd consumers who largely buy through digital means, it’s clear that modern shoppers require modern solutions; what’s worked for previous generations won’t keep working in perpetuity. Whether your client needs a rebrand, designing their website or setting up a store online, consider these four insights that resonate with Generation Z:
1. Be conscientious
In a global survey of 15,600 Gen Zers between the ages of 13 and 21 conducted by IBM Institute for Business Value, they found that Gen Zers are less likely to catch the phishing bait. Having grown up with “alternative facts” mentioned in the news, hacks and scams galore in the digital world, and catfishes somewhere between their url and ‘irl’ lives, they can easily sense when something’s amiss.
This generation particularly values authenticity and spends their time and money with companies that also uphold this value. Should a brand go back on its word, Gen Zers will unreluctantly take their business elsewhere. They’re more likely to boycott a brand based on a difference in values, as well as more likely to demand authenticity and transparency in exchange for their brand loyalty than the generations before them.
What underpins these qualities is a need for genuine reciprocation. Between their skepticism and ‘brand polygamy,’ Gen Z aren’t as easily persuaded to shop with any particular company. As they form their identity, they’re looking for brands that reflect the same qualities and sense of purpose that they possess.
According to MarketingDive, “49% of Gen Zers think a company should have some sort of social responsibility initiative that we can be a part of, and they’re three times more likely than older generations to believe a company has a role in improving society.”
Since Gen Z places a premium on its core values, companies must adapt by making more intentional decisions around the critical issues Gen Z prioritize: chiefly healthcare, mental health, higher education, economic security, civic engagement, racial equity and sustainability.
2. Embrace adorkability
Still in their coming of age, the tale of Gen Z is one at the intersection of dorkiness and adorability, best demonstrated through their Tiktok trends, Y2K nostalgia and the brands they pay attention to.
“Adorkables are a growing gang of disruptive brands that deftly target Gen Z with a jarring visual aesthetic and an authentic emotional appeal,” writes Ben Schott for Bloomberg. “Because Gen Z was born after 1996, adorkables cluster around beauty (Topicals, Everyday Humans, Bubble), fashion (Cider, Peppermayo, Princess Polly), self-care (Flewd, Superfluid) and snack foods (Nuggs, Behave). And because many in Gen Z are CARLYs (Can’t Afford Real Life Yet), there are currently no adorkable car marques or mortgage lenders — nor might there ever be, given the promise of self-driving vehicles and the rising price of real estate.”
Indeed, adorkability seeps beyond aesthetic: it determines who earns and who yearns. With Gen Z’s desire for greater authenticity, your marketing approach should shift from results-based outcomes to something more relatable. Gen Z wants to feel represented, which is why displaying acne scars directly in your creative or prescribing a happy-go-lucky rebrand to an Rx website is increasingly commonplace.
It’s ultimately a balancing act - you have to take significant and perhaps sensitive materials and showcase them in a way that’s well-received. That means speaking the language of this new generation: adorably dorky.
3. Design frictionless experiences
Non-gated content. Impeccable loading speeds. Mobile-first design. For Gen Zers, seamlessness is non-negotiable. That means brands often have one shot at getting it right.
“They have no time for sluggish buffering, unavailable wi-fi, patchy phone signals, or non-intuitive interfaces on any device. More so than previous generations, Gen Zers have higher expectations and a low tolerance for failure or inconvenience. When something goes wrong, studies show digital natives assume it’s the technology that’s at fault, not them,” writes Worktech Academy in association with Logitech.
They’re often right, too. As a generation that never experienced life before smartphones, Gen Z wants to be trusted to self-serve, as proven by a preference for third-party customer service channels. That’s a good thing for brands: according to a Gartner research report, customers who discover solutions on their own report higher levels of satisfaction, more so than those who went through customer support.
To that effect, nailing your Gen Z CX strategy requires taking a digital-first approach that prioritizes speed and convenience, builds an ecosystem of ‘how to’ content around your brand (perhaps through user-generated content), and most importantly, appears on social media, so shoppers don’t need to click away from their present experience.
4. Create easy payments plans
Generation Z is fast approaching adulthood with a unique set of circumstances,
simultaneously on track to becoming the most educated generation as well as the one hit the hardest by the pandemic. On the cusp of inheriting a vigorous economy, COVID-19 dramatically reshaped the global workforce, forcing out many younger employees whose overrepresentation in service-based roles left them particularly vulnerable to job loss.
In response, Gen Zers are turning away from traditional payment methods in favor of various financing tools such as Afterpay, Klarna or Affirm to stretch out their payments over time in order to afford what they want. Instead of using credit cards, an overwhelming majority (94%) of these young shoppers link their accounts to a debit card to avoid paying interest, seizing the reins on their budgeting with straightforward solutions that don’t leave them feeling trapped.
On a macrocosmic scale, Gen Zers exhibit frugal tendencies, with 70% saying they’ve been monitoring their spending more closely as a result of the pandemic. To stand the best chance of securing a purchase, brands should enable these types of BNPL (buy now, pay later) solutions, and take an omnichannel approach to drive traffic to their stores via social media, e-commerce, in-store retail and even striking partnerships with micro-influencers. Although it's true of all generations, Gen Z particularly craves a personalized shopping experience, from their means of accessing your brand to the way they pay for your goods and services.
Paying it forward
The tools have changed, the philosophies are changing, and the next generation is changing the world in their own way. From a marketing perspective, though they share several characteristics with Millennials, Gen Z grew up in a drastically different world, resulting in key differences in attitudes, tendencies and outlook.
In particular, Gen Z is the most diverse generation to date, and is also the largest embracer of gender fluidity. 42% of the generation self-identifies with its western astrological zodiac sign, a number significantly higher than previous generations and one of many interesting angles to personalize your brand’s messaging (where it makes sense).
Above all else, Gen Zers value equity, transparency and expressing their individuality. They expect the brands they shop to match these core beliefs and embrace all of the digital platforms where they spend the bulk of their time. You don’t need to be in Gen Z to sell to Gen Z, but it helps to truly understand what makes this generation tick.
Overall, you can adopt actionable strategies to design experiences for Gen Z, including prioritizing purpose-driven marketing, reconsidering your current brand identity, removing friction in your current channels where possible, launching accessible retail channels and enabling BNPL functionality to score more customers.