Gen Z: Who are they, what do they want – and how can you reach them?

By Bita Taghavi-Stevens

Remember when you couldn’t avoid reading about Millennials?

Once elusive, Millennials are elusive no more.

They prioritise travel and experiences, are remarkably loyal to brands they like, spend lots of money on food – and go gaga for home furnishings and house plants.

But just when you get to grips with one generation, another one comes along.

So what about Gen Z, the ‘Zoomers’? Born between 1997 and 2012, with $360 billion in disposable income, most brands and retailers know the importance of understanding this nascent generation of consumers.

By 2026, Gen Z’s spending power will be colossal, so if you want to cultivate relationships and brand loyalty, there’s no time to waste. And if you think your Millennial marketing strategy might be enough, think again.

Reaching Gen Z – and getting them to spend – is crucial for growth, but first you need to know who they are and what drives them…

 

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Who are they?

 

This is a generation with drastically different attitudes to money and spending than their predecessors. And these attitudes are beginning to influence behaviours across demographics, impacting the way in which other buyers consume and engage with brands.

 

The key facts

 

Currently aged between 10-25, Gen Zers are the first digitally-native generation, with most of them getting their first smartphone around the age of 12. They’ve never known a world without the digital landscape, so being constantly connected is second nature to them.

There’s no precedent for this level of digital interaction. People who are 25 and under are constantly evaluating information, ideas, and influences. Hyper-aware, hyper-cognitive, and tech-savvy, they’ll sniff out marketing gimmicks and inauthenticity a mile off.

When it comes to social media, they prefer TikTok and YouTube to Millennial favourite, Instagram, with 20% of Gen Z spending 5 hours a day on TikTok alone.

And then there’s diversity. 48% of Gen Z are non-white, making them even more racially and ethnically diverse than Millennials (44% non-white). They’re also radically inclusive; 60% of Gen Zers believe community is formed through causes and interests, not by economics or levels of education.

Perhaps most fundamental to understanding Gen Z is understanding the context in which they’ve grown up; they’ve witnessed significant global unrest and instability. The deepest recession since World War II; watching their parents deal with debt, job losses, and inflated house prices; the rise and saturation of digital media, and to top it all off: a global pandemic.

These events have all contributed to shaping Gen Z’s ideologies and spending habits. They’ve seen first-hand how important financial security is, and how devastating the burden of debt can be. As a group they’re much more conscious and cautious around spending than the previous generation – and they’re also more money-savvy and financially literate.

Despite the oldest of Gen Zers being only 25, 35% of them have already started their own business, 64% have researched and sought advice around financial planning, and 45% plan to own a home within the next five years.

In short: they’re a world away from the long-time renting, buy-now-pay-later, hedonic Millennials.

 

What do they want?

 

This is a generation motivated by pragmatism, ethics, inclusivity, and the search for truth. They’re less me and more us. These ideals form the foundations of their buying habits and choices.

Gen Zers don’t want to be stereotyped or defined with labels, they want to be free to express themselves and experiment with identity.

They believe in, and want to belong to, communities – and their spending choices are closely linked to this driver.

They make decisions – including buying decisions – in an analytical, pragmatic way, with value and ethics playing a key role in these choices.

And they don’t want to be ‘sold to’, they want to be engaged with. Dialogue, connection, and authenticity are Gen Z fundamentals. Fake it or miss the mark, and they’ll just switch off.

Above all else, for Gen Z trust is everything.

 

How to reach Gen Z

 

Now that we know who Gen Z are and what they want, let’s take a look at how you can adapt your strategy to reach and engage them.

 

User-generated content is king

 

User-generated content (UGC) is a big deal for Gen Z. On the whole, Gen Zers are sceptical of advertising, so it’s no wonder they prefer marketing content that feels organic. In fact, 91% of them seek out user-generated content before they make a purchase, and 82% of them trust a brand more if they use real people in their advertising.

UGC is effectively digital word-of-mouth: brand-related content created by real buyers. People trust people – and as we know, for Gen Z, trust is fundamental.

Seeing a real customer talking about or interacting with your product is always going to be more powerful – and believable – than a brand saying the same thing. And when you consider that TikTok (the favourite platform for Gen Z) is powered by UGC, it’s a no-brainer.

The great news is, it’s relatively easy to build UGC into your strategy. You can set competitions, challenges, and giveaways, encourage customers to share video reviews, and use hashtags to boost the creation of user-generated content.

A great example of UGC in action is the recent Little Moons mochi craze on TikTok. Users started sharing videos of themselves buying and eating the bite-sized ice creams – and it quickly went viral. The hashtag #littlemoons got over 19.5 million views, and Tesco saw sales of Little Moons surge by 700%.

 

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Stand for something

 

Social responsibility and brand activism are key to engaging with Gen Z and Millennials alike. And if you think staying quiet is an option, that will speak volumes as well – and it won’t be positive.

76% of Gen Z and Millennials would prefer to buy from brands that celebrate and promote diversity. Gen Z are less interested in you pushing products and services on them and more interested in what you contribute to the world.

A YPulse survey last year showed that the Black Lives Matter movement and racism are two of the top issues for Gen Z. So what should you do?

One thing you definitely shouldn't do is virtue signal, greenwash or woke-wash. Brands that go for standalone gimmicks like sticking pride rainbows across their products, usually end up being caught out – and it can do lasting damage to your reputation.

If you align yourself with a cause or speak out for social justice, you need to make sure you live and breathe it. It needs to be genuine. Otherwise you’ll be seen as inauthentic and untrustworthy; a surefire way to alienate Gen Z consumers.

A good approach is to carefully select one or two causes and really commit to them. Start by ensuring that your business reflects the values and objectives of the cause.

Then you need to actually do something. Whether it’s missing out on profits to make a stand (like Fenty did for BLM) or investing in communities (like Aerie’s Real Changemakers project), if you want to capture Gen Z, you need to walk the walk and put your money where your mouth is.

 

Personalise

 

We talk about Gen Z as a collective group, but they’re perhaps the most fiercely individual generation of all. And they’ve grown up in a connected world, so their digital expectations are high.

Did you know that 45% of them will leave a website if it fails to predict what they need or like, or that 62% say they’ll happily pay more for personalised experiences?

To actively engage Gen Z, you need to meet them where they are, giving them what they want, when they need it at every stage of the customer journey. It goes way beyond sticking their name at the top of an email – this is about shifting your CX to align with Gen Z values and drivers.

The first thing you need to do is begin a dialogue. Ask them what they expect from you. Quizzes and surveys are a great way to do this – and it serves two purposes.

Gen Z likes to engage in dialogue and conversation, so they tend to be receptive to this type of engagement. Offering them the chance to tell you what they want is likely to create a positive impression of your brand. And you get valuable data. Win:win.

You can then use this data to create more personalised experiences – or to implement omnichannel marketing and personalise key touchpoints along your entire customer journey.

Visual culture is huge for Gen Z, so a good place to start is using individual preferences to personalise video content, your website, and apps.

Simple ideas like personalised intros or outros on videos can go a long way. Another simple but effective tactic is personalised offers, discounts and loyalty rewards. You can also use personalisation to encourage user-generated content. Try sending out a web form or interactive video that’s effectively a template for them to personalise. This type of personalisation is fun, easy, and allows your audience to create their own customised, shareable content.

 

Whether it’s Boomers or Zoomers, we tend to talk about generations as if they’re neatly delineated. In reality, it’s a lot more nuanced than that. The youth generation has always captured the zeitgeist, and all other generations are to some degree influenced by their values and expectations. That’s why reaching Gen Z is the key to unlocking the future of commerce. With a clear understanding of who they are, and a few strategic pivots, you can start to grow your business in the right direction and get the Gen Z seal of approval.

 

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