Marketing to Gen Z: Summary

  • November 11, 2022

Want to make meaningful connections with Gen Z? Then you need to get comfortable with contradiction. 

Born between 1996 and 2012, and making up roughly 15% of the UK population, Gen Z are beginning to age into the work force and earn their own income – so it’s no wonder every brand is trying to understand them right now. 

But how do you pin-down a generation still figuring themselves out?  

Delving into the data shows us the overarching characteristics of Gen Z are authenticity, creativity, stress, and cynicism. Beyond that, a deeper, more human look at their lives suggests they are a generation defined by paradox and contradiction, something brands will need to get on board with if they want to connect with them in a meaningful way.   

What the data shows us 

Having sifted through the mountains of data on Gen Z, there are 4 clear themes that emerge, and best define their behaviours: authenticity, creativity, stress and cynicism.  

This week we have discussed how the overarching characteristics of Gen Z affect how brands should approach marketing to this audience.  The pattern we can start to see, is that Gen Z exist in many conflicting spaces at once, their experience is paradoxical, even contradictory. Today we summarise our top tips on how to pin-down a generation still figuring themselves out.  

What we think 

The pattern that emerges from these trends, is that Gen Z exist in a world of conflicting ideas. On one hand, they are digital natives whose whole world exists online, and yet they are the ‘experiential generation’ who value IRL connections. They are deeply pessimistic about the challenges they have inherited, yet still optimistic their generation will be the ones to change the world. They are the global generation, who connect with each other and form communities endlessly, whilst seeking niche individuality at every opportunity, looking for the one thing no-one else has.  

Their world is a paradox, and they’re ok with that. Not only do these starkly different ‘groups’ emerge in their world, but they flow between them with ease, refusing to be pinned down to one particularly ‘thing’. They are everything everywhere all at once.  

Just some of the contradictory spaces Gen Z coexist in are:  

Gen Z are ‘at an age’ where defining their identity is a priority. They’re laser focused on building their own unique persona – finding the perfect mix of trends, ideas, sub-genres, and beliefs that makes them exactly who they are. They’re not trying to be like everyone else, they want something totally their own.

It could also be said that Gen Z is the most collaborative and community-oriented generation to date.” They are driven towards common goals and ambitions, believing in the power of the collective. Forming global communities is second nature, and they thrive in coming together as one. 

During the pandemic, some pretty huge events in Gen Zs lives moved online – classes, graduations, birthdays, proms. This accelerated the world of live-streaming, and now post-pandemic, much of their lives still exist in a digital world. Often referred to as ‘digital natives’ they are at home in the online world.

During the pandemic, some pretty huge events in Gen Zs lives moved online – classes, graduations, birthdays, proms. This has left them desperate to get back to in-person events – arguably more so than older generations. They crave IRL experiences, with a deep appreciation for physical connections with those around them.

On one hand, they have grown up in an online world, accustomed to all the pressures and perfections that come with it. They are constantly served up content on how to achieve the ‘perfect’ hair, makeup, body, and life. Filters and lenses have become part of everyday life in a bid to conform and adhere.

On the other hand, with Gen Z, we have seen a near-total rejection of standard beauty norms. Tied to their pursuit of authenticity, they are at ease with imperfection. They have an innate desire to show every aspect of their raw, messy, and unfiltered lives online, forging a new normal.

This generation live, breathe and connect through some sort of mobile device. In an online world, they find joy in coming together as a global community to enjoy the latest trends together. The value comes from the collective experience.

However, Gen Z also utilises the wide world of the internet to find niche sub-groups and communities that share their quirks and interests – the weirder and more obscure, the better. Here, the joy comes from finding a small group who enjoy and excite over something most people have never even heard of.

In many ways Gen Z are the most open and honest generation – they use social media to share their experiences or thoughts with raw honesty, revealing conversations that are heartfelt, unfiltered, and unedited. This is something they’ve grown up with and is second nature to them.

However Gen Z also understand the potential downsides of technology. It would be surprising if they didn’t, given that they engage with it in every aspect of their lives. They are coming of age, as society is reeling from data breaches and evidence of deceptive practices.

As each new generation comes through, they seem to get more and more left-wing, and Gen Z is no exception. More than any other generation before them, their views are forward-thinking and progressive.

But it shouldn’t really be a surprise that Gen Z are also very focused on personal responsibility, rather than looking for help from others. They are coming into adulthood at the end of a long trend towards individualisation, where their direct experience is less support from governments, despite really tough economic circumstances.

They are deeply pessimistic about the problems they have inherited: climate change, police violence, racial and gender injustice, failures of the political system, the fact they have little chance of owning a home or doing better than their parents.

On the flip side, “Gen-Z are perpetrating the oxymoronic concept of positive nihilism (‘nothing f***ing matters, may as well create my own meaning’)”. They are acutely aware of the world around them and are optimistic they will be the ones to make it a better place to live.

The take-away for brands 

So, what does all this mean for brands trying to speak to Gen Z? Well, take time to understand the defining themes in their lives: authenticity, creativity, stress, and cynicism.  

Focus on:  

  • Prioritising real people and real voices – they want representation that is realistic, not idealistic 
  • Shouting about your ethical and sustainable credentials, but only if you can back them up 
  • Harnessing their creativity and getting them involved in content creation  
  • Being agile – their lives move at high speed, make sure you’re not getting left behind 
  • Tapping into wellbeing and nostalgia to provide relief and escape from their day-to-day stresses 
  • Leaning into experiences, they often value these higher than material possessions 
  • Being comfortable with contradiction. It’s not about being one thing, it’s about being many contradictory things at once 

Above all, get comfortable with contradiction. Acknowledge the contradictions in their lives and embrace them with open arms. Remember, it’s not about being one thing, it’s about the freedom to be many different things all at once.  

Article written by Rose Alexander, Media Director 

Sources: Prospect, Impact, Relative Insight, National Youth Trends, JWT Intelligence x Snap Inc, Princes Trust,GWI, Deloitte, Lifeworks, StressMatters, Clear Pay, McKinsey