Generation Z – ‘the most influential generation in history’

Think that was overstated? The fact tells us that this particular demographics is made up of 25% of the UK population while representing $44bn in annual purchasing power in the US alone (see more at Marketing Magazine). Their growing influence can’t simply be underestimated.

They’re the next big thing. Nevertheless, many brands and researchers are still geared towards the millennials while downplaying the Gen Z. Yes, the millennials still retain much of the spending power. At least for now. Brands who fail to prepare for the Gen Z’s overtake will eventually be forced out of the game. What’s worse, some are still lumping this cohort in with the millennials.

Remember how Abercrombie & Fitch and American Eagle used to flood the market? As highlighted by the BoF recently, they failed to internalise the shifts in value and attitudes in the successive generation, losing to H&M and Zara.

‘For one, these retailers were hurt by their over-reliance on footfall to shopping malls and failed to adapt quickly enough to the rise of social media platforms, where today’s teenagers spend far more time.’ (via BoF) 


So what exactly are their characteristics?

Progressive, entrepreneurial, self-reliant and socially conscious, to begin with. They’re quite distinctive to the millennials who grew up listening to Nirvana. Gen Z who grew up in the aftermath of 9/11 world and two economic crises are more obsessed with safety and privacy (see here).

  • Digital natives

“The first true digital natives”, says BoF, as ‘92 percent of US teens go online daily, and 24 percent are online “almost constantly,” according to a 2015 report by the Pew Research Center. This digital fluency has changed the places where teenagers congregate and the channels they use to shop.’ They’re living in the age where the old boundary between offline and online shopping are blurring. These tech geniuses are also highly multitasked – many of them are capable of Instagramming, chatting and editing a document all at the same time.

  • Privacy  

While they’re more digitally connected than their older peers, it doesn’t mean they are reckless about privacy. In fact, they seem to be more concerned with protecting their privacy. As the Financial Times revealed,  ‘while the millennial generation infamously pioneered the Facebook beer-bong selfies, many in Generation Z have embraced later, anonymous social media platforms like Secret or Whisper, as well as Snapchat, where any incriminating images disappear almost instantly’.

(The NY Times exemplified the unique traits of Gen Z using conscientious and hardworking Alex Dunphy from ‘Modern Family’).


  • Experiential

More importantly, Gen X is prioritising experience-focused and adventure-inspired purchases that they can share later on social media (to be more precise, on Instagram). “Their entire life, if it’s not shareable, it didn’t happen”, says the executive director of growth strategy Piper Merriman at Ernst & Young. Ice Bucket Challenges exemplify well their desire to be a part of a global and shareable event.   

Interestingly, teens are spending 7 percent more of their income on food from 2005, especially in social media-friendly places like Starbucks. Experiences are replacing products in defining one’s lifestyles and identities, whereas millennials considered fashion as a ‘kind of social elixir’.

  • Instantaneous

Gen Z has grown up surrounded with easy and quick access to information. They’re used to the sheer amount of information flooding the Internet. They’re adept at distinguishing useful and relevant pieces from junk. But at the same time, their attention spans are becoming shorter, meaning that they’re also quick to lose interest. From emoji, Snapchat to Vine, many teens prefer to communicate in an image-rich, sharp and clear way.    

  • Altruistic

Gen Z, unlike narcissistic and self-absorbed millennials, are more self-educated and socially-conscious  (thanks to the changing cultural norms). They want to make a difference and they believe they can. Gen Z are realists, they’ve grown up in a world filled with consistent reminders of what is wrong and what needs to change.’ They tend to scrutinise brands more closely and carefully: they’re more eager to find out and learn the backstories of brands to “make sure that the choices they make with their fairly limited funds are ones that they feel comfortable making”, explains Rob Callender, the director of youth insights at The Futures Company.

What are the implications for brands?

  • GREAT content

All the above traits suggest that Gen Z interacts with brands and retailers in a unique way. The tech-savvy generation with a shorter attention span is increasingly good at sifting through a huge amount of information. They can cut through all the irrelevant content and interruptive ads to find the truly inspiring and valuable content. While these digital natives are more likely to convert on digital ads than their millennial counterparts, they always look out for authentic, valuable and shareable content.   

  • Multiple communication channels  

Innovative brands will need to focus on a succinct and to-the-point marketing strategy to capture their attention. Branded ads and contents will likely to prevail across every touchpoint with video- and image-rich content with clear-cut and punchy messages.

  • No Bollocks

Brands should be aware that this demographic are used to being bombarded with endless marketing content (ads, guerrilla marketing, bloggers, social media to name a few) and are quite skillful at filtering the noise to find the most relevant piece of information (read more at the New York Times). They epitomize the era of brand transparency. Who knows, we might soon see more brands opting for ‘no-bollocks’ approach when it comes to advertising?


(The king of honest marketing, Newcastle Brown Ale. Image via Adweek)




Gen Z


What do you think?

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