Just a few years ago, Millennials were the hottest and most talked about generational cohort on the block, driving consumer behavior and value trends in the market. But in 2020, Generation Z has noticeably taken the wheel, accelerating actions and demanding accountability for brands to live and breathe diversity & inclusion, authenticity, and social responsibility.
Who is Gen Z and why are they so influential?
Gen Z, ages 8-23 today, are true digital natives. The first generation to be fully foreign to life before the digital landscape, Gen Z accounts for 20.46% of the total U.S. population (67.17 million), represent the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in history, and together with Millennials account for $350 billion in spending power in the U.S.—an impact impossible to deny for today’s leading brands and businesses.
Gen Z is a generation who leans into the value of self-expression from a non-binary lens, leverages voice and action to force change, and cares deeply about ethical and sustainable consumption.
The generation behaves completely differently from the generations before. Hyper digitally intelligent, Gen Z, and the brands they buy from, have a completely dynamic customer journey—whether the journey begins with an enticing Instagram ad or a pop-up event. Gen Z has made it clear that a hard-hitting, consistent, and relatable brand narrative, online and offline, plays a huge role in winning their attention, hearts, and pockets.
So, what should brands pay attention to when thinking about resonating, connecting, and engaging Gen Z?
1. Diversity & Inclusion
To start, if you’re looking to attract Gen Z, your brand’s diversity & inclusion has to run deeper than performatively plastering words on your careers page or adding more stock photos of people of color on your digital platforms. It’s about being authentically who you say you are. Gen Z’s can tell the difference between the posers and those authentically disrupting the status quo—with ease.
For example, when Rihanna launched Fenty Beauty in 2017, she completely shook the beauty industry. Her line offered 40 shades of foundation (now 50), ranging from the lighter shades typically in abundance in any given makeup aisle to deeper and darker shades that Black and Brown people have struggled to find for decades.
In my 24 years of life, the arrival of Fenty Beauty was the first time I’d ever seen any brand launch a campaign that depicted such a wide range of skin tones and that clearly celebrated people of color who weren’t predominantly lighter-skinned or racially ambiguous. And it didn’t just appeal to me because it was a clear representation of diversity. It was also raw, real, and relatable. It was content I’d never been exposed to. It was content I’d never seen so much of the world witness.
The Fenty Beauty brand, then and now, celebrates and normalizes what it looks like to be a HUMAN. But, it doesn’t stop there. Rihanna has continued this brand narrative across all of her brands including Savage X Fenty, her lingerie brand that recently added pieces for her male audience, and now Fenty Skin which is completely gender-neutral. She’s built her brand around diversity & inclusion and continues to deliver that promise at every touchpoint which is why it’s believable, truly authentic, and here to stay in people’s hearts and minds.
2. Sustainable Consumerism
It’s imperative for any retailer looking to connect with Gen Z, Millennials, or Gen X to focus on ethics and sustainability. Immense access to digital information has educated and impassioned Gen Z and Millennials to become more environmentally conscious, influencing their consumer behavior and their parents.
As the rejection of fast fashion brands continues to grow, second-hand fashion retailers like ThredUp and peer-to-peer online shopping platforms like Poshmark and Depop continue to gain and maintain popularity. It’s clear that Gen Z wants to consume more while wasting less. In fact, ThredUp’s 2020 resale report estimates that the second-hand market will hit $64 billion by 2024 and is expected to grow to 69% by 2021.
Increased desire to consume more sustainably has also made room for niche household brands—Caboo bamboo toilet paper, Unni biodegradable trash bags, and Blueland eco-friendly cleaning products—to enter the market and appeal to both younger and older generations. This trend is likely to continue as Gen Xers come into more financial maturity and have the means to spend more money.
The civil unrest following the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor earlier this year sparked BLM protests around the world and pushed brands to speak out on Instagram to express their solidarity for Black lives. Anthropologie, who posted a quote by Maya Angelou highlighting the importance of diversity and equality, received backlash and public callouts by former and current employees. It became viewed as hypocritical and performative across audiences when it was unveiled that the brand, including brands like Urban Outfitters and Zara, had racial profiling practices within their organizations (racist behaviors like using internal code names for people of color who enter their stores).
Nike on the other hand is a great example of a truly authentic brand. They get their hands dirty in abundance when it comes to corporate social responsibility whether it’s partnering with grassroots organizations to help bridge opportunity gaps for youth in urban communities, responsibly sourcing materials for products, or taking a stand in support of socio-political issues and not just when it looks good. No wonder they’re a Gen Z favorite.
Why do brands need to embrace Gen Z values?
This generational cohort is young, but they have the power of influence when it comes to behavior and value. Not just on themselves, but on all generations. This is why brands must pay attention to this generation. To be a lasting brand, you have to focus on authentic and ethical brand behavior to build brands that Gen Z’s are going to trust, value, and love.
Emotive Brand is a brand strategy and design agency in Oakland, California