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What makes Gen Z stand out?

7 characteristics of Gen Z in 2023

Generation Z in 2023 Download report

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Think you know Generation Z? Think again. Much has been said about this generation, but amid the facts are plenty of myths, so we’re here to set the record straight with 7 Gen Z characteristics, according to real consumer data.

Who are Generation Z?

If you’re in uncharted territory, and aren’t so familiar with Gen Z, let’s get you up to speed. Gen Z are the generation after millennials, and before Gen Alpha, so roughly speaking, they’re born between the mid 1990s and early 2010s.

They’re the first generation of “digital natives”, never knowing a world without the internet. This, coupled with the fact they had a worldwide pandemic and a cost of living crisis to contend with during their formative years has had a profound impact on their personality and values, making them a very interesting audience indeed.

Characteristics of Generation Z

  1. They’re money-driven and ambitious
  2. They love to travel
  3. They’re prone to anxiety
  4. They’re known to set boundaries
  5. They’re avid gamers
  6. They’re nostalgic
  7. They use social media in a unique way

1. They’re money-driven and ambitious

Despite being in the lower income bracket (largely due to the fact that most are just starting out in their careers), that doesn’t mean they’re nonplussed about money. Quite the opposite is true.

Gen Z are 29% more likely than other generations to say they’re money driven and ambitious.

When it comes to saving money, they’re pretty savvy. 63% of this group say they want to save more money over the next 3 months – ahead of other generations. While their intentions are good, that’s not to say they’re completely confident on the best ways to save for the future. In fact, Gen Zs stand out for wanting support from their bank on the best ways to budget and adopt better spending habits. But currently, only 55% say they get this from their bank, which could be a great win for finance brands.

2. They love to travel

When asked what would bring more joy to their lives in future, vacations came out on top for Gen Z, highlighting the importance of travel (and adventure) for this generation.

Bar millennials, Gen Z are more likely than older generations to say they’ve purchased a domestic vacation or vacation abroad in the last 6 months.

And can you blame them? While it’s been a difficult few years for all generations, Gen Z have certainly had a lot of challenges thrown their way. Major disruption to their learning and exams, and starting out their careers in a new never-been-tested hybrid way of working is likely to have taken its toll.

When looking for inspiration for their next vacay, Gen Z are more likely than everyone else to say they’re influenced by social media posts. They also rely heavily on reviews when deciding where to stay; a third of Gen Z travelers say reviews from other people matter most to them when booking accommodation.

3. They’re prone to anxiety

Of all generations, Gen Z are most likely to report having a mental health issue, and 3 in 10 say they’re prone to anxiety. This is higher than all other generations, and sadly, it’s on the rise.

In fact, a shocking 29% of Gen Z say they’re prone to anxiety.

In the US alone, there’s been a 25% increase in the number of Gen Z saying they experience stress/anxiety regularly. Social media is a key contributor, with around a fifth of Gen Z saying this causes them anxiety.

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4. They’re known to set boundaries

Gen Z are rewriting the rulebook when it comes to the world of work, rejecting “hustle culture” and working overtime in favor of a more balanced approach. TikTok trends such as “the soft life”, which place emphasis on a slower, healthier and reframed version of success have really taken off amongst this generation. Some may call them lazy or work shy, but in reality, Gen Z are just really good at setting boundaries. Like really good. Having a work life balance is paramount for this generation.

72% of Gen Z are protective of their work-life boundaries.

Alongside work life balance, Gen Z also value mentorship, (they’re 37% more likely to want the ability to mentor/train others) and want the opportunity to work with clients or customers (they’re 33% more likely to say this than other generations), highlighting their appetite to share knowledge and work collaboratively.

5. They’re avid gamers

If there’s one thing this generation loves to do, it’s game. It’s a hugely popular pastime for this group, particularly gaming on smartphones.

Almost 9 in 10 Gen Z game on any device.

What sets Gen Z apart from other generations, is their reasons for gaming. Interaction and socialization plays a far greater role for Gen Z compared to older generations, whose primary reasons for gaming is to unwind.

This rings true for other virtual environments too. Of those interested in participating in a metaverse, almost half say they’d like to meet up with friends/family or meet new people, again highlighting their desire for social interaction.

6. They’re nostalgic

Gen Z are 19% more likely than other generations to say they prefer to think about the past rather than the future. Their fondness for the past is most prevalent in their music and fashion preferences, with 90s music their second-favorite genre (among Gen Zs). Meanwhile, claw clips and noughties-style low rise jeans are making a comeback.

17% say they’d prefer to think about the past rather than the future.

Interestingly, many of the coveted trends we see Gen Z bringing back are from before they were born, suggesting it’s less about reliving their past, and more about harking back to what they feel was a simpler time. Pass the rose-tinted glasses, please.

7. They use social media in a unique way

So we already know social media plays a key role in their vacation inspiration, but how else does this group use it? Well, for even more inspiration, on pretty much everything. They’re 11% more likely to use social media for this reason than everyone else.

3 in 10 Gen Z say they use social media as a place for inspiration.

Social media also serves as a search engine for this generation. Gen Z uses social to search for answers, turning to TikTok ahead of Google for info and advice on anything from beauty trends to finances. According to research by Google, nearly half of young people look to TikTok or Instagram instead of Google Maps or Search for answers.

The bottom line

There’s more to Gen Z than stereotypes may suggest. They’re carving their own path in a very uncertain world, juggling their desire to seek adventure wherever they can with their need for stability by saving for a rainy day.

While they may be young, they’re due to overtake millennials as the largest generation, so if brands want to stay relevant, they really ought to pay attention to today’s “it consumer”.

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What Gen Z NEEDS From Brands

Now more than ever, it’s critical for companies to take the time to understand their customers. Transparency and authenticity are hugely important to today’s consumers, and brands who don’t work to understand their audience risk not only losing sales but facing powerful backlash from customers. For years, the focus has been on learning how to market to Millennials, but Gen Z is now “the generation to watch” as these individuals come into their own. They make up 32% of the global population and they control $44 billion in discretionary spending, and they’re different from the generations that came before them in a lot of ways. Brands have to know what this newest generation needs in order to reach them effectively. Here’s what Gen Z needs from brands and marketers:

Personalization & Personality

Gen Z wants to feel known and understood by the brands and companies they follow. Unlike older generations, Gen Z wants the information that is targeted to them to be personalized and are generally less concerned about privacy. 38% want online ads to be related to their browsing history or entertainment preferences. Gen Zers tend to be fatigued by overt ads, so creating personalized ads and reaching them on newer social platforms can help cut through the noise. This generation also gravitates towards brands that stand out from the crowd and embrace uniqueness. Creating a strong brand persona comes down to knowing your target customer. Put what makes your brand special at the core of your marketing efforts and figure out how that can help you relate to your audience on a more personal level.

Authenticity & Transparency

In a trend that started with Millennials, Gen Z craves authenticity in marketing. They value social proof and word-of-mouth marketing from friends and influencers. They want to see more user-generated content and branded content that shows real people who look like them. More than 60% of Gen Zers prefer ads with “real” people in them over celebrities. User-generated content (UGC) and influencer marketing are highly effective tools to reach Gen Z’ers. One of the most powerful and engaging ways to harness UGC in your brand’s community is through social media contests. While photo submission and hashtag contests tend to generate copious content for your product pages and campaigns, they also express interest in the real-life experiences your customers have with your products. Breck’s hosted a summer-long contest, incentivizing customers to share photos of them gardening with a unique hashtag, and garnered 1,000 submissions in only the first 48 hours of the contest.

Breck's Gardening Contest

Gen Z expects brands to be transparent about their social and environmental impact, their commitment to inclusivity, and more. To engage and convert Gen Z customers, brands need to earn this generation’s trust. Though this largely comes from conveying real experiences through UGC, brands also have to be open and transparent about their environmental impact and commitment to social causes and diversity.

Diversity & Inclusion

As one of the most diverse generations, it’s no surprise that Gen Z cares deeply about diversity in advertising. They want to see real people in ads, which to Gen Z means people who represent the broad spectrum that exists in the real world. Brands who embrace diversity in body types, races, genders, and sexual orientations see an improvement in how they’re perceived by consumers. Knowing UGC resonates with customers because of its inclusivity and realness, makeup brand Morphe fosters a thriving community of #MorpheBabes of many races, ethnicities, body types, and backgrounds. By showcasing and praising its diverse community through UGC on their website, Morphe exemplifies the fusion of authenticity and diversity that Gen Z looks for in brands.

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The commitment to diversity and inclusion goes beyond who appears in ads — Gen Z wants and expects diversity in employees at the companies they support, too. Unlike the baby boomer generation, Gen Zers are 10% more likely to care if a brand supports diversity and equality and 12% more likely to care if a company has fair employment practices. Brands that commit to diversity within their organizations and in advertising show that they have a genuine commitment to the causes that Gen Z cares about.

Empathy & Purpose

As a generation highly connected to the wider world around them through social media and the internet, Gen Z is invested in what can be done to make the world better. Gen Zers show this through their interest in purpose-driven brands that have a transparent mission that aligns with the causes they support personally. 74% of Gen Zers rate purpose ahead of a paycheck when asked about potential jobs and 69% are more likely to buy from a company that makes contributions to social causes they care about. Brands that are honest about the impact they have on the world and how they can help improve it appeal more to Gen Z than big, faceless corporations. When hard times come, Gen Z expects brands to behave more like people — showing empathy and taking action. But brands have to recognize where to draw the line. Gen Z wants authenticity above all, so the tone is incredibly important. It can be the difference between being honest with consumers and being perceived as capitalizing on a crisis. Gen Z typically values authenticity and sustainability in brands more than generations that came before them. Gen Z’s digitally native upbringing means they are incredibly savvy when it comes to advertising tactics. To earn their trust, brands need to focus on transparency and highlight their mission or purpose. Ads and marketing collateral should feature a diverse range of individuals, which can be sourced through influencer marketing and user-generated content. When a new generation comes into their own, brands have to learn what they care about and adapt their message and strategy to reach their audience more effectively. What Gen Z needs from brands is transparency, diversity, purpose, and personality.

The Rise of Gen Z And What It Means For Luxury Brands

luxury marketing gen z moonshot digital

The digital landscape is always in flux. As luxury marketers adapt to the expectations and demands of Millennials, it is also pertinent for them to be aware of the rise of Gen Z. This group, born roughly between 1995 and 2010, are the first to have grown up with smart phones, social media and apps. And it’s a big group. They stand at about 2 billion worldwide. For luxury marketers, perhaps the biggest mistake would be to assume that Gen Zers are similar to those of their Millennial predecessors. While Gen Y has been typecast as tolerant but ultimately overconfident, narcissistic and directionless, Gen Zers are seen as much more pragmatic, socially responsible and driven. Shifts in attitude also translate to differing digital behaviours. Unlike Gen Y, they increasingly reject Facebook, expect seamless digital experiences, and effortless transitions between 5 screens (3 screens for Millennials). They will become the most influential consumers for luxury brands tomorrow, and understanding how they think and what motivates them will be crucial for success.

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Gen Z Takes Digital Fluency For Granted

Gen Zers take it all for granted. Before they knew how to form complex sentences, they understood how to navigate touch screens and stream online media. They are digital natives, the most fluent of us all, and they expect brands to operate at their standard.

Having been born in the digital age means that they judge brands based on how they act in the digital sphere. No matter how much history a brand has, if it operates from outdated digital platforms, offers a bad or frustrating user experience, or engages in social media in a commercial and self-aggrandizing way, Gen Zers will turn away and opt for another experience. When digital sophistication on every screen and at every touchpoint is expected and the norm, it is even more difficult for luxury brands to stand out in the digital world.

Luxury marketers need to know that in order to appeal to Gen Z, having savvy, flawless digital functionality across all channels and screens will be seen as a given. No bonus points to be found here. Instead, luxury brands will have the burden of proof to showcase authenticity and the real value of their products and services to the discerning Gen Z customer.

Gen Z Has Limitless Options But Limited Time

Gen Zers grew up with limitless options but limited time. In fact, researchers have shown that their attention span is approximately 8 seconds. However, instead of taking this finding at face value, luxury marketers need to interpret this statistic accurately.

The 8 second statistic is not so much indicative of a short attention span as it is a testament of how quickly Gen Zers can filter information as either relevant or irrelevant to them. Growing up in a world of limitless online options has shaped them to be experts at sorting through and assessing enormous amounts of information. But, don’t be mistaken. This generation prefers depth over breadth and is not shy about diving deep into a subject, a cause or, in this case, a brand, when they find that it is aligned with their interests.

Not only are Gen Zers self-filtering information, but they are also the more likely to install ad blocking software than Millennials.

For luxury marketers, the ultimate lesson to be learned here is that there is no way to forcibly impose your brand on Gen Zers. In many ways, they are a harder-to-reach audience than Millennials, preferring privacy and rejecting platforms that promote over-sharing and commercialism. They have an 8 second filter as well as adblocking technology to help them avoid unwanted and inauthentic content in the pursuit of meaning, value and information.

With a BS filter a mile wide, authenticity, but also the ability to quickly and effectively communicate that authenticity, is more important than ever for competitive survival. Luxury brands need to look at the way they portray their authenticity across all online channels and platforms and ask:

  • Is the luxury brand story appealing and honest?
  • Is it being told in an intuitive way?
  • Is the format of the content suitable to the narrative that is being told?

In most cases, this requires more upfront planning, alignment and strategic thinking amongst all key stakeholders, including sales and creative teams.

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Gen Zers Trust Curators That Portray The World Honestly

As we have discussed, Gen Zers are savvy and skeptical of anything that seems manufactured, commercial or inauthentic. They value sources that help them filter their world. Perhaps because of this, they are drawn to curators, whether it be YouTube vloggers or digital influencers that give real and honest opinions. Not surprisingly then, their preferred social media channel is YouTube, followed by Instagram and Snapchat.

In fact, 52% of Gen Zers use Youtube not only as a source of video-led entertainment, but also as a primary source of information. For instance, Youtuber Philip De Franco, who has almost 5.5 million subscribers and gives his take on global news and pop culture, racks up over one million views per video. Gen Zers make up over 40% of his viewership. Compare this with the steadily declining popularity of Facebook, a platform that’s become defined by self-promotion and paid advertising, with only 14% of Gen Z favouring engagement with this platform.

Whether its world news or luxury brands, this generation sees immense value in curators that help them shrink their option set to a more manageable size. Luxury brands should understand that traditional, branded celebrity endorsements will fall out of favor completely with this upcoming cohort of discerning digital natives.

The real opportunity is in forming genuine partnerships with curators and influencers and create content that are of value to Gen Zers. Even more so, with the growing popularity of YouTube and video platforms, luxury marketers should invest in short-form, video-led content that can be repurposed across multiple digital channels.

Gen Z Are Rebels With A Cause

Perhaps the most discerning characteristic of Generation Z from Millennials is that many see “doing good” along with social and environmental responsibility as a defining purpose for them. According to Mashable, 26% of 16 to 19 year olds volunteer on a regular basis, 60% want their jobs to impact the world and 76% are concerned about humanity’s impact on the planet.

With a vested interest in giving back, it’s expected that this generation would put a high value on brand integrity. Consequently, this places more pressure on luxury brands to do good in the world as well. Many are already finding opportunities to contribute towards a greater goal, one that is aligned with the luxury company’s ideals and values. For instance, Stella McCartney showcases their ongoing commitment to sustainability, and the latest partnership is with Parley for the Oceans, an organisation that fights marine plastic pollution through creative collaborations. The collaboration essentially involves transforming ocean garbage to high end fashion, and the Adidas by Stella McCartney collaboration is an example of Parley fashion at work.

As luxury brands prepare for the future purchasing power and influence of Gen Z, partnerships that showcase the brand’s willingness to collaboratively address social and environmental issues should be considered an integral part of brand narrative building.

Without a question, Gen Z is changing the landscape of digital luxury marketing. Their ability to filter information, inherently decipher authenticity from commercialisation, and expectation of brands to deliver exactly what they want will force luxury marketers to rethink traditional digital strategies in favour of a more collaborative, honest and transparent way of engaging this new generation of consumers.

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