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Written by Matt Leddy

Most retailers can agree Gen Z (people born between 1996 and 2006) has been a nebulous group that is difficult to pin down. The incentive for understanding them is increasingly high -- today, Gen Z represents a $600b market. In two short years, that number will grow to a mind-blowing $3 trillion.

As it becomes crucial for retailers to effectively address this market that’s expanding 5x in the next 24 months or so, figuring out what makes them tick is paramount. So, who are they? Many tend to think of Gen Z as having an insanely short attention span that’s dwindling even further every year. However, this assumption is wrong. As “Gen Z Whisperer” Tiffany Zhong pointed out during her IRCE presentation last month, this is the same generation that binge-watches Netflix religiously. So, how do we reconcile that?

High quality content + on demand = Gen Z attention

The fact is, Gen Z has no attention span for garbage content. Especially if they don’t get to choose when and where they consume it. If it’s meaningless and fails to be entertaining, it doesn’t get seen or shared. If it’s solid and engaging, it gets watched for hours at a time. Remember, this is a generation that grew up on social media, so they can instinctively spot valueless ad content a mile away.

Generation Z likes bright, shiny things (with meaning)

Unlike Millennials who crave experiences, Gen Z likes things. Real, good things, not fake shitty ones.  Design and aesthetics play a crucial role in appealing to Gen Z, and companies that hope to compensate for bad quality or design with marketing spend and flashy but ultimately meaningless marketing tactics are doomed.

The fact is, authenticity rules for Generation Z and their BS detectors are exponentially more refined than most brands and marketers give them credit for.

Having grown up in an image-conscious world driven by social media, a key factor in connecting with Generation Z is helping them look cool on social media. It’s important to consider how the interplay of your digital and physical presences can help people from this generation create images they would want to share.

Define ‘looking cool’ on social media, please

Gen Z has proven to have an especially refined barometer for authenticity. In other words, they can see through the hype. Our take? Don’t try to be cool; rather, be current and relatable. Solid intentions will lead to word-of-mouth and social validation.

Aim to catch their attention with things that matter: personal experiences, social matters, role models, nostalgia (Gen Z is already nostalgic for the 00’s), and genuine feelings. Crass pandering can blow up in a brand’s face - remember Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner ad?

The goal is to enhance the image of the customer, not the product. Take Soylent, a meal replacement drink, for example. Rather than put their logo front and center on the bottle, they allow their customers to embody their brand by providing them with a blank canvas on which to doodle. These doodles are then posted to social media and shared with others. Popsockets also encourages this generation to express their weird/odd/unique self by allowing customers to customize the phone accessory with a personal photo or illustration. Both brands clearly see the value of giving their customers a platform to “be cool” as a means to generate social engagement, increase site visits, and boost sales.

Go Beyond Data

Talk to the people who best represent the group you’re trying to address and get their thoughts directly. Macro data is useful but can only go so far in illuminating the reasons behind a customer’s actions and the context surrounding them. Get insight by opening up conversations and listening to them. Real human conversations uncover real truths and dispel false assumptions.

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