Independent and online – How Gen Z is shaking up branding

independent and online

I think all of us have an inherent distrust of labels like Gen-Z. Maybe it’s because we resent the implication that we fall into neat categories, or perhaps it’s a little bit of cognitive dissonance about how often we actually do. Mostly though, it is probably because we have all seen how it can lead to a diversity issue or a seemingly self-perpetuating stereotype. Whatever the reason, the annoying thing is that in the broadest sense, the concept of a ‘generational’ shift is a useful one. When it comes to branding, it seems to be having a significant effect on the way products and employer brands are addressing the target consumer. 

Gen-Z in the spotlight 

In defence of using a general categorisation of a generation, it is based on some reasonable assumptions. For example, the assumption that Gen-Zs are more immersed in social media and the digital space is a reasonable one because they are the first generation to have grown up with almost total online access. So, let’s briefly look at some of the broad stroke assumptions. Thankfully, as unique human beings, we are all as wildly unpredictable as ever. As the ‘faceless mass’, though, we do tend to display specific traits. So, Gen-Z then is usually defined as people born between 1995 and 2014 and considered as: 

  • Digitally native and likely to spend over 15 hours a week ‘online’. It is often easier to consider than permanently digitally aware, though. 
  • Stimulus hungry and focused on short information bursts 
  • Entrepreneurial by upbringing and project focused (this has been reinforced by the WFH required during the pandemic). 
  • Superheroes at heart with high values and higher moral expectations as well as a philanthropic awareness of issues such as the environment and social inequality 
  • Speaking of inequality, they are often inclusive by default. Gen-Z is less concerned with difference and more focused on individuality than any generation before them. 
  • They are also considered fiercely independent, often financially and career cautious but with clear self-awareness and a desire for individuality. 

While there are potentially some downsides to these traits (a lower attention span or tendency to over multi-task, for example), that is actually a pretty comprehensive list of desirable traits. 

How the beauty industry is addressing Gen-Zs 

Top of the list of ways to engage with this emerging market is through ethical trading. Consumers are becoming far more conscious of the implications of their buying decisions and how these reflect their values. Fortunately, this coincides with the general industry trends towards cleaner, more responsible production and supply chains. 

In terms of the retail sale, the permanent digital space surrounding the Gen-Z buyer means they are likely to walk onto the shop floor for different reasons than previous generations. They will be there to confirm a motivation to buy from information gathered online rather than make the decision to buy. Marketing materials that promote a spur of the moment local buy are therefore less likely to have an impact. Something that is holistically confirming and reinforcing brand messaging meets the pre-decision scenario more. 

When it comes to messaging a product, the fierce individuality of the Gen-Z buyer is certainly an influence when deciding what content will effectively reach out to them. Diverse and individual is a difficult thing to portray en-mass, though, so it’s reasonable to assume that they respond better to highly targeted, personalised marketing. 

Of course, the influencer (particularly the more interactive and individually branded micro-influencer perhaps?) and social media platforms, in general, are the playground of the Gen-Z. Traditional advertising such as mail, magazines and television will probably continue to see a fall in their effectiveness. Social media, though, can be a noisy place, so brands that look to appeal to the Gen-Z will need to cut through the static and appeal directly to the core motivators of this emerging generation. 

What does this mean for employer branding? 

The older Gen-Zs are now making their mark in the industry, and their inherent affinity with the digital space makes them a very valuable asset to a brand. As an employer looking to attract the Gen-Z team member, it may well be worth tweaking your brand slightly. It is a good idea to really promote your company values where they align with the core drivers of ethical and inclusive practice. A Gen-Z employee is likely to be wary of a career change and slow to commit to a long-term investment. However, once they are committed, they are loyal, and if their need to be valued for their independence and individuality is met, they will remain that way for a long time. 

A quick look down the defining characteristics of a member of the Z-Generation will reveal some very desirable qualities. It makes sense, therefore, to consider attracting them early and nurturing them into the managers and leaders of tomorrow. 

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