Move Over, Millennials: Prepare for Gen Z!

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How to market to millennials, how to manage millennials – the internet hosts article after article about this generation, so much so that there’s an insidious conflation of “millennial” and “young person.” In fact, millennials are defined as anyone born between 1980 and 1995 – meaning the eldest millennials are in their mid-thirties, and approaching mid-life.

It’s critical that marketers begin to separate the millennial generation (and their behaviors and traits), and make way for the new youngest generation: Gen Z. Defined as anyone born after 1995, the first crop of Gen Z-ers are already 22 years old — well within the range of having influence from a consumer standpoint, and just beginning to enter the workforce.

What does Gen Z value, and which brands resonate with them best? How can marketers with interest in this demographic ensure that they’re well positioned?

Experts say that Gen Z most closely emulates the Baby Boomer generation:

Researchers at market research firm Future Cast have identified that Gen Z are much more motivated by money, the idea of personal responsibility and success than millennials. Growing up in the height of the recession, Gen Z are much more realistic than idealistic — and they align most with brands that embody that.

What this means for consumer branding: Brands have become accustomed to appealing to consumers’ most optimistic instincts, and with good reason. Most want their brand, services or products to be positioned as something that makes consumers lives better, easier and more enjoyable.

However, we’re beginning to see signs that Gen Z finds this approach and tone disingenuous and unrealistic, and it gravitates toward brands that reflect their true reality, versus an idealized version of it. Some brands are already experiencing massive success by pivoting to verisimilitude: By vowing to stop retouching ads as a part of its ‘Real You’ campaign, underwear brand Aerie saw a surge in sales from an audience that appreciates realism, growing 20% in the 2015 fiscal year. Bucking a current trend of downward retail sales, Aerie continues to grow, with an additional 32% lift in the first quarter of the 2016 fiscal year.

Gen Z believes equality is not negotiable, and will expect brands they love to demonstrate those values.

Gen Z does not place much value in traditional identity definitions, and is very focused on racial, gender, and sexual orientation equality. As such, brands that proudly own their support of these spaces will continue to gain Gen Z’s respect and trust.

It’s not just that Gen Z doesn’t like stereotypes — they also find them boring. Gen Z is energized by uniqueness, diversity and inclusion, and rallies around influencers like Laverne Cox, a transgender actress, Ashley Graham, a plus-size model who challenges body type standards, and Ruby Rose, a gender-fluid actor.

What this means for consumer lifestyle marketing: In order to become a brand loyalist, Gen Z has to confirm that their values align with a business’s, and that the brand practices what it preaches in terms of corporate responsibility. The most recent examples of brands looking to demonstrate their commitment to equality: L’Oreal Paris features transgender model Hari Nef as the star of a new ad campaign, and CoverGirl recently announced a 17-year-old boy and internet-famous makeup artist as the new face of its cosmetic line.

As this generation continues to trickle into the workforce and gain more consumer share, we’ll update key takeaways for brands to ensure they continue to resonate.


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