Understanding Millennials has of course been the focus of consumer-facing companies in recent years. But what of Generation Z? Carla Buzasi is managing director of WGSN, whose global trend forecasters and data scientists track what’s new – and what’s next – in order to help businesses. She explains the priorities, preferences and intentions of Gen Me and Gen We, and how companies can best position themselves to appeal to them.
Businesses have been concentrating so hard on Millennials (approximately 25- to 35-year-olds) that they haven’t woken up to Generation Z creeping up behind them. The eldest of Generation Z turn 23 this year. They are in the workplace, have a disposable income, are getting married and having children. Companies wanting to do business with them need to start taking them seriously – and quickly. From our research at WSGN, we discovered there are two very distinct groups within this demographic, which we’ve called Gen Me and Gen We.
Gen Me is the more stereotypical Gen Zer: digital natives empowered by the platforms and technologies available to them and very aware of their personal brand in the digital space. They don’t remember a time when there wasn’t a mobile phone in their hand. One of their top priorities is how they come across on social media – they use Instagram filters, FaceTune and contouring, and they look up to the Kardashians.
If you’re trying to sell products, this is who you should be targeting. They are super savvy, do their research online and take recommendations from both personal contacts and influencers. The experience economy is extremely important to this group: create products or experiences that enhance their image in the digital space, and they will be interested in you as a brand.
“The experience economy is extremely important to Gen Me: create products or experiences that enhance their image in the digital space, and they will be interested in you as a brand.”
These are individuals who have lost all trust in large corporate organisations and governments. Across the globe, they are disappointed in where we are politically and economically, but they’re optimistic by nature and believe they can drive change, especially at a local level. ‘Clicktivism’ or tweeting support is not enough – if change is going to happen, they know they have to be visible and get up and out there, with a placard, and demand reformation.
Gen We have digital footprints and are on social media platforms, but their posts are less about how beautiful they look and more about what they are doing. They want to spend their money with local businesses or with large international businesses who are putting money back into their local community. No longer can big companies just donate money to local causes; they need to provide and nurture the opportunities for local businesses to thrive.
Gen We are driving phenomenal change in marketing, including the movement towards more honest advertising with less or no airbrushing, and models of different shapes, sizes, colours and genders. Brands such as Aerie, which banned airbrushing a few years ago, are reaping the rewards. If you are not yet changing your campaigns and marketing to reflect this, you need to act fast or risk being left behind.
Selling to both
Gen Me and Gen We are two different audiences that are distinct in their needs and their outlook on the world, but they share an age bracket and are both savvy spenders. If you are selling products into that age bracket and have the resources, have an offering for both. This is possible in the digital world, but understand that the product offering and your messaging must be different.
Look at how well ASOS targets a young demographic with sub-brands on both sides. Its latest campaign is inclusive and embraces different shapes and sizes, but it also doesn’t shy away from Instagram catnip like contouring kits and sequinned jumpsuits.
Gen Z are old heads on very young shoulders. Natural disasters and economic uncertainty have been prevalent in their lives because of the speed at which information now travels. Mental health is spoken about openly thanks to social media. But the advent of 5G, while bringing benefits and choices, may add another level of urgency to our lives and continue to impact mental health and anxiety.
Gen Z want a well-paid job and will work hard, but they are nervous about their financial situation. They want to work for large organisations that are entrepreneurial within that corporate structure. If you want to attract this generation to work for you, you’ll need good support mechanisms, values and policies in place – and they had better be more than just ticking boxes.
Carla Buzasi is an award-winning former editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post UK and current managing director of trend forecasters WGSN.