How to build a Gen Z brand

By 2020 Generation Z will account for 40% of all consumers, and while this group of headstrong customers may not be relevant to all companies right now, it is really only a matter of time. Getting ahead of the curve with understanding this influencer fuelled, social savvy generation, is key to future proofing businesses both old and new.

Love it or hate it, generational thinking continues to provide us with clues into shifting and emerging behaviours which help us to predict the future. Gen Z – the generation born after millennials – continues to baffle and surprise governments and commercial businesses alike, by bucking traditional trends associated with youth culture. They are a new generation who can now vote and have spending power and the recent general election result proved that they are not afraid to use it.

At the same time they’re coming of age and growing up, we’re also seeing a correlation in declining levels of underage sex, binge drinking and drug taking. So what exactly are they doing if they’re not following traditional youth conventions?

Well, they are doers, hackers or problem solvers, who fix things that are broken and who address issues that need tackling. They are as passionate as millennials, but more hands on and purposeful.

This year alone, I have already met a 17-year-old girl who changed her education path to pursue Criminal Justice based on her view that "the Black Lives Matter campaign simply isn’t getting the job done". I connected with some 13-year-olds who campaigned to get sanitary machines in their school toilets and also chatted to a group of nine-year-old boys actively trying to get more female football on TV because they recognised the talent of the players and believed sport content should be more gender neutral.

These are not extreme examples, this mentality is everywhere in kid-culture today; they are hungry for change, ready for action and most of all, intolerant of things that are broken or inefficient.

Every generation of young people is told, ‘you can do and be whatever you want’, but Gen Z are the first to have the hands-on, tangible tools to figure out how that is possible and believe it. So when they hear the ‘you can do anything speech’, they take that quite literally – coding, programming, hacking, hyper-education, market savvy, well researched, they know how to make things happen and if they don’t they’ll find a tutorial on YouTube that will teach them how.

As a result of growing up in one of the most turbulent and dynamic eras of childhood to date, they are still surprisingly optimistic. Despite having a child’s-eye view on subjects like populist politics, terrorism, threat of war, global warming and cyber bullying which creates anxiety about entering adulthood, they still have an inspiringly positive momentum to their development, propelled forward by a tribal sense within their community that they can do things differently. Put simply, they spot and find the inefficiencies and inequalities they come across and think up ways to change them or put them right, they do this quickly, with purpose and with conviction.

And for those brands trying to sell to them this has huge implications. When by default you’re seen by your own generation as an individual and when your mindset is fixed to in a position of ‘action’ mode, you tend to think differently about the things you buy and how you interact with brands. You start to care less about the brand, and care more about the product; you pay more attention to the purpose of the business, not just the brand promise and you feel confident to call them out when they do something wrong, you’ll go fix it, or quickly and confidently find somewhere else to spend your cash.

So if you’re working on brand initiatives for the next few years, now would be a good time to rip up the brand building rulebook. Companies seeking the trust, engagement and loyalty of Generation Z must build brands with a Gen Z mentality, and this comes from the inside out, right from the roots of where ideas, innovations and strategies are born.

Authenticity was, and still is, a trait valued by millennials, but for Gen Z it’s not enough to have an authentic style, tone of voice and ideals; you must have an authentic reason to exist and be inclusive, diverse, kind and demonstrate passion with purpose. And you must of course do all this in a fluid, integrated way that doesn't feel ‘tacked on’ or tokenistic.

How to build a Gen Z brand:

  • Stop looking for needs that don't really matter – start figuring out and owning your real purpose
  • Stop jumping on trends – start building deep, unique and meaningful relationships with the right influencers
  • Stop making everything all about your brand – start make everything all about the people you want to engage with it
  • Stop using the word consumers - start thinking and treating them like real individuals who are not all the same
  • Stop making adverts – start making content, there is a difference and they know it
  • Stop being slow and constricted by red tape – if you’ve got to wait weeks for the chief executive to sign off every response and bit of activity, you’re too late, you’ve missed them.

Generation Z are arguably the smartest, most active and considered youth segment to date. Their value to brands and society is immeasurable. Brands need to prioritise understanding this generation if they are to have any relevance to these influential youngsters. Brands that do nothing couldn’t be less relevant to this new generation of doers.

Emma Worrollo is managing director and founder of The Pineapple Lounge

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