We used our values framework to understand who Gen Z are and what drives them...
Gen Z. Why are we all so fascinated by them? Is it their irresistible TikTok videos and hypnotic use of slime? Perhaps it’s the fact that the generation’s name ends the alphabet, almost suggesting the closure of civilization as we know it. Or is there something deeper about this generation that captivates researchers and businesses alike?
As the first cohort born after the mass adoption of the internet, Gen Z will in fact put a close to a world some of us remember; one without smartphones, social media, and virtual reality. But it also marks the beginning of future generations that are more connected and technologically engaged than we can fathom.
We’ve witnessed the extreme pressures that they face as a result. Our world has always had problems, but it’s now impossible to look away (almost 60% of Gen Z get their news from social media) . This generation is more exposed to distressing news, a failing climate, broken governmental systems, and public health crises’ than ever, and they’re living with the expectation that, if armed with a smartphone, they can change the world.
Their Core Values
We’ve used our unique values framework as a way to understand what we think makes Gen Z different, and why brands should pay attention.
Gen Z: A Generation of Mould-breakers
We have identified four values Gen Z holds and the ways they are living out these values
Everyone likes to have fun but it seems like having a great time is more important to Gen Z than generations previous to them. They’re taking a gentle approach to enjoying life that isn’t so much about ‘letting loose’ as it is chilling out.
To The Rescue
Social issues have always been prevalent in society but world news at the tip of fingers on various platforms have made it easier to educate and participate in tackling issues that don’t sit quite right with Gen Z.
The Road Less Travelled
Independence seems to be a non-negotiable – Gen Z wants to do things their own way rather than following the traditional path that their parents and society expect them to follow.
This often means Forbes 30 under 30 or being at the top of the corporate ladder but Gen Z are redefining what this means.
Working 9-5 five days a week being the expectation and the norm, it’s easy to forget to enjoy life. As the world shut down in March 2020, Covid-19 has forced us to spend more time at home rather than at work, live life a bit slower, and re-evaluate what we really want from life. This alongside less rosy news from every corner of the world, there’s been an explosion of conversation around taking care of yourself and enjoying life and Gen Z are prioritizing happiness, rest, and work-life balance over becoming millionaires or their generation’s next ‘girl boss’. We have identified two types of hedonism Gen Z holds – one centered around self-care and the other around being joyful. Whereas past generations may have enjoyed hedonism in an impulsive and ‘let-loose’ type of way, they’re taking a gentler, simpler approach, allowing themselves enjoyment rather than treating fun as a job in itself.
Enjoying Life & Self Care
Open up Instagram and it’s almost impossible to avoid seeing posts about taking a breather. A recent study in the UK found that 72% of Gen Z-ers say managing stress and mental health is their most important health and wellness concern, and this has been highlighted by Covid-19 lockdowns. At the same time, social pressures take flight on the very platforms young people use to speak out against them. Bullying on social media has been experienced by 37% of kids 12-17 according to a recent 2019 study. This is no doubt contributing to the rise of the wellness industry as a whole, alongside more niche activities like making slime, oddly satisfying videos, and ASMR which Gen Z all report as content and activities that help them relax and self-soothe.
In China, where work ethic is ingrained into the culture, an entire generation of youngsters are partaking in a cultural movement called ‘lying flat’, where overworked and stressed out young people are renouncing the culture of hard work they deem unjust and unnecessarily cruel, opting for a stress free, effortless lifestyle. Embracing relaxation over ambition has left the government none too pleased as they seek to become a greater force of innovation and technological advancement in the world.
Enjoying Life & Joyfulness
Close the Instagram app and open up TikTok – a platform that prides itself on joy – and you’ll see a range of dancing videos, silly memes, and DIY content. There’s also the simultaneous rise of Twitch, where a less curated and more ‘in the moment’ type of gaming content prevails, and Bob Ross’ ‘The Joy of Painting’ therapeutic art show makes an appearance every weekend. All of these platforms allow Gen Z to escape the negative aspects of ‘IRL’, disconnect from their messy lives and connect with strangers on the internet in a way that’s expressive, experimental, and fun.
With the world full of bad news brands can be the place to turn to when people want a bit of cheerfulness in their lives. They find this through their content and products which can spark joy and allow them to take a breather in today’s hectic world.
To The Rescue
Gen Z aren’t the pessimists you might think given the state of the world, they actually have a more universal approach to solving today’s problems of inequality and injustice. Think back to the outcry after the murder of George Floyd, where social media was one of many mediums spreading the word about the police brutality he suffered alongside so many others. His death not only sparked protests on the street, despite Covid, but online too. Social media served as a medium for support through hashtags like #BlackoutTuesday, #blacklivesmatter, and #GeorgeFloyd. It was also used to organize mutual aid networks and raise money for the families of police brutality victims.
A recent study by Deloitte found that the majority of Gen Z (66%) believe that wealth and income is distributed unequally urging many to be advocates for greater equality across lines of race, ethnicity, income, ability, and gender identity. Gen Z aren’t only fighting for people but the environment too (climate and the environment is a top concern for Gen Z). This awareness around inequality is also translating into action. Gen Z are not afraid to call for accountability and are voting with their money – they tend to avoid brands whose values don’t match up to theirs.
Brands not only need to be careful about what they say on social media, but the strength of that message too. For Gen Z, it’s not enough to hop on the bandwagon of a hot social issue, as they have keen eyes for spotting authenticity. Oversight on a small aspect of the business means risking loyalty from Gen Z.
The Road Less Travelled
Gen Z has shown that self direction is key in guiding the way they approach their futures and their identities. There’s growing scepticism of the models that previous generations followed, whether that’s a model of masculinity, career success, or when to start a family. Gen Z witnessed the exponential cost of higher education and the impact of the 2008 financial crisis on their parents and older peers. They’re in messy, uncharted territory, forced to pave their own path and adopt an independent streak and a DIY approach.
With the rise of influencer culture, they’re gaining exposure to entrepreneurialism at a young age. Side projects like buying and re-selling clothes are extremely popular among Gen Z, (with the secondhand clothing industry set to be twice the size of fast fashion by 2030, led largely by this generation), along with starting up DIY projects, and investing towards passive income on apps like Robinhood. Casual entrepreneurship and side hustles on social media are more possible than ever, and evidence that Gen Z are far from being lazy, they’re just not following the expected path.
Gen Z aren’t looking for norms – they are curios and have an appetite for trying new things. Brands that want to appeal to them may have to go above and beyond in innovations and deviation from the expected.
Unconventional ways of making a living calls for an unconventional definition of achievement. For some, it may be their second-hand clothing business hitting a £1m profit margin while for others is having a good work / life balance and ensuring their mental health is in tip top shape.
We’re also seeing Gen Z defining achievement as something ‘smaller’. Our world is constantly measured – how many steps were taken today? How many new followers gained since last month? We’re always quantifying our progress. For some, achievement can simply mean hitting their daily steps goal or reaching a 365-day streak on a language-learning app.
Brands can recognize that achievement is highly personal and give Gen Z more opportunity to personalize their goals and providing products that help them achieve this.
Four points brands can ponder on…
Hedonism is becoming more and more important as conversations around mental health are taking hold. Don’t be afraid to invest in innovation – products and services play no small part in making people laugh, smile and enjoy life
Actions not words
Brands hold a lot of power – they have the resource and visibility to add momentum to a movement. It’s not enough to take a stand, but to love and breathe that belief too
Living and breathing free-thinking
Gen Z aren’t a conventional bunch, they’re creative pioneers and are always up for experimenting and finding new ways of doing. Brands shouldn't be afraid to go brave and bold with your innovations – brands that give them the unexpected are more than welcomed
Each Gen Z is different to the next. They’re all individuals with different life goals and definitions of ‘achievement’. Brands can enable this through giving their audience the ability to set their own objectives
There are strong values emerging as a cohort...
…but it’s still crucial to note there are still nuances within Gen Z
Well equipped with technology through multiple screens, Gen Z have both power and pressure. Faced with so much expectation, they just want to have fun but are still mindful about the world while they do it – they care about the unequal society they live in and are determined to change this. Gen Z are also a confident bunch; not afraid to carve their own path and reject conventional ways of living.
For brands aiming to connect with Gen Z, we hope this helps get your brain juices flowing. However, there’s just one important thing to note – culture, upbringing, experiences, friends and family, the list goes on, all shape who someone is. What we’ve outlined here may wholly be true for a Gen Zer but only partly true for another and only a little bit true for the next.
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