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Born between 1996–2015, Gen Z has been characterized according to their study and interaction patterns. As the earliest members of this cohort grow into adulthood, their consumption habits are becoming clearer too, prompting more in-depth analyses of what sets them apart, as well as recommendations for how marketers should address them.

Some key points are traits that span nearly everything that Gen Z consumers do. In particular, and as may come as no surprise, they embrace and require digital access. For most of them, being without some form of digital access for more than four hours would be extremely aversive and uncomfortable. In line with their extensive use patterns, they believe in the promise of technology, artificial intelligence, and the Internet, such that about two-thirds of them assert that using these tools can bring people closer together and exert other positive impacts. Such positive impacts include outcomes that other generational cohorts might regard with skepticism. For example, Gen Z predicts and expects websites to “interact,” such that their activities and behaviors on one site would be known to other sites they frequent, which in turn will enable the sites to know what they are seeking, as consumers, before they even type in a search term.

But such uses and embraces of technology do not imply that members of Gen Z are impersonal in their approaches. Rather, they seek authentic connections and relationships with counterparts online, whether those other parties are brands, firms, or other consumers. In turn, they express more trust in brands that include real people in their advertising, and they rely heavily on recommendations and product reviews provided by those others.

Beyond personal connections, Gen Z uses digital technology for nearly all its entertainment needs. Moreover, this entrepreneurial, ambitious generation recognizes the business opportunities available online, such that more than 60 percent of them plan to start their own companies someday, and they assume they will do so online.

In some sense, their reliance on digital channels parallels their lack of use of more conventional, in-person modes of interaction. For example, relatively few members of Gen Z belong to a specific religious organization, which historically offered people a central form of community. Faced with the simultaneous sense of isolation and connection offered by digital channels and social media, Gen Z consumers actively demand that brands and companies evoke a sense of community. They want to be inspired and excited by the brands they buy, whether because those brands allow customers to personalize and build their own versions of the product offerings, as Glossier does, or actively caters to their shifting preferences and silly whims, like Taco Bell aims do to.

Another option for creating connection occurs through firms’ sincere commitment to social justice and responsibility causes; Gen Z consumers want a brand that stands for something meaningful. Accordingly, nearly three-quarters of them indicated they would be more likely to buy from a firm that commits or contributes to social causes.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can brands and firms connect with Gen Z consumers?
  2. What risks do brands and firms need to consider when devising marketing plans to connect with Gen Z consumers?

Source: Robert Williams, “Gen Z Wants Brands to be ‘Fun,’ ‘Authentic’ and ‘Good,’ Study Says,” Marketing Dive, July 8, 2020; “Generation Influence: Gen Z Study Reveals a New Digital Paradigm,” BusinessWire, July 8, 2020; Mary Noel, “Your Brand’s Real Offering to Gen Z Is Community,” Marketing Dive, March 18, 2020