Big Brands Must Work Hard to Win Over Gen Z

Big Brands Must Work Hard to Win Over Gen Z

Written by: Stephanie Bariatti, SMB Media Marketing Consultant 


            Generation Z kids are growing up to be tough cookies.  It’s not surprising given the unique time period that is shaping them.  Born approximately between 1997 and 2012, these young people are coming of age during a pandemic, climate change, racial unrest, and the acceleration of digitally-enabled everything. 


            This group is also often cited as the most diverse generation in history.  And though they bring a wide array of perspectives to the table, one of the traits they overwhelmingly share is this: they don’t trust anyone, especially big, powerful businesses and corporations.


            As this generation matures and starts earning income, they will be scrupulous about where they spend their dollars.  The oldest members of this cohort are actually already out of college and joining the workforce.    


            Gen Z strongly believes and follows their values and it is evident in their shopping habits.  They try to be frugal.  In fact, thrift stores and the resale market are now the “cool thing” among this generation.  Yet, they will eagerly shell out more for brands that support their values.  


            They want their brands to be transparent, ethical and responsible in all aspects of their business.  Those kinds of commitments are not always easy to see, so brands need to make sure they are at the forefront. 


            Let’s take a look at some stats recently released by eMarketer to get a better picture of where this generation stands:


  • Just 42% of Gen Z said that they trust companies.  This was lower than millennials (50%), though trust has fallen among both groups since 2018 (Salesforce).
  • Only 48% of Gen Zers worldwide thought businesses were having a positive impact on society (Deloitte).
  • Only 53% of Gen Zers said brands in general came across as authentic, much lower than the 61% of millennials who said the same (Salesforce).
  • Gen Z is more likely to respond favorably to advertising and marketing that shows real customers representing diverse audiences—and to identify with content that’s realistic and doesn’t appear overly polished (Salesforce).
  • Gen Zers are increasingly uncomfortable with how companies use their personal information and are becoming savvier and more cautious about what they divulge.
  • They are less likely than older generations to feel comfortable seeing ads that have been personalized for them based on personal data that had been collected (W2O).
  • Most still say they want personalization from brands to which they are loyal (Data Axle and Survey Monkey). 
  • Nearly equal shares of Gen Zers and millennials (59% versus 57%) already feel they’ve lost control over how companies use their personal information (Salesforce). 
  • Just 39% of Gen Z trusted brands to protect their information once they opted to share it (Fluent).

            Another noteworthy fact about Gen Zers is that they like shopping in brick-and mortar shops.  They are not opposed to online shopping, in fact they like having the technology at their fingertips, as that is really all they have ever known.  However, they enjoy the basic retail experience.  They like browsing, they like their purchases in hand immediately and they also like to make spontaneous purchases.  Now, this preference could simply be a result of Gen Zers having more available leisure time, as well as not having a credit card yet.  So this could change as they age, but that remains to be seen. 


      But this might prove to be the secret formula for saving small businesses.  Small businesses are always struggling, and now even more so as a result of the pandemic.  However, Gen Z would prefer to frequent small Mom & Pop shops, especially those that are local.  They believe that smaller equals more trustworthy.  Bonus points if they use locally-sourced materials and are environmentally sustainable.  And the more pleasant the shopping experience is, the more they will come back.  Since Gen Zers are so tech-savvy, they are also not shy about supporting small businesses by sharing their favorites on social media.  And that goes both ways, as Gen Z will look to those they follow for recommendations.              


            Gen Z wants to save the world and they can sniff out BS a mile away.  So if you really want to connect with this crowd, you need to do research and find out both what makes them tick and what sparks their trailblazing mindset, without coming across as phony.  Be authentic, create an innovative and interesting in-person shopping experience and prove to Gen Z that you are worthy of their trust.     


Stephanie Bariatti works as a Consultant and Project Manager for SMB Media Consulting.  She has had extensive experience with many facets of advertising and media, having worked for and with creative agencies, production companies and research departments.  She lives in New York with her wonderful husband, three lovable little boys and a snuggly Golden Retriever.