6 Gen Z Characteristics That Brands Need To Know

By May 1, 2019

Generation Z (born from 1995 ‚Äì 2015) is the first generation of digital natives and as the next generation of consumers, they bring new spending power and influence, and might just be your next customer!

This is particularly true for education institutions like colleges and universities where Gen Z is your target market, as well as hospitality and leisure providers who can grow by tapping into these new consumers. Equally many emergency services and local authorities have a responsibility to engage and educate this new generation of citizens.

But just how well do you know Gen Z and how to engage them on social media?

To shine a light on who Gen Z are, what they care about, and what they expect from brands, we invited Alice Bresciani from multi award-winning agency We Are Social to yesterday’s webinar.

Big thank you again to Alice for sharing her research into Gen Z and it was great to see so many familiar faces joining us live – if that was you, we hope you enjoyed the session! For those who couldn’t join us live, you can catch up on all the action here.

In today’s blog we’re sharing a round up of the 6 key findings from this research and the actionable tactics brands can start adopting to help connect with Gen Z.

Previous assumptions about Gen Z

So let’s start with what we already know. While there isn’t heaps of research about Gen Z, there are some studies that suggest they generally have the following traits:

  • More clean cut than previous generations
  • They’re entrepreneurial activists devoted to social good
  • They spend all their time online

Now there’s likely some truth in this, but as Alice said, it also seems a little too good to be true…

The We Are Social Gen Z Study

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The team at We Are Social knew there was more to this generation than most quantitive surveys were capturing. So they devised an ethnographic study that saw them spend a full day with twelve 17-23 year olds to really understand what this generation believe in and why.

The team visited their houses, looked in their wardrobes, went with them to social events or activities, and discussed their views on a whole host of topics.

To ensure the findings were fully representative, the 12 participants invited were from different backgrounds, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and locations.

The results showed 6 key characteristics that not only help us to understand this generation better, but can help brands to learn why their campaigns may or may not be working and how they can ensure greater success with this audience!

1. Conscious Contradiction

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The first thing they noticed about Gen Z was that they will happily contradict themselves and their views are often tricky to pin down. For instance, they might disagree with a brand’s morals yet still follow them on social media or still buy from them.

This fluidity can be difficult for brands to manage because generally organisations want people to buy their products/services but also for people to like their brand. But for Gen Z the two are not mutually exclusive and so brands might have to pick whether they prioritise their brand image or revenue. For now, often needs win over morals because the need is greater than the feeling around it and so even if Gen Z’s don’t love your brand, if you’re selling a great product they will likely still buy.

2. Learn and Unlearn

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Having grown up in a world of fake news, Gen Z also have sharper filters on information and are quick to critically analyse content they read online or learn in school.

They know there isn’t one single version of the truth and therefore they challenge what’s given to them and often unlearn what they’ve been taught in favour of doing their own independent learning. This is possible because unlike previous generations they have access to so much more information on the internet that they can use to educate themselves.

This impact is particularly clear when we look at YouTube and Instagram where lots of the most popular content is educational and Gen Z are DIY-ing more than ever.

This is a great opportunity for brands to tap into and ideas like these can work well:

  • Using your social media channels to teach new skills
  • Creating real-life experiences by bringing Gen Zs together to learn from each other and respected influencers
  • Challenging your Gen Z audiences and creating space for critical thinking and debate!

3. United and Divided

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In terms of social preferences, Gen Zs associate themselves with much smaller tribal identities where they can interact in intimate spaces and express themselves amongst like-minded people.

Technology has evolved to support these more intimate interactions like Whatsapp group chats, private Facebook groups, and Finsta (private Instagram accounts that only close friends and family can see and are generally not curated). These unfiltered communities make Gen Z’s feel closer and and more united than ever on specific interests, locations, or identities.

But for brands this means that although you might be a multinational organisation, you have to find ways to connect on a smaller scale. That might mean:

  • Opening Whatsapp and Instagram messaging as channels for 1-1 communication
  • Broadcasting less and focusing on smaller conversations on social media
  • Creating private Facebook groups to share information and discussion on specific interest areas

4. Valuing Permanence

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The fourth characteristic the We Are Social team noticed was that they really treasure physical memories and keep-sakes like old tickets, photos and gifts.

In a world where most of their lives are online and changing at such a pace, these physical reminders are really precious and help them to feel grounded throughout the change.

For brands this should serve as a reminder that although online experiences are important, it’s key to continue the conversation offline where possible and create real-life relationships. This could be through merchandise, building pop-up stores, or hosting meet ups with your chosen influencer.

5. Inverse Influence

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When it comes to influencers, those with a really large following like Zoella are actually more of a turn off to Gen Z than local smaller influencers. Many of the people interviewed as part of the research said that they tend to stop following influencers when they become too famous because they’re no longer relatable and have lost their credibility to sponsorship deals.

So instead if you want to harness the power of an influencer, keep it local and focus on specific communities with earner credibility rather than trying to appeal to broader audiences as you might disengage Gen Z!

Interestingly, when asked who they look up to, most of the participants mentioned their parents. They said they’ve either learnt a skill or quality that they value from their parents and have formed a stronger connection because of those shared interests or experiences.

This is a massive opportunity for brands where the parent-child relationship has been largely ignored in advertising. Instead brands would be smart to consider how they can bring parents into their campaigns and get parents bought into their brand!

6. Hyper Hybrids

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Lastly, the team noticed that Gen Z’s are very fluid and that goes beyond the self to impact how they interact with the world around them.

In particular they like unexpected collaborations between seemingly contrasting brands who share a similar ethos or ideology and challenge convention. This could be a luxury fashion brand collaborating on a clothing collection with a high-street retailer like H&M and Versace, or even a collaboration between a rapper and a chef for instance.

Gen Z’s personalities are multi-faceted and so collaborations can more accurately reflect their hybrid interests. So consider how your organisation could surprise and delight with an unexpected partnership with a complementary brand!

Once again thanks to Alice for sharing her fantastic research with us and we hope that everyone who joined us live enjoyed the session! We’d love to hear if you’re adopting any of these ideas to engage your Gen Z audience – let us know @CrowdControlHQ or by email to!