Generation Z has been shown to do things a bit differently than its predecessors when it comes to engaging with brands and entrusting influencers. New research from global consulting firm OC&C Strategy Consultants now reveals this group has much higher expectations than previous generations when it comes to style and uniqueness, and is heavily influenced by celebrities and social media.

The firm’s new report, A Generation Without Borders, a highly detailed analysis involving 15,500 respondents in nine countries, paints a compelling picture of the buying habits and factors influencing the purchasing decisions of a generation that is already 30 percent of the worldwide population and responsible for 7 percent of spending—a figure that will grow quickly over the next decade.

Key takeaways from the study, conducted with support from audience analysis firm Viga, include:

  • Gen Zers are more likely than previous generations to demand their clothing be “stylish” and “unique.” Gen Zers were 7.2 percent more likely than previous generations to say that having a unique style is “very important” to them.
  • Gen Zers are more likely to be influenced in purchasing decisions by celebrities and friends than earlier generations, which may underscore the need of brands to court major influencers with large followings on Instagram, Twitter, etc.
  • While Gen Zers are interested in reducing waste and they cite the importance of reducing single-use plastic packaging, Gen Z in the U.S. are actually more concerned than previous generations with social justice (equal rights, community welfare and diversity).

Compared with older generations, Gen Z respondents showed the greatest similarity in behavior and attitudes across all nine countries surveyed.

New Gen Z study reveals true influencers—and implications for communicators

Implications for communicators

“It’s vital for brands to examine the behaviors and expectations of the next generation of global consumers. OC&C’s research shows that the way they interact with brands, celebrities and each other is fundamentally different from the millennial and older generations. Businesses that ignore these changes do so at great risk,” said Coye Nokes, partner at OC&C, in a news release.

“Businesses should take note of their increased consciousness and ethical standards, both when supplying products and services, and also to attract Gen Zers to their workforce. Reviewing the supply chain, CSR initiatives and company values should be at the forefront of business marketing,” Nokes added.

New Gen Z study reveals true influencers—and implications for communicators

In order to effectively respond to the challenges of serving Gen Z, OC&C presents several action points based on implications of the study—and the companies that are getting it right. They include:

Think global

Retailers must recognize that Gen Z consumers are increasingly international, so retailers must set themselves up for rapid reactive production and be able to adjust tone of voice as they seek to engage different ‘tribes.’

Optimize options

Technology should allow the consumer maximum product personalization and customization, to facilitate engagement with major brands while still expressing individuality. For example, NikeID customization tool has been a huge success. Through limited editions and collaboration, mainstream brands can appeal to the Gen Z desire for unique products with less radical changes. Clothing brands such as H&M have made collaborations a cornerstone of their product strategies.

Experience is key

Pop-up stores, like those recently created by Chanel at cafes and gaming centers in Asian cities, showcase products in a fresh setting and link the brand to new, fun partners and venues.

Leverage the network effect

Online platforms—particularly brand-specific ones—should engage and highlight a product’s ‘superfans,’ while allowing conversations and shared photos. Sephora has a vibrant online community with conversations about personal care and other issues. Peer-to-peer, social selling models are more powerful for this digital generation and are an increasingly important component of a brand’s business model.

Appeal to sustainability and social justice

As socially conscious consumers, Gen Z have high expectations of brands to respect and even advocate the causes they support. It is key for brands to be authentic with their values and make them part of the company DNA, not just marketing language.

New Gen Z study reveals true influencers—and implications for communicators

A generation without borders

Compared with older generations, there are greatest similarities in behaviors and attitudes in the Gen Z respondents of all nine countries surveyed. This suggests a homogenizing effect that is almost certainly being driven by technology—the internet and social channels make it ever easier for this online generation to share ideas and access the same information and media. Brands providing access to the same products and services across markets and the power of truly global celebrities and influencers appear to be playing their part in this trend too.

As a result of this trend, retailers and brands should look to target these cross-border tribes and segment their customer base by similar attitudes rather than—or as well as—traditional demographics.

New Gen Z study reveals true influencers—and implications for communicators

Under the influence vs. the need to stand out

Influence is pivotal in the life of Gen Z. They report higher levels of influence on their life choices than older generations, and are more likely to be influenced by friends and celebrities too.

This online sphere of influence is disrupting traditional purchasing journeys—Gen Zers are more likely to purchase through mobile apps, social media, and bloggers than Millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers. This younger generation diverges from traditional sources of brand discovery, too. Just 8 percent of Gen Z selected seeing new brands when out shopping as the inspiration for a purchase, compared to 17 percent of Gen X and 24 percent of Baby Boomers.

Despite the appearance that Gen Z finds inspiration and identity through friends and celebrities, a core group of Gen Zers (25 percent) believe it is important to have a unique view on style, hobbies and creativity. “Retailers should look to provide more personalization and customization services to satisfy this generation’s appetite for exclusivity,” Nokes added. “Limited edition mainstream ranges are another tactic that businesses can employ to reach this generation.”

Conscious consumption

We saw conscious consumption go mainstream with Millennials, and Gen Z appears to be continuing the trend. While issues surrounding animal welfare, equality, diversity and human rights are most important to Gen Z overall, the data reveals national differences that appear to directly reflect the political climate of the country. In China, Gen Z are more concerned by human rights issues, while American Gen Zers (the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in the U.S.) are most committed to solving diversity issues.

New Gen Z study reveals true influencers—and implications for communicators

One quarter of Gen Z say they consciously buy products that can be used repeatedly and more than a third try to buy and keep what they truly need. Sustainably sourced products are also high on the agenda for Gen Z, with 13 percent ‘selecting products on the basis of sustainability,’ compared to just 9 percent of Gen X.

This consciousness will also translate into the workforce as Gen Zers are likely to battle with their internal consciousness and desire to ‘do something meaningful’. This is the time for retailers to develop their ethical stances to engage this generation.

Read the full report here.

The study covered nine countries; Brazil, China, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Turkey, UK and the US, and several consumer sub-sectors, including; apparel, beauty, grocery, alcohol and eating out. In addition to quantitative survey-based research which involved 15,500 respondents, bespoke discussion panels for Gen Zers aged 16 to 21 in the UK, US and China were used to understand these consumers in even greater detail.

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