The kids are all right: Is 2021 the year of Gen Z?
As Gen Z grows in size and influence, brands need to understand this diverse demographic more deeply.

Group of teenagers holding cellphones.

Sorry millennials: Your time as the hot demographic is coming to a close. As millennials move into their thirties and forties, companies looking to reach young adults are zeroing in on an elusive new demographic: Gen Z. While Gen Z has been in the news for a few years, Argyle is predicting that 2021 is the year Gen Z goes mainstream.

First of all: who is Gen Z? While defining a generation is not an exact science, most demographers define Gen Z as those born between 1996 and about 2010. Gen Zs are in their teens and early twenties, represent about 25 percent of the population, and enjoy purchasing power of about $50 billion in Canada and $143 billion in the US. That doesn’t take into account their significant impact on household buying decisions.

Savvy companies are shifting their business strategies to better understand these young consumers. Let’s dig in.

Z stands for…

Digital savvy and mobile-first: This generation was born into the digital space, coming of age with a smartphone in hand. News and information come primarily from digital and social media, but these consumers know that they can’t blindly believe what they read online and seek out reputable sources for their news. They also use their phones and social media to communicate with friends in lieu of face-to-face time, even pre-pandemic. Despite growing anxieties that may be connected to their online lives, surveyed 22-27-year-olds described digital as having a positive impact on their friends, family and romantic relationships, empowering them to be more informed. (Leger/Le CIEL)

Social (media) dominance: The World Economic Forum found that in 2018, Gen Z spent almost three hours a day on social media . Closer to home, a July 2020 Ryerson University study showed 18-24 year-olds as the largest adopters of social networks, leading in use of Instagram, Snapchat and Tiktok. Gen Z users are are scrolling daily, viewing content and communicating with their peers and brands who know how to engage this generation can create long-standing brand affinity.

Purpose-driven and conscious consumers: As brands begin to focus more strongly on Gen Z, the sense that these companies are “right” or “just” will begin to matter more than ever to a generation that votes with its dollars—even more than millennials. Research suggests that appealing to them means going beyond corporate social responsibility; it means demonstrating real impact on issues that matter to them. Authentic narratives and performance on sustainability, diversity and inclusion can be the difference between a loyal Gen Z customer or employee base and lost traction with young consumers and workers.

So, how does a brand communicate with Gen Z effectively?

Consider channel and message: Targeting Gen Z on the same platforms with the same messaging you’re using for their parents (Gen X) or even their older siblings (millennials) risks missing the opportunity. Message and platform testing can be crucial in your narrative hitting the mark.

But remember that Gen Z values individuality: In every generation, there is no one dominant set of values — and Gen Z is a highly heterogeneous demographic. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to communicating with Gen Z. As social targeting gets more sophisticated, gone are the days of a blanket push to all members of a certain age group. Looking at psychographics and interests first, and age group second, will help you to align your brand with young consumers who value an individualized message. This personalized experience also extends into work in influencer marketing: a Morning Consult study found Gen Z values authenticity more than reach in the creators they follow, paving the way for micro-influencers to have a strong voice in reaching this generation.

If you back a cause, do the work: As above, Gen Z skews toward conscious consumption and is savvy enough to know when a brand is backing a social movement mainly for marketing purposes. Brands that invest superficially in social causes can be skewered for empty virtue-signalling or performative allyship which can have a real impact on Gen Z’s perception and purchase intent for years to come.

Why Z?

While Gen Z may not be a target for all brands (or not yet), it’s never too early to get ready – as these citizens and consumers represent every brand’s future. At Argyle, we work with brands across industries to research and understand audiences more deeply, craft compelling narratives around authentic actions, and develop strategies to build the relationships that drive reputation, brand and business outcomes.

Are you ready to engage, communicate and lead in reaching Gen Z? Let’s chat!

 

Amy Gingerich is a Senior Consultant on the Argyle team who advises and implements strategy for food, tech and lifestyle clients as they communicate with consumers.

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