What Brands Need to Know About Gen Z to Reach the New Generation of Consumers

How teens today differ from millennials

Gen Z could not be more different from the millennial generation, according to a new study from ad agency Barkley and FutureCast. The problem, though, is that marketers are already mishandling their approach when it comes to reaching and connecting with the next generation of consumers.

Barkley worked with over 2,000 participants for the "Getting to Know Gen Z: How the Pivotal Generation is Different From Millennials" study, comparing new data with information it's gathered in the past on the millennials. It hopes the results of the study will help brands connect with Gen Z, but also "serve as a road map for understanding the complicated inner workings of teenagers coming of age in the post-digital world."

The key takeaways about Gen Z are that they want to work for their success, they think equality is "non-negotiable," they believe brands need to be real, and they have their own "system of rule and etiquette" for social media.

When it comes to success, 69 percent of teens said that any achievements will come form hard work, not luck, compared with 63 percent of millennials and 58 percent of Gen Xers. Fifty-three percent of Gen Zers feel that success is the most important thing, compared with 46 percent of millennials.

"The similarity is that Gen Z is still all digital all the time and all social all the time," said Jeff Fromm, president of FutureCast. "The difference is that Gen Z wants to work hard for their success. They are not counting on any trophies or ribbons for participation." 

Brands should also be aware that "pivotals," as the report refers to Gen Z, care deeply about human rights and feel that any brand they interact with must make that a priority. According to the study, teens are becoming involved in social activism at an earlier age and because of that want to see more diversity and "real people" in ads compared with other generations.

Finally, when it comes to social media, pivotals spend most time using YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Tumblr and Tinder, with some teenagers checking their social media accounts up to 100 times a day. Millennials are more likely to use Facebook on a daily basis (87 percent) compared with 77 percent of Gen Zers.

"They are not going to be spending the same kind of time and energy on Facebook as millennials did," Fromm said. 

So, what exactly do brands need to know so they don't alienate this up-and-coming generation? Barkley and FutureCast lay out four main points:

  • Shift from playing the hero to playing the supportive role.
  • Support the issues that are at the core of what matters most to teens today.
  • Present reality while allowing pivotals the opportunity to create a unique identity.
  • Utilize various social media platforms to play the right role in pivotals' curated selves.