We’ve seen studies labelling them as, amongst other things, entrepreneurial, activists devoted to social good. So, as the generation that is set to be the most financially powerful and diverse demographic comes of age, we wanted to get under their skin and find out what they’re really like, how they form and maintain connections, both online and offline, and understand what is meaningful to them.
It turns out that Generation Z is a paradoxical generation, shaping their world view in what seems like a kaleidoscope of contradictions. They are trying to make sense of the polarized world they find themselves in, a hyper-connected world. They are forging new identities by fracturing the cultures that preceded them, whereby they form communities around niche subcultures.
We discover some aspects that are part of this new Generation Z identity:
Multifaceted, not one-dimensional
They don’t see themselves in binary terms anymore—they can be many things all at once. This fluidity doesn’t just apply to sexual orientation or gender, but also to their wider interests.
Individuals see themselves as hybrids, not one-dimensional: engineer/artist or graphic designer/mom. Identity is no longer single-minded. A fact to keep in mind is that 20% do not consider themselves exclusively heterosexual, when in previous generations this percentage was 10%.
The hybridization of trends and interests - the combination of two totally unexpected brands, personalities or cultures - appeals to Generation Z. They love spontaneous collaborations between talents with different skill sets. The result is a newly generated perspective that they can incorporate into their own identity.
“I love collaborations between musicians and between make-up artists. Like the one between James Charles and Jeffree Star, who is also a musician. Or the one between James Charles and The Dolan Twins, who are comedians. I have started following the Dolan Twins too after that collaboration. They are funny. I enjoy when unexpected people team up. You can always learn something from them." Lucía, 19 years old.
Implications for brands
- We’re seeing team-ups between unexpected brands gain traction, and get attention, across everything from music to fashion.
- It's a priority to think about what statement we want to make and design the collaboration around it. For example in the collaboration between Alexander Wang and Adidas, where the brands flipped the Adidas logo to challenge perception, adding a layer of subversion.
- Collaborations must be perceived as authentic, add value to both brands involved and create something unique, otherwise Generation Z won't see the appeal.
Contradiction is accepted
It is becoming increasingly difficult for anyone to take a stand on complex and/or conflicting issues due to the sheer volume of content on the Internet and the pressure to condense much of it into a nice, neat 5-second, 280-character package.
It is not surprising, therefore, that we have the feeling of living in a more polarized world than before, where being a member of the "other side" is enough to provoke annoyance and unleash hatred. It is a phenomenon known as "moral tribalism", and it is not limited to the political sphere. Brands also intervene in these areas, such as Heineken's Worlds Apart campaign.
Generation Z is comfortable with contradiction. They feel good about seeing both sides of an argument. We observed how they can say they "hate" a brand but consume it anyway.
They claim to be very socially conscious, but they would still follow brands that have been in the middle of social media storms due to their unethical actions. Take L’Oréal, who dropped their first trans model in 2018 following previous controversial comments made on social channels: “Munroe Bergdorf is one of my biggest inspirations… but I really like L’Oréal’s Instagram page so I would consider following them despite the scandal.”
Music consumption provides another great example, this generation listen to more diverse music than ever before with 97% of Gen Z females saying they listen to at least five musical genres on a regular basis.
Implications for brands
- Gen Z are still shaping their point of view on the world. As we’ve seen, their relationship with a brand can be a complex, love/hate affair. They use brands as a way of figuring themselves out and leverage the ones they love as a form of expression.
- The idea of playing an active role in your brand—e.g. shaping product direction or Corporate Social Responsibility policies—will be important to them. Interacting with them through the likes of co-creation campaigns will have impact, letting them feel they’ve contributed. This will help to foster brand love.
- Even if Gen Z views and values are at odds with yours, as a brand, that doesn’t mean they won’t buy your products.
- Brands need to understand their own priorities—to be the brand they talk about but don’t buy, or the brand they buy but don’t talk about. Accepting the contradiction will allow brands to embrace the role they play and focus efforts according to priorities.
United by common interests
We are living through a period of great change. We have never been more open to discussions about diversity and inclusion, yet we find ourselves with a cultural gap between clashing generations.
That's brought a whole load of uncertainty to Generation Z. The potential for conflict has increased, leading this young generation to look for spaces where they can come together and feel safe in the way they see things, the way they talk about them and how they behave.
So, Generation Z is looking for safe areas where they can be free to discuss ideas openly and without risk of censorship or being accused of or being accused of oversensitivity. For these reasons, Generation Z has begun to focus on small groups of friends who influence them. Because they recognize division of all kinds (race, equality, socioeconomic) their response is to seek unity in smaller, easier-to-reach places.
Of course, this behavior also carries over into their digital world. There is the phenomenon of 'finstas', (fake Insta profiles that Generation Z creates to share moments of their honest lives, in of their honest lives, in contrast to the edited version on their main Instagram profiles.
Then there are the private Facebook groups and other types of communication, such as those like "niche memes"- joking social content-designed to appeal to a small number of people who "get" the creator.
Nadya Okamoto, summed it up nicely in her SXSW 2019 talk. She noted that finstas represent small tribal identities, and because they are unfiltered, Generation Z feels closer to the people they connect with on these accounts. "I created my finsta a year or two ago. I have a lot of things that I find funny that I didn't want to post on my real Instagram [...] only my close friends are on it. A lot of people have finstas, everyone kind of blends in a little bit." Carlota, 20.
Implications for brands
- The platforms satisfy the need for smaller, more intimate connections. In a blog post on Facebook in March 2019, Mark Zuckerberg said, "I think the future of communication will increasingly move toward encrypted services where people can be confident that what they say to each other is kept secure [...]."
- As Generation Z becomes more concerned with connecting intimately with smaller, more private groups, brands will need to connect on a smaller scale.
- Generation Z is proud of where they come from. They find it positive for a brand to collaborate with emerging talent and demonstrate that it understands that that area is different from others: what makes it unique.
- For local brands, talking about their heritage and provenance goes, but rooted in the "now." Generation Z is interested in the immediate past and the present.
Despite the impersonal nature of social platforms, Generation Z is finding ways to form their own communities and express themselves through these mediums.