Gen Z and Loyalty
A Gen Zer shares marketing insights on forging meaningful connections with her influential generation.
Young adults who make up Generation Z are largely misunderstood by older generations and the marketers vying for their attention. As a Gen Zer myself, I can tell you — we find it frustrating. So, marketers, listen up. If you want our time and attention, get a grasp on our creative habits, social activism, and interactions with influencers. Doing so is imperative to connecting with us in today’s loyalty landscape.
Painting with a broad-brush, I’d define Generation Z as independent and creative. Born between 1994 and 2006 (approximately), we’ve rapidly gained social influence — even among other age groups — because we aren’t afraid of pushing boundaries. We’re motivated by different priorities than most of our predecessors, and we shatter cultural standards as part of the course of a normal day. Our generation leans toward change and adventure, and we’re comfortable embracing unconventional paths, such as skipping higher education, and starting our own companies and projects before we turn 20.
There’s no such thing as too “out there” for Gen Z. As a group, we value creative experimentation in all forms — a trait that echoes our inclusive group dynamic. Gen Z is the most diverse generation yet, so we expect that multiplicity to be reflected in all we do, including brand interactions.
Time to act fast
Gen Z’s impact on consumer culture is increasing. According to Forbes, our generation is on track to become the largest group of consumers by 2020. Pride in ownership is important to us as well: 70% of Gen Z members earn their own spending money, so we control the people with whom we interact, what products we buy, and which brand experiences are worth our time. And according to a J. Walter Thompson Innovation Group Report, Gen Z creativity — using social apps to express themselves, hacking apps for novel purposes, and more — is a pivot point that loyalty marketers must move on if they plan to keep up with us.
Another Gen Z principle of brand loyalty is fostering our independence. Trying to tie down Gen Z to a brand or program will only backfire. We’re wary by nature, and we don’t trust brands with explicit or aggressive loyalty efforts. Engaging Gen Z in creative experiences is crucial for marketers. Loyalty programs looking to win over Gen Z should leverage our demand that brands be inclusive. Capitalizing on our desire to develop meaningful relationships with our peers and brands, despite digital barriers, motivates loyalty among Gen Z.
Gen Z operates in a state of constant creative curation and collaboration. Nearly 80% of Gen Zers participate in at least one creative activity offline — drawing, writing, and playing instruments, to name a few. And we continue that creative interaction online — editing photos, creating memes, and making videos. We grew up playing with toys and participating in imaginative games with our friends, but we were also introduced to the internet and social media at a young age. That early exposure to technology, and the practiced ability to switch seamlessly between platforms, contribute to Gen Z’s uninhibited embrace of diverse forms.
Add the value we place on collaboration and peer feedback to the mix, and we’re constantly generating creative experiences for ourselves, our friends, and the world. And we expect our brand experiences to mirror our voracious creativity. Vloggers, like 23-year-old David Dobrik, are constantly sharing videos on YouTube, while also recording podcasts, storyboarding, and planning creative events. Loyalty marketing must reflect Gen Z’s creative preoccupations by seamlessly providing a unified experience across all platforms and environments.
Join the rallying cry
Gen Z has a deep and ongoing connection with social causes. We’re conscious of issues that affect niche groups, and we’re motivated to make a difference in the communities about which we’re passionate . Gen Z has little patience for inherited social problems, such as racism, gun violence, and sexuality and gender bias. We grew up aware of these issues at a young age — and we’re steadfast in our belief that the status quo is unacceptable. Indeed, activism is foundational to our creative efforts, because we strive to simultaneously express our creativity while making a positive impact. Being a voice for the voiceless is another common motivator behind our communications. Gen Z recognizes struggle and hardships, and we’re determined to make an impact by breaking societal boundaries and norms.
Lewys Ball, for example, a 20-year-old British YouTuber, became the first male spokesperson for beauty brand Rimmel London in 2017. Ball’s focus on recreating the social narrative around beauty standards is just one example of Gen Z impacting cultural norms and social causes. Other important issues we’re tackling include body positivity and mental-health conversations.
Gen Z appreciates those who rally to our causes. And we’re more likely to engage with socially conscious brands that contribute to the greater good.
Celebrity? Not interested
We love connecting with our peers through influencers — and authenticity is key. That’s how Gen Z influencers gain such large followings, and it’s how brands can gain our trust as well. Yet Gen Z doesn’t expect much from influencers beyond honesty. And we’re savvy at recognizing when content isn’t transparent and real — we grew up with platforms and communication channels that tested this ability.
Many Gen Z influencers maintain a presence on multiple platforms, and each one represents a different part of their personalities. Emma Chamberlain, for example, is an 18-year-old YouTuber whose Instagram — polished and aesthetically pleasing — showcases her passion for beauty and fashion. Yet on Snapchat, Chamberlain frequently uses filters to distort images of her face, and she’s honest with followers about not looking perfect 24/7.
Gen Z values candor about how we all actually look, feel, and act — and that’s why authenticity is so important to us. Furthermore, we view influencers as our friends rather than authority figures. Gen Z doesn’t recognize “celebrity status” in the same hierarchical, role-model way previous generations did. And that goes back to our emphasis on collaboration, community, and relatability. When brands partner with influencers who genuinely support or consume their products, Gen Z often views that as an authentic effort to cater to our needs and loyal brand relationships.
So, what’s the next step?
Understanding Gen Z’s creative habits, activism, and rejection of peer status provides loyalty marketers with insights into this influential and complicated group. We may seem difficult to satisfy, but if you allow us independence, room to be creative, and provide opportunities to make a difference, and if you use down-to-earth messaging and/or influencers to relate to us — the sky’s the limit for our attention and our dollars.
Lauren Tritch served as an account services intern in 2019 for The Lacek Group, a Minneapolis-based, data-driven loyalty, experience and customer-engagement agency that has been delivering personalization for its world-class clients for more than 30 years. The Lacek Group is an Ogilvy company.