Gen Z Marches to Its Own Beat

It’s time for forward-looking marketers to think more seriously about the latest generation of consumers: Gen Z. It’s a mistake to consider them as simply an extension of the next-youngest cohort, Millennials. In many ways, they march to their own distinctive beat.
Generation Z goes by several other labels: the iGeneration, Centennials, Zoomers. Members were born after the late 90s—1997 is commonly referred to as the generation’s earliest birth year. The youngest were born in 2010. Right now, the oldest of them are graduating from university, entering the workforce and making their first big consumer decisions. And they’re a sizeable slice of America’s overall population. In 2019 there were 21,630,000 men and women between the ages of 20 and 24, about 6.6% of the country’s 328 million people. Altogether, there are about 63.5 million members of Gen Z—Americans between the ages of 10 and 24.
According to some sources, Gen Z’s buying power will actually exceed its significant size. MNI Targeted Media Inc. calculates they represent up to 40% of all American consumers in 2020. Business Insider estimates they have a potential spending power of $140 billion.
But when it comes to their financial habits, Gen Zers emphatically part company with older generations. For one thing, they’re better savers. A 2016 study by Lincoln Financial Group revealed that 60% of them already had a savings account and 54% had a checking account—more than other generations at their age. A 2017 study by the Center for Generational Kinetics showed that 21% of Gen Zers had started a savings account before they turned 10. Some think this prudent behavior is the result of living through the 2008 recession and witnessing its effect on their households during their formative years.
Their cautious attitude about spending “is creating a major impact on brands, because Gen Z would rather own something without the logo and spend less than pay for the brand,” according to the Center for Generational Kinetics.
Despite their differences from Millennials, Gen Zers share some characteristics with their slightly older peers. Both groups adapt quickly to new technology and find useful ways to integrate it into their lives and careers.
In other ways, Gen Zers are like Millennials, only more so. They spend even more time on mobile devices and participating in social media than Millennials do.
Here are some Gen Z characteristics for marketers to keep in mind:
  • Their preferred social media sites are those with strong visual elements. YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat are in; Facebook and Twitter are out. Gen Zers prefer watching instead of reading. 71% spend more than 3 hours every day viewing online videos.
  • 88% of Gen Z claims that privacy is very important. It’s crucial to respect the value they place on keeping the digital world at arm’s length. On the other hand, they approve of personalized ads. Opt-in and personal customization options are crucial so they can strike a balance between privacy and consumerism.
  • Gen Zers are socially conscious, and they believe in acting on their beliefs. An MNI study showed that 68% said doing their part to make the world a better place is important to them. 55% of them look for “brands that are eco-friendly and socially responsible.” According to a study by Facebook IQ,, 30% of Gen Zers believe that a commitment to community can help brands communicate more effectively on Instagram and spark meaningful connections. 64% of Gen Zers will pay more for eco-friendly products, and 49% prefer to buy from local or independent retailers (GlobalWebIndex).
  • Gen Z is the most diverse generation America has ever seen. They are hyper-attuned to issues of race, gender and sexual identity. They expect marketing that celebrates heterogeneity and inclusiveness.
  • Gen Z pays attention to influencers. If you can partner with a YouTube star or Snapchat icon, Gen Z viewers are more likely to believe their recommendations than your own promotional material.
  • Gen Z is undoubtedly the generation that will be transformed most profoundly by the pandemic. COVID-19 has disrupted their educational journeys, career opportunities, social and romantic lives, and much more. And the lessons of the pandemic will stay with them. Research from GlobalWebIndex indicates that they are more likely than other generations to continue many of the activities they have adopted during the pandemic.
  • The pandemic has sharpened Gen Z’s sense that they are better together, participating in communities on social media to engage with issues and form strong, lasting personal and professional connections. By creating a space for engagement, brands can understand what matters most to them. As one example, Headspace, a meditation app popular among young people, recently produced a series of posts and Instagram Live videos that offer its followers a forum to share their feelings about pandemic-related issues.
Perhaps the most intriguing quality of Generation Z is its desire for sincerity and aversion to anything that doesn’t pass that test. This preoccupation with authenticity—which has driven them away from traditional celebrities in favor of YouTube influencers—makes them scrutinize the motives of large brands, presenting a challenge for marketing and communications professionals.
That said, “one of the biggest challenges in engaging with Gen Z will be determining how to appear ‘cool’ and change the world while still remaining profitable,” writes near-Gen Z member Fiona Burke of Clyde Group (she was born in 1996). Burke warns, though, that the Gen Z “cool” standard could change over time. “Brands can begin to take steps to align themselves with the proclivities of Gen Z. However, we’ll have to see how Gen Z continues to evolve as they become adults and their proclivities and priorities grow up with them.”