A computer desk setup with three monitors
PHOTO: Jannis Brandt on Unsplash

Gen Z has only recently joined the workforce, making them a bit more of an unknown at times. But generally, we know they're digital natives in the sense that they've had access to technology and the internet their entire lives.

Born between 1995 to 2010, when it comes to doing business with brands, Gen Z strongly prefers to support brands that have values and ethics they agree with. This article will look at the ways brands are connecting with this young generation, how they're ensuring their values are in alignment and how they see Gen Z impacting their business strategies.

What Are Gen Z’s Characteristics and Core Values?

By 2026, Gen Z will be the largest generation at around 82 million people, according to Business Insider. While earlier generations grew to feel strongly about social causes, Gen Z became socially focused at a very young age and is passionate about social justice issues.

environment

They believe in and care very much about equality. Most members of Gen Z were too young to remember what life was like before 9/11 or even before cell phones. Other characteristics of Gen Z include:

  • Digitally sophisticated
  • Environmentally concerned
  • Ethical shoppers
  • Ultra-focused
  • Values access over possession
  • Racially, sexually, religiously diver­se
  • Financially minded
  • Social media activists
  • Polit­i­cal­ly pro­gres­sive
  • Supportive of women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, BLM movement

For Gen Z, consumption means having access to products or services rather than owning them. Access to car ride services such as Lyft and Uber, streaming video services such as Prime and Netflix and subscriptions to software as a service (SaaS) such as Adobe Cloud is what holds value to Gen Z.

Technology is very important to Gen Z. In fact, Laserfiche polled over 1,000 British Gen Zers between the ages of 21 and 24 and found that 20% have quit their jobs because of “useless technology” they had to use at work. The poll also revealed that 66% of Gen Z believe their personal technology at home is better than what they use at work, a statistic that is surprising considering that so many businesses made it through the pandemic due to digital transformation.

A report from Deloitte indicated that although salary is still the most important factor in deciding on a job, Gen Z values it less than every other generation. In fact, if they are given the choice of accepting a better-paying job that is boring versus a job that is more interesting but pays less, Gen Z was evenly divided over the choice.

Generation Z Values Their Unique Identity

A report from OCAD University revealed that 73% of Gen Z believe they need more self-expression to live a happy, healthy life. Before social media, a person expressed themselves by how they dressed, how they wore their hair, where they worked, the car they drove and the music they listened to, among other things.

inclusion

Gen Z lives a large part of their lives on social media and in online games and metaverses, and this is where they meet friends, express themselves and create their unique identity. It’s also where they receive social validation (i.e., likes, comments, followers) for the things they do both in real life (IRL) and online.

Additionally, social media is the place where they inform their peers about their beliefs and values. Gen Z celebrates a wide variety of unique distinctions, including racial diversity, gender expression, sexual orientation, body sizes and shapes and neurodiversity.

Aneesh Dhawan, CEO of Knit, a Gen Z insights platform and video feedback solution provider, told CMSWire that Gen Z’s sense of self-expression carries forth in their decisions about the brands they choose to do business with.

“With a unique approach to self-expression and identity and as the most ethnically diverse generation, Gen Z is a group that thrives on celebrating differences while maintaining a strong sense of individuality," said Dhawan. "Their purchasing decisions are simply an organic extension of this self-expression. This is why we see 89% of Gen Zers choosing to shop from brands that are socially and environmentally conscious."

Core Brand Values That Attract Gen Z

To attract Gen Z, brands must highlight their commitment to societal challenges such as diversity, environmentalism, sustainability, climate change and world hunger. A brand’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) statement must be something that the brand lives, rather than just espouses.

CSR statements can include a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, reducing environmental impact, increasing community outreach, promoting sustainability and eliminating prejudice and corporate bias.

Gen Z wants to know that the brands they do business with are aligned with their values, both internally and externally. Nabila Salem, president at Revolent, a leader in cloud talent creation, told CMSWire that when people talk about brand values and ethics to Gen Z, it can sometimes look like lip service. “If your values and ethics exist to purely align with theirs, then your business might be missing the whole point of having ethics and values.”

Diversity and inclusion should be a core value for a brand if they want to attract Gen Z as customers or employees. “We’re genuinely committed to diversity and inclusion, both within our organization and the sector we operate in," said Salem. "68% of our tech professionals identify as Arab, Asian, Black, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, Mixed Race or North African, and over two-thirds of our senior leadership team identify as female."

Brands that genuinely care about their values should do so out of a desire to make the world a better place rather than just attract a specific segment of the population.

“While we hope Gen Z will see us as an employer to work for — because we hope our values and ethics align with their own — we did not create these initiatives or make these changes specifically to attract them to our workplace," Salem explained, "we did it to make the sector we work in a fairer place for all. That, to me, is what ethics and values are for."

What Are Brands Doing to Attract Gen Z?

By understanding the changing shopping habits of Gen Z consumers, brands are better prepared to update their customer engagement strategies as consumers return to a new version of normal.

Digital experience — second only to price — is the biggest driver of satisfaction for Gen Z customers. Gen Z is more likely to do their shopping online versus shopping in a brick-and-mortar storefront. According to the recent Verint report, less than 36% of consumers under 40 prefer to visit stores when interacting with retailers. Rather than shop at a store in person, 51% of Gen Z customers are more likely to shop online and then collect in-store or via curbside pick-up.

The report also revealed that 44% of Gen Z shoppers and 43% of Millennials had to expend more effort than expected to complete an interaction, which is likely to be an indication that younger generations have higher expectations for their digital experiences. As such, brands have to ensure that the shopping experience is free of pain points, seamless and smooth from beginning to end.

Jenni Palocsik, VP of marketing insights, experience and enablement at Verint, stated in the report’s press release that “Since Gen Z is the age group most likely to use digital solutions for some, or all, of their purchases, retailers need to ensure their digital experience provides a wide range of suitable products, with seamless purchase processes, to stand the best chance of retaining their business.”

Because Gen Z are digital natives, with a higher level of social media usage than other generations, many brands, such as Dick’s Sporting Goods, Aerie and Doritos, are using social media platforms including TikTok, Instagram and YouTube to attract Gen Z customers with content that showcases and champions diversity, individuality and authenticity.

This type of marketing must be done very carefully, however, because Gen Z is quite capable of detecting disingenuous advertising and marketing and highly dislikes when brands try too hard to sound genuine.

social media

That’s not to say that brands should avoid social media to connect with Gen Z. "A lack of social media presence is a red flag for Gen Z," said Alana Christou, director of operations at Frankel, a Gainesville, Florida-based peer firm. "A brand without a social media/digital footprint presence raises questions."

Christou continued, "Thanks to TikTok, Instagram, etc., Gen Z has had a window into the personal, behind-the-scenes details, thoughts and opinions of friends, family members and complete strangers in a way that no other generation has. And their expectations for brands are the same. You have to be willing to give them a deeper look into your brand and let them into what makes your identity unique to best connect with them."

A Knit 2022 report entitled Gen Z’s Brutal Feedback on Your Marketing is a must-read for brands trying to understand how Gen Z feels about marketing efforts directed towards themselves. The report reveals that 44% of Gen Z said they’d no longer consider a brand that inauthentically partners with a celebrity or influencer to promote their products, and, sadly, only 25% of Gen Z think brands are genuine in their efforts to actually make the world a better place.

“With about $150B in buying power, Gen Zers are using their individuality to shop from brands that understand these values," said Dhawan. "The brands that successfully engage Gen Zers are doing so because they aren’t lumping them all together. They aren’t just marketing based on a widespread identity, instead, they are speaking to specific consumers and honing in on their unique individuality as a generation."

Dhawan told CMSWire that their research has shown that Gen Z actually wants to help brands market to them. “In fact, about 67% of the Gen Zers we surveyed said they were more likely to buy from a brand that asked for their input on marketing or product decisions. This young generation wants to have a seat at the table and brands will yield better results if they can find a way to effectively collaborate.”

Final Thoughts on Gen Z's Personal Values 

Gen Z is a digitally sophisticated generation that values its unique identity and diversity. Brands that genuinely live the values they espouse, provide an exceptional digital experience and promote a diverse and inclusive workplace are more likely to attract and retain Gen Z customers.