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Gen Z Doesn’t Want to Buy Your Brand, They Want to Join It


Gen Z Doesn’t Want to Buy Your Brand, They Want to Join It

By Mary Ellen Dugan

Gen Z can create personal brands faster and more effectively than any generation that’s come before them. If you represent a brand or agency, that should give you pause for thought.

Gen Z will make up 40 percent of all consumers by 2020. As this generation of digital natives has been building an influencer empire across every social media channel that matters, they’ve also been changing the definition of what it means to be a creative, inserting themselves into the dialogue between brand and consumer in entirely new ways.

I’m not just referring to Gen Z influencers themselves, who are generating a massive amount of social reach and clout. The real change is in the way Gen Z has democratized creativity. Instagram and Snapchat have played a supporting role, but Gen Z’s preference for its own voice has fueled the rise of everything from “plantfluencers” with book deals to NYC penthouses that rent for $15,000 a month specifically for Instagram photo shoots. As experts in these platforms, Gen Z is also using them to build awareness about issues from gun control to inclusion.

This group isn’t waiting for brands to lead on issues. Instead, they’releading. Since movements rarely come with a business case or cost-benefit analysis, marketers must consider how they can partner with Gen Z to become more involved and deliver on the promise of purpose.

Most of this evolution is rooted in Gen Z’s desire for authenticity, which informs their buying habits more than any other generation. They want their style and opinions to be shaped by real people, not necessarily a brand that’s selling something. As part of our annual study of Gen Z, we found that 79 percent of this generation will trust a company more if the images its brand uses are not photoshopped. Also: 84 percent trust a company more if they use actual customers in their ads. Unfortunately for old-school advertisers, marketing to Gen Z is less effective, because this generation doesn’t want to be sold to.

What’s more, purpose matters. There’s a clear demand from Gen Z that brands be socially accountable. That’s why 69 percent of this group are more likely to buy from a company that contributes to social causes, while 33 percent have stopped buying from a company that contributes to a cause with which they disagree.

The good news is that Gen Z wants to be part of the brand experience. If you can provide them with an authentic experience, they’ll participate. If you’re successful, Gen Z won’t just join your journey, they’ll bring you along on theirs, becoming brand ambassadors through their own social channels, while helping you grow your brand as influencers themselves.

Doubt this generation’s ambition or their technical prowess at your own peril. They’re YouTube stars, they’re their own filmmakers, and in many ways, they’re their own personal creative team. Making room for Gen Z and offering them ways to be part of your brand is a great way to tap into their creative spirit—an inroad some major brands are already pursuing.

Gen Z has also found strong entrepreneurial confidence based on their brand-building acumen and aspires to build their own business much more than other generations. They’re also the first generation to express an interest in building a tech business instead of retail, the preference of all other generations.

This group senses their own strengths when it comes to building a successful brand and is quick to flag others that aren’t authentic. They can pinpoint derivative or cliched content faster than anyone else.

This is why the digital experience has become so important for reaching Gen Z. Provide them with content they deem boring or irrelevant, and you’ve lost them. Engage them with personalized content, and the rewards can be plentiful. Boston Consulting Group estimates that during the next five years, personalization alone will shift $800 billion in revenue to the 15 percent of companies that get it right. Performance matters to Gen Z as well. Build a website or app that takes too long to load, and they’re gone. Today’s digital experiences have to be exceptional because members of Gen Z demand it.

It’s also why WP Engine partnered with Ad Age to create the Breakthrough Experience Award, an honor that will be announced at the upcoming A-List and Creativity Awards Gala. The award recognizes a campaign from 2018 that challenged conventional wisdom to create a revolutionary web or digital experience for a brand.

It will be those campaigns that succeed in this new era of creativity. Those that continue to operate the old way will, unfortunately, be left behind.

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