Gen Z Goes Old School
Two data points reveal an interesting contradiction about Gen Z. First, when they shop, they do their homework. They're very informed about deals and points, and don’t like to buy before they’ve examined their options. Second, they spend a lot of time doing that research on a brand’s owned properties — i.e., its websites, mobile apps and social media platforms.
In other words, contrary to their stated dislike of marketing (which is never popular in surveys anyway), Gen Z consumers actively seek out what a brand is saying about its own products. The reasons behind this are murky, but a review of popular new brand websites pointed to a number of factors that are likely pushing Gen Zers in this direction. These factors offer some strategies for brands trying to connect with these young, modern and savvy consumers.
Gen Zers want to know everything they can about a product or service and the company that provides it before they buy. Smart brands realize this is a void they can fill. Amazon.com and Walmart are good at this, but restrictive content platforms have a natural limit on what they can display. If a brand has a story beyond this, it needs a place to tell it.
The new Essential website, for example, leads off with a personal note from the company's founder (and Android inventor) Andy Rubin, explaining why he felt the need to add a new phone to a crowded market. The site has expansive product descriptions and brief articles in which team members give their unscripted thoughts on what they were trying to achieve with certain features. As a result, the brand’s potential customers gain a deep understanding of what they’re buying and why the company has created it.
In an era where peer reviews are everywhere and any lie can lead to major blowback, many brands have scaled back their claims and tried to expose as much information as possible about their products. This is another reason why Gen Z is attracted to owned properties: messaging. Patagonia long ago pioneered this concept with its Footprint Chronicles, but even fast-food brands like McDonald’s are dealing with concerns about the quality of their products by creating nutritional calculators.
Almost all — a whopping 94 percent — of Gen Z thinks that companies should address social and environmental issues. They want to know what brands stand for and, more importantly, they want to see those values in practice. That’s why brands like Shinola expose their philosophies and show them in action. The maker of everything from watches to handmade bicycles proudly touts its Detroit heritage and provides plenty of behind-the-scenes photos of its workshops, as well as interviews with front-line employees.
According to one report, 76 percent of teen Gen Z shoppers value quality over coolness. That’s why many newer, forward-thinking brands are showing off their commitment to craft. Mission Workshop, which proudly displays its warehouse factory in San Francisco’s Mission District, has built a cult following by making messenger bags and technical packs that are so durable they come with a lifetime warranty.
Let’s not forget that Gen Z loves a good deal. They're 22 percent more likely than Gen Y to receive in-app notifications offering deals and discounts. And it’s not just about money. Gen Z’s favorite brands deliver value well beyond a product. Therefore, they often visit owned properties to see what kind of education, support and other content they’ll get as part of that brand community once they buy.
Put simply, don’t overlook your branded properties with Gen Z. They may not be sexy, but they’re a vital component of any retail strategy. More than previous generations, young, savvy shoppers are likely to show up at your doorstep and poke around, trying to figure out what you’re about and what you’re willing to do for them as customers. If you manage to prove your worth and demonstrate your values, you may turn them into loyal customers faster than you think.
Thomas Stelter is vice president of emerging solutions at POSSIBLE, a digital strategy, performance marketing and creative design agency.
Related story: Gen Z and the Transformation of Online Shopping