Gen Z is pre-programmed to aspire to independence and individuality. They were raised by Xer parents who were known for their self-reliance in their own youth and wanted to instill the same qualities in their children. As young kids, Z's were pushed to find their own way; this is in contrast to Millennials, who were heavily supported by helicopter parents.
This attitude among Z’s also stems from their approach to technology. Zs’ are the first generation to grow up online, and that access to the wider world has spurred their self-discovery. Whereas Millennials revel in the Internet’s ability to help them feel connected to their friends and a part of a community, Z’s love technology for its ability to help them express their uniqueness. For modern teens who are in the thick of establishing their personal identities, being an individual includes a few defining characteristics that also represent opportunities for brands.
Creation Not Curation
Millennials have tended to focus on curation to feed their desire to have something shareworthy to post for their peers to see on social media, but Z’s’ primary aim is to grab a few seconds of the spotlight to showcase their one-of-a-kind personality. This has driven them to be creators rather than curators so they’ll have something to display that no one else has. This is reflected not only in the videos, music, and other art and projects they make but also in their desire to personalize and customize the products they buy.
To that point, our research finds that teens would rather have a one-of-a-kind item (63%) than a popular item that everyone has (37%). From customized Nikes to self-designed cell phone covers, today’s teens have come to expect that they can get exactly the product that they want complete with their own touches that reflect their personal style, and they seek out brands that will grant them such freedom of expression.
Another factor in being unique is being the first among their peers to have or do something, from discovering a new YouTube channel to latching onto a cool t-shirt company that has been flying below the radar. Z’s see this as an opportunity to showcase personal interests that their friends may not yet share. Unlike their Millennial counterparts, who like to spread their interests to create a common denominator that connects them to more people, Z’s aren’t worried if their peers adopt their passions.
In fact, they often even prefer them to remain their own personal quirks so as to differentiate them from a large generation of young people. Brands can play a role by helping young people signify when they are early adopters. For example, Spotify created a campaign that let fans of bands announce when they “Found Them First” and were, say, among the first 8% of listeners, others, like Asos, send shoppers notes to commemorate the anniversary of their first purchase with the brand, reflecting on how long they’ve been a loyal shopper.
Z’s are also conscious of maintaining their individuality as they grow and progress through life, and that effort requires a regular influx of new ideas and inspiration. Whereas Millennials are also open to new products and services, they take this approach to help them keep up with the group. However, Z’s are on the lookout for more extreme options that help them stand apart from the crowd. They respect brands that, like them, aren’t afraid to be different and take a bold approach to products and marketing.
Understanding teen Z’s’ motivation to showcase themselves as individuals will help brands better serve them. Their desire to be seen as a unique person is not only key in their daily lives but also a significant factor in their shopping habits, from the brands they support to the products they buy. Rather than expecting teens to join one’s brand tribe, brands should aim to create an environment where young consumers are encouraged to be their own one-of-a-kind selves and reflect their personal brand.