q & a

Gen Z's Favorite Word? Unique

As the spending clout of Gen Z solidifies, marketers are trying to sort out what sets these kids apart from Millennials. Turns out they’re not just different — they’re unique, or at least, they want to think they are. And with the leading edge of Gen Y shifting to wrinkle cream and receding hairlines, experts say it’s time to catch up with these Z-sters, now galloping through high school and college. Jeff Fromm, partner at Barkley, an ad agency based in Kansas City, and author of several books on Millennials, fills Marketing Daily in on what makes these young consumers -- born from the mid-1990s on -- special.

Q: Conventional wisdom is that these kids are less impressed with brands than Millennials. Would you agree?

A: No, and this is a real shift. We’re getting ready to release large-scale research on this group, and our early read is that Gen Z is actually reversing a trend. They’re willing to pay a little more for a brand and products consistent with their image, more than Millennials. And that seems to be rooted in their desire to be seen as unique. Millennials would often be just as comfortable with a store brand. But with Gen Z, if a product will help them in that uniqueness, they’re willing to pay a small premium.



Q: Could you elaborate? 

A: Our research has shown that Millennials are a little less brand conscious than prior generations, so Gen Z is reversing this. But it’s not quite accurate to say that Millennials don’t care about brands — they do. They are capable of processing a ton of information from many sources about brands. But I think it’s better to characterize them as sort of day traders. They go to Starbucks. They may like Chipotle. But while they may trade up for Angry Orchard at the bar, they’re also likely to trade down for toilet paper. When the brand value is weak, they’ll trade. 

Q: How important is it, seeming unique?

A: Very. One in three say they’d rather be seen as unique than real. 

Q: What does “unique” mean to them?

A: They love customization. You see it in footwear trends and in food service. And you can see it at places like Starbucks, where they can personalize everything. 

Q: What kind of advertising do they like?

A: They prefer ads with diversity and family, and they don't like perfect people. They expect the world to be multicultural. They want to see ads that are representative.

Q: Is Gen Z having an impact on their parents?

A: Well, we know Millennials have, so we expect Gen Z will, too. Millennials have had a real impact on Gen X and Baby Boomers. Having a kid who is really into tech or music, for example — even if the kid is 28 — brings those parents along. Millennials are having an impact on the financial behavior of their parents, too. So yes, it may come easier for an 18- to-25-year-old to figure out how to check in on a flight via mobile, but it’s not that hard. Their parents can catch on.

There is a narrowing of generations. We see a much greater influence than ever before because we’re all connected. And there seems to be a natural closeness between younger generations and older generations.

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