Gen Z Is 'Generation Of Contradiction'

Don’t judge a book by its cover might be an apt metaphor for eyeing Gen Z.

A new survey about Gen Z from global consultancy EY provides directional guidance for CPG marketers -- including the insight that those born between 1997 and 2007 aren’t one homogeneous mass of young consumers endlessly promoting themselves on social media.

The survey, of 2,054 U.S. youths ages 12 to 22, was conducted in late 2019.

Among other survey findings, Gen Z is quite concerned about money and incredibly tech-savvy -- in fact, the latter characteristic is basically in their DNA. Add in the fact that 67% of survey respondents agreed that people cannot be trusted, and it’s obvious why transparency from brands is a must, and purpose is pretty much a given.

While 84% of Gen Z say they have a social media account, they use it far more to stay in touch and build connections than for public sharing and self-promotion. And they’re more removed from the post-and-reply feedback loop than older folks might think.

“They don’t see a need to reply. They don’t necessarily fall into that the same way we do,” Marcie Merriman, EY Americas cultural insights and customer strategy leader, tells Marketing Daily. “Social media is a new thing to us. They’ve had it for life. For them, it’s just another communication tool -- and that’s the primary way we see them using it today.”

An exception exists within what the company has identified as the Big Plans, Low Energy segment (18%), who are "thinking they’re going to have the huge wealth and promoting themselves online” -- which could mislead marketers that think all of Gen Z does the same things on social media.

“So if I’m a CPG and I’m doing a lot of research or analysis of this group based on their social media activity, the ones who are putting the most out there -- where the others are just using it to communicate -- aren’t indicative of the whole generation,” says Merriman. “If they’re using them as an indicator of what the generation thinks, they’re going to be way off-base.”

When it comes to aligning brands with purpose, “This is a generation that is continually a bit cynical and skeptical,” says Jonathan Philips, EY Americas consumer products leader. “Those companies that truly have purpose in their brands and deeply ingrained in their organizations -- and pass the sniff test of social media and conversations on those platforms -- will stand to do a lot better.”

But purpose alignment has its limits, given that Gen Z has always had access to information and believes “they are experts on everything, at least in their own heads,” says Merriman. “So when they’re dealing with brands, they’re not necessarily looking for the brand to always personalize for them. Rather, they’re the experts wanting to tell the brands exactly what they want.”

From a product-development standpoint, “that’s where we’re probably going to see some of the CPGs trying to catch up with what we’re seeing in fashion and beauty: the mass ability to customize and do it yourself based upon exactly what you want, and the pull versus the push around that,” Merriman adds.

Since concern about finances is common across the board, one might conclude that Gen Z would be prone to buying private-label CPG products. But Merriman cautions this might not be the case with the Stressed Strivers segment (35%), the high achievers focused on indicators of success.

“Those things could translate into a consumer’s viewpoint of wanting to have things that are more label-oriented or status-oriented. That’s a hypothesis," she says.

“We haven’t seen it test out yet or the reality of it, but it’s something to consider when they talk about the importance of really being on top of the ladder and making the most money and being viewed as successful.”

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