Has Everything Changed? How Pandemic Has Impacted Gen Z Values (Or Not)

Over the past year, I have received a lot of questions about Gen-Zers and the pandemic.  Brands are continuing to struggle to really know this cohort. How has the pandemic changed (or not?) this cohort’s values? Are these shifts here to stay -- and what does that mean?

The Big Acceleration

One of the big “ah-has” is that the pandemic did not create new trends -- but it did kick some of the trends that were already out there into overdrive. Let’s take mental health as an example. Everyone is talking about it now, but Gen Z had been prioritizing and de-stigmatizing mental health and self-care well before the pandemic. This influential cohort would have forced the rest of us to get onboard eventually. But because of the pandemic, mental health became a much larger, sustained conversation sooner than it would have otherwise.

The same goes for digital behaviors. Sure, people were shopping online pre-COVID. Yetthe numbers on ecommerce’s explosive growth are undeniable. Or, consider how gaming has been growing significantly, in part because older users are getting onboard. Gen Z digital behaviors are everyone’s now. They are not going away.



Solidifying Gen Z’s spot in the brand playbook

Another thing brands need to realize is that Gen Z is, irrefutably, a unique generation. Members of Gen Z have distinct core values, which include achievement and self-direction. They engage with media differently, and they have high expectations for brands, employers, and society.

For example, a huge gap exists between how Gen Z thinks about diversity and gender fluidity, and what they are seeing in the marketplace. While we have made progress, many companies aren’t seen as delivering on what young customers are demanding. Just look at retail. The fundamental organizational principle of having a men’s and women’s section can be problematic for younger consumers.

Companies need to realize that Gen Z constituents aren’t kids anymore. Regarding them as such is dismissive and consequential. I am shocked when iconic brands rely on the same messaging and targeting strategies they used to reach boomers. Some are still subscribing to the old-school notion that a person will buy a product because their parents did -- that by building loyalty among older buyers, they are grooming future customers. Scratch that, reverse it: Gen Z influences older generations, not the other way around.

Gen Z was always destined to pave the way for the ideas, behaviors and innovations that defined our culture. The pandemic forced older generations to get onboard with changes faster. Therefore, brands have no time to waste. Gen Z is a legitimate, nuanced cohort. To succeed today, and long-term, you have to make Gen Z consumers feel seen.

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