As the more than 2.4 billion members of Gen Z mature, their unique value system is set to redefine marketing. Many of them have inherited the wisdom of Boomers, the independence of Gen X and the confidence of Millennials, while developing their own “me is we” worldview. Gen Zers see themselves as part of something greater. By accepting and uplifting others, they see themselves rising too.

Understanding what makes these individuals different is quickly becoming essential for marketers: Gen Z is already estimated to influence $143B in spending in the U.S. alone.

This article will focus on Gen Z members age 18–24, those with the most direct spending power, and look at how to effectively connect with this group by embracing its values around inclusivity, curiosity, reciprocity and global unity.

Advancing inclusivity

Gen Z often sees its diversity as an asset—this is the most diverse generation in US history, and its members like seeing representation beyond conventional constructs. In fact, 71% say they would like to see more diversity in advertising. Gen Z’s dedication to embracing all lifestyles influences how it expects to be represented in the media.

Here’s what diversity means to members of Gen Z, in their own words.

“It has to be authentic diversity, not just brand image.” 

“It’s a new world. Keep up with the times or get left behind. Everyone wants to and should be included.”  

“It’s not so much about representing women and men equally, but destroying our preconceptions of what it means to be male or female.”

“All people are equal and it’s about time we start acting and treating each other that way. Gender, race and religion doesn’t define you.” 

Channeling curiosity

Gen Z faces an onslaught of information: In fact, 43% of Gen Zers surveyed say they find it difficult to choose what to watch, listen to and read. Having grown up in a world where information is as close as their phone, it is perhaps no surprise that Gen Zers are inquisitive. When it comes to how they feed their curiosity and where they find inspiration, many Gen Zers navigate this world by developing strategies that incorporate multiple sources of influence and leverage different channels to serve different needs.

For example, Instagram plays an important role in helping Gen Zers deepen their passions and connect to the bigger picture. They use the platform to explore their interests and they expect brands to get involved in the cultural conversation. Gen Zers nurture and maintain their online presence to represent their most genuine selves, from the spontaneous sharing of stories to candidly messaging with brands, giving marketers the opportunity to listen and partake.

Some of the top interests Gen Zers say they follow on Instagram:

  1. Music
  2. Fashion
  3. Travel
  4. Food and drinks
  5. Movies

Gen Zers see Instagram as a place for interacting with:

  1. Celebrities
  2. Influencers
  3. Brands
  4. Friends and family

On Instagram and other platforms, brands can connect with Gen Zers in their universal native language: visuals. Whether that’s stories, emojis, stickers or all of the above, the content doesn’t need to be overly polished.

Seeking reciprocity

While they prize their individuality, Gen Zers also crave the connections that communities create, which may explain why there are over 10M+ groups on Facebook, with 1.4B people using them every month. People build communities around shared expertise, passions, beliefs and situations. And the research shows that healthy communities thrive on reciprocity, as members both give and receive the benefits of belonging. In a similar vein, Gen Zers are willing to welcome brands into their online communities—as long as the brands offer a genuine value exchange.

By offering Gen Zers things like exclusive experiences (in-store events exclusively for Gen Zers), behind-the-scenes content or opportunities for collaboration, you can connect with Gen Zers through the interests, passions and causes that drive them. And don’t forget the power of personalized interactions. In fact, 60% of Gen Zers surveyed wish they could communicate with more businesses via messaging.

Championing “From me to we”

Gen Z’s core values of inclusivity, curiosity and reciprocity culminate in a unique worldview. This “from me to we” mindset reflects the fact that Gen Zers are very much aware of the wider world around them and understand how their actions can affect those beyond where they live. This sense of connection can be seen in the fact that the majority of Gen Zers (61%) say they consider themselves global citizens.

This generation often puts aside its differences and rallies around causes that will benefit the greater good. Gen Z expects brands to do the same, to live their own values and to offer value. In fact, 68% of Gen Zers expect brands to contribute to society.

61% say they would pay more for products that are produced in an ethical and sustainable way

77% say they feel more positive toward a brand when it promotes gender equality on social media

45% say they feel represented in the ads they see when it comes to diversity

Members of Gen Z find gratification in evolving their identities from “me” to “we.” These digital-savvy younger consumers tend to deeply value inclusivity, community and building a better world. The brands that demonstrate altruistic values and communicate authentically will be the ones to connect most meaningfully with this generation.

What it means for marketers

  • Lead with your values. To resonate with Gen Z, you may wish to explore how you can give back in ways that are both meaningful to Gen Zers and make sense for your brand. Perhaps this means creating sustainable products, supporting local artisans or taking a stand on a major issue that Gen Zers care about. Draw inspiration from some of the nonprofits on Facebook and discover how a shared belief can mobilize a generation.
  • Connect through communities. Don’t limit yourself to thinking of a community as a target audience. There are often much richer opportunities to be found by looking to communities for inspiration  and by engaging in an open, ongoing dialogue.
  • Channel plan like a Gen Zer. Engage Gen Zers through words and images that celebrate diversity, inclusion and fluid lifestyles. And connect with them by meeting them where they are. Whether that’s offering inspiration on Instagram or personalized connections through messaging platforms like Messenger or WhatsApp.

Facts Behind Gen Z

Gen Z is estimated to soon become the largest US consumer population. 

It is the youngest, most ethnically-diverse and largest generation in American history, comprising 27% of the US population (born between 1996-2010). Pew Research defined Gen Z as anyone born after 1997. The oldest are graduating from college this year. They are entering the work force. So get ready.

Gen Z grew up with technology, the internet, and social media, which sometimes causes them to be stereotyped as tech-addicted, anti-social or ‘social justice warriors.”

What’s next? Generation Alpha, anyone born after 2010.

The average Gen Z got their first smartphone just before their twelfth birthday. They communicate primarily through social media and texts, and spend as much time on their phones as older generations do watching television.

The majority of Gen Zs prefer streaming services to traditional cable, as well as getting snackable content they can get on their phones and computers.

Gen Z is the most ethnically diverse and largest generation in American history, and eclipses all other generations before it in embracing diversity and inclusion.

Generation Z will soon become the most pivotal generation to the future of retail, and many will have huge spending power by 2026. To capture a piece of this growing cohort, retailers and brands need to start establishing relationships with Gen Zers now.

But Gen Zers are different from older generations, because they are the first consumers to have grown up wholly in the digital era. They’re tech-savvy and mobile-first — and they have high standards for how they spend their time online.

After ignoring the digital revolution and millennial buyers for too long, retailers and brands have spent the last decade trying to catch up to millennials’ interests and habits, so it’s critical for them get ahead of Gen Z’s tendency to be online at all times, and make sure to meet this generation’s digital expectations.

Gen Z most closely mirrors millennials on key social and political issues, but without much of the optimism; More US Gen Zers than any other generation (68%) feel the US is headed in the wrong direction, and fewer Gen Zers than any other generation (32%) feel the country is headed in the right direction.

Generation Z considers itself more accepting and open-minded (didn’t we all) than any generation before it. Almost half of Gen Zs are minorities, compared to 22% of Baby Boomers, and the majority of Gen Z supports social movements such as Black Lives Matter, transgender rights, and feminism.

Generation Z, or Gen Z, is also sometimes referred to as iGen, or Centennials.