What Makes Gen Z Different?

Who is Gen Z?

Generational labels are often based on generalities. They don’t take into account individual variation. A person’s viewpoints are shaped by their race, socioeconomic background, religious and other factors. However, a generational label can be useful for understanding the ways in which brands need to connect with their audience. We hope for CPG leaders to better align their strategy with future consumption habits.

Typically, generations are divided into the following: Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z. Gen Zs are born between 1996 and 2012. They are characterized as those who won’t be able to remember the world before the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US, with the eldest members of this generation having finished university education and entered the workforce as of 2020. They are considered the most ethnically diverse generation yet, after Millennials, and are the last generation that will be predominately white. For many Gen Zers, their early lives were more likely to have involved more diverse and different family structures, growing up with the first Black president in the US and the legalization of gay marriage sweeping across many nations worldwide.

Millennials and Gen Z are sometimes referred to interchangeably, and both do have some similar factors – 58% of adults worldwide agree that “kids today have more in common with their global peers than they do with adults in their own country.” However, differences are emerging – particularly as the impacts of technology and world events unfold. So, what are these differences?

What really makes Gen Z different?

While there have are many suggested qualities, there are two key elements that differentiate the experience of Gen Z that are relevant for brand owners to consider:

  1. Gen Z are digital natives
  2. Gen Z are coming of age in the environmental crisis

Many other qualities – like the Gen Z tendency towards individualism, or feeling isolated, or being concerned over their future stability – find their origins inside these two elements. Being very online and facing down the biggest existential crisis our species has ever known can have a whole number of knock-on effects!

What does Gen Z mean for the future of CPG brands?

Gen Z currently represent 26% of the population with a buying power of US150 billion. They are set to surpass the spending power of Millennials. It’s critical that the needs of this generation aren’t ignored for too long, as we become increasingly active consumers. To do this, there are two key elements for brands to consider:


Digital Natives

Gen Zers don’t remember a time before the internet. If Millennials were pioneers of the internet age, Gen Zers are natives – our whole life has included the internet. We are influenced by videos on social media and YouTube, with 33% of us watching videos online for at least 3 hours a day and 85% learning about new products through social media. Additionally, thanks to 6-second-long Snapchat videos, the average attention span of Gen Zs is 8 seconds, leaving a short window for marketers to grab our attention and pass on relevant information.

We can tell what’s authentic

Brands that win in the digital era produce more creative, authentic, fun, and inspiring videos, increasing their chances of being shared amongst Gen Zers and thus cutting through the noise. Successful marketing teams create narratives that are interesting enough to get our attention, tell us a story, move moving us enough to keep watching instead of scrolling past. A lot of this comes from authenticity – we know when the hard sell is on, and this doesn’t build trust as strongly as an authentic narrative showcasing your brand.

We can also tell when content from one platform is being reused on another. TikTok is a really interesting place to learn about what works – the companies that have transitioned well on this platform understand the native tools and features of TikTok itself, without trying to recycle content that just doesn’t work in this landscape.

We build our personal brand online. Our social media is a place for self-expression, and this means that we want to connect with brands that can help us showcase our perspective – according to a Salesforce Research Survey, 74% of Gen Zs claim to look for brands that allow us to express our individuality. Being online in a smart way is essential, and if you can help us express ourselves better, that feels like an authentic interaction with a brand that we can get behind.

We care about recommendations

We listen to influencers – they provide a kind of review that can help us decide what we want to buy. It’s the new word-of-mouth, as good as a recommendation from a friend.

Our pragmatism and realistic mindset means we use our digital skills to research, analyse customer reviews and compare the available range of options before settling on a product. For example, 86% of Gen Zs are more likely to purchase a product if the website features photos and reviews from real customers.

Global community and thinking matters

The digital space has allowed Gen Z to create online communities where we meet people who share our same interests and also use them to mobilise for causes we care about. 81% of us say they strongly rely on online communities to inform and teach them about real world issues and what they can do to help. 54% of the TikTok’s US Gen Z users feel that the platform’s posts related to social activism have urged them to engage in discussion with friends and family. This is how big movements are born.

Convenience comes first

Quick, easy and cheap is our credo. This is exemplified by the popularity of quick commerce. Next-day delivery and groceries delivered in 10 minutes are some examples of what has fast become the norm for Gen Z. The bar is high and it will not be easy for other businesses to live up to our expectations on convenience. According to a new report from IGD, the quick commerce space is currently worth £1.4bn and the size of the opportunity is growing fast.


Sit down, cry....or just order Gorillas for snacks delivered in minutes! #ThisIsGorillas


Environmental Crisis

All of modern life is overshadowed by the threat of climate change. For the youngest in our society, this isn’t just an important topic – it’s essential. A response is required from all of us. When asked about who can have an impact on the big issues that the generation is facing, “individuals such as yourself” was the most popular opinion among Gen Z (50%), followed by celebrities (39%) and business CEOs (32%). Politicians are the least impactful ones (30%) according to young people today.

Value-based purchasing

Brands must do more than make profit. Gen Zs expect brands to act in the best interest of their communities, neighbours, and environment, with 81% of Gen Z claiming that environmental practices influence their decision to buy from a company. Taking these factors into consideration will allow a brand to be a step ahead of competitors that are still resistant to acknowledging the social, political and environmental issues of our world.

Having a clear Purpose is therefore really important.

Ownership is outdated

There might be several reasons for Gen Z’s turn away from ownership of goods. One reason may be a growing acknowledgement of the problems with consumption that threaten the planet. But another part is as a result of this moment in history. After watching parents go through the financial crash, Gen Zs are much more money conscious than Millennials. We value the security that comes with conservative spending. As a consumer, this means that Gen Zs are deal hunters, who are more likely to look for discounts. However, we are not willing to sacrifice quality for the price, meaning that we want more for less. Equally, we’re willing to consider other models of ownership.

Activism is important

We said that Gen Z believe that individuals such as themselves are better equipped to face the issues of society today. This is well exemplified by their demands for purpose driven brands and their efforts in boycotting those brands who are not taking the steps in the right direction. We are far more likely than Millennials (40% vs 16%) to boycott brands. And, we are as likely to also promote and purchase from those brands who are aligned with our beliefs and are taking the necessary efforts to have a positive impact: a McKinsey study found that the top quarter of ethnically diverse companies outperformed those in the last quarter by 36% in profitability. But be mindful that we are great at spotting authentic efforts and any type of colourwashing attempt.


Hey @disney, stopfundinghate! We’re boycotting until you walk the talk. #disney #lgbt #queer #gay #fyp #boycott

♬ original sound - Dr. Eric Cervini

Wrapping up, Gen Zs have learned to be activists, and to be expressive, realistic, and skeptical given their access to information in the world, and the threat of climate change. Brand owners have opportunities to connect better with this generation as a result.

Beatrice Soncina Beatrice Soncina