What Gen Z Talks About When They Talk About Being Consumers
Berns Communications Group recently created a panel of Gen Z consumers for brands to use for market research. The panel consists of young men and women who are juniors, seniors and some post-graduate students in universities across the U.S.
I was given the opportunity to ask the panel any question I wanted so I asked about their lives as consumers and their views were surprising.
I thought the brands and foods and popular people they like would coalesce around a small number of choices but what came back was something else. On most subjects the answers varied widely. To find the similarities between them, you had to dig deeper into their motivations.
No two panel members had the same favorite fashion brand. But when asked what they liked about their favorite brands, aside from the fashion and style of the brand, they were in a similar value system: brands that understand their customers and focus on sustainability and community.
Their group’s most popular jeans brands, but not a majority by far, were Levi’s and Zara. When shopping for fashion, the words mentioned most often were “quality” and “fit.” Price was third and sustainability was even lower.
Their favorite places to eat were a little more cohesive. The largest number preferred coffee shops and the most-mentioned brands were Starbucks
Football was easily the leader in sports they like to watch. But of sports they participate in, it was all over the place. Volleyball had the most mentions (4) and no other sport was named more than once. The vast majority exercised regularly.
On the people they admire, an overwhelming number chose a family member and the majority of those chose their mothers. One said “my mother kind of” and another chose a friend’s mother.
No one chose the same public person to admire or the same public performer as their favorite.
New York City was their most desirable place to live if they could live anywhere. Almost all hope to marry. Almost all hope to have children but several said only a few or just one.
Instagram is by far their most used social media app. The New York Times
What It Means
What made market research an industry is that people are alike. If you get a good sample of people, you can extrapolate about what other people will do and that tells you how to present your product or brand when you’re marketing to a large audience.
With Gen Z consumers, that’s harder because they don’t all eat, drink or dress the same.
But underneath, they share a lot of values. Their fashion brands are different but they give very similar answers when it comes to their motivations. The people they admire most are their moms. When I asked them what they look for most in a friend, the words that came up most were honesty and loyalty.
The world has given these young consumers a lot of choices. When you inquire about the choices they make they all seem different. But the motivation for those choices is highly coherent within the group. They are mostly looking for the same thing in their relationships and in their life expectations.
Consumer products has seen an enormous amount of fragmentation in the market. More than one investor I talk to has asked the question, “will anything ever get big again?”
We are seeing niche brands cater to micro-markets and give each consumer a way to feel connected to their products. That has made it super-challenging for new brands to ever hope to become giants like some older brands have been able to do.
No one knows if anyone will ever be able to build another brand that can get as big as Nike, Ralph Lauren or Heinz. Younger consumers don’t want brands that say “mass,” even as much as their motivations for buying them are similar.
Strategies for big brands used to rely on being the leading brand as a selling point. Now consumers want something that’s more niche-y, even if their reasons for liking the brand could apply to many other niche brands too. That’s a tricky road for brands to navigate and a new limitation on the scale they can reach.