Image or Substance: Do Generation Z want both?

A consumer walks into a bar. They sit down, ask the bartender for a passionfruit martini, and wait anxiously as it is prepared and presented. The bartender nervously places the cocktail in front of the customer and waits until the customer smiles while reaching for their smartphone. The bartender exhales a breath they didn’t know they were holding and moves on. This respiration-free moment is key. Not because the bartender was a perfectionist and not because the customer was especially pedantic about the making of their drink. The importance of this pause lies in the demographic of the customer; they were an under 30s. The mutual baited breath due to quality and presentation. The bartender was focused on the quality of the beverage and the customer was focussed on image, i.e. ‘Is this Instagramable and how many likes will it get?’


Finding the balance in a turbulent generation

Generation Z brands hold an attraction because they have both of these balanced. H&M appear to have balanced these demographic scales by releasing their new clothing campaign, (H&M Conscious), which aligns with an area of interest; sustainability. A UK Millennials Report by Inkling found that “nearly 70% of respondents [would] consider a brand’s ethics and values when deciding their purchases.” H&M agreed to release a list of their suppliers accounting for up to 95% of their stock, gaining the trust of an otherwise insecure and largely superficial generation. Consequently, their brand loyalty and publicity boosted simultaneously. H&M managed to subconsciously push this customer loyalty, by creating a customer-brand emotional link due to relating their campaign to a highly relevant moral issue.


Impulsiveness is fashionable

Deloitte’s UK Youth Luxury Shopper Report (2017) found that the “millennial motivation” driving the purchase of high-end, luxury brands across both males and females was reasoned by phrases such as “I want to treat myself” and “It makes me feel good”. The study showed that millennials from the USA, Italy, China and the UK, seemed to support this growing phase of instant gratification. Buzzfeed have found this brand balance by taking an alternative approach to H&M. The quick fire bulletin-style site has played on the instant gratification pace ruling the under-30s bracket and Buzzfeed have taken this into account when altering their site’s design. Inkling’s UK Millennials Report highlights that news articles comprise the majority (76%) of online content consumed by this youthful demographic. By simplifying the style of their articles, Buzzfeed have increased their product quality. Simultaneously, they have satisfied the consumer’s hunger for information summaries, instant gratification of the latest news, and impulsive nature of checking smartphone notifications.


Growing up with instant gratification

The under 30s “want it all, and [they] want it now”. Customer rewards have become an expectation, the immediacy of same-day delivery and ability to click and receive have bred a culture of entitlement. Long-term customer loyalty is becoming a thing of the past unless the brand holds a more holistic impact on areas of society that interest this demographic. Propositions such as those implemented by H&M and Buzzfeed have enabled the under-thirties to fulfil their socially constructed need to stop the Fear of Missing Out effect (FOMO). Whether this fulfilment is obtained by keeping up-to-date on the latest news headlines, or having the latest fashion trend without the environmental moral burden.


Loyalty propositions have also been influential in inspiring millennial and Generation Z spending. Waterstones have combined their original loyalty rewards schemes (‘Waterstones Card’ and ‘Stamp & Save’) to form Waterstones Plus and Waterstones Plus Student. Waterstones Plus allows the customer to gain one ‘Plus stamp’ for every £10 they spend either online or in store. Every 10 stamps collected adds £10 to the customer’s ‘Plus balance’. The Waterstones Plus Student Card give an extra 5% off all purchases and allows customers to collect the standard reward stamps. Priority notice is given to customers signed to the schemes for signed and limited edition books, prize draw access, discounted tickets for selected events, and copies of new releases in advance. Similar to H&M and Buzzfeed, Waterstones have also mastered this demographic balancing act. They have ensured that their loyalty proposition is presented well, being accessible via a physical card and a key digital version.


Gearing future marketing to future generations

This is one of the most fluid demographics in terms of customer loyalty and spending behaviours that brands have ever encountered. Future marketing professionals know it will be important to understand the triggers that lead to under 30s remaining loyal to brands whose popularity they have generated. To fully comprehend this spontaneous demographic, future marketers should consider three main aspects when assessing how inspiring a brand proposition could be:


  1. Tapping into the unknown – The consumer has a subconscious mindset that they are not always aware can be altered by different marketing techniques. Brands should understand how this can be affected by extraneous variables such as peer influence, celebrity endorsements, instant gratification, and materialistic superiority.


  • The ‘alone in a crowd of sheep’ effect – Being socially accepted is more important than before. Find a gap in the demographic where an unsuspecting minority can be inspired, then this will become the majority and they will be inspired in another direction.


  • Why simple is sometimes better – Different promotional mediums are used to influence consumer behaviour. Sometimes, the more obvious a marketing medium is, the bigger the impact it will have. Sponsoring adverts in between feeds on media platforms such as Snapchat can be more influential than advertising pasted on every electronic billboard in existence.

Written as a guest blog from our Partnerships Account Executive Intern Mickey Wernick