Gen Z and authenticity – a lesson in keeping it real

Student stood in front of a colourful wall

Authenticity plays a huge role in Gen Zs’ world – including how and where they spend their disposable income. For brands wanting to engage with the next generation of consumers, being authentic is key to making the right impression, which in turn will help boost your long-term brand loyalty. Check out our top tips for success:

First things first: educate yourself on the topics Gen Zs care about the most

Gen Zs are often at the forefront of socioeconomic issues that impact their lives and the lives of their communities. When Black Lives Matter rose to prominence in May 2020, students came out in full force to show their support – and the conversation has not stopped there. In total, 86% of UK students have taken part in the movement, and 93% think brands should be supporting the movement. 87% of students in the US have also taken action – with 71% reporting they’ve changed their shopping habits since the movement rose to prominence.

As well as racial equality, we’ve learnt that issues like gender equality, mental health awareness, equality for the LGBTQ+ community, sustainability and climate change are all topics that the vast majority of Gen Zs are passionate about. In total, 89% of Aussie students and 77% of US students have taken action about a cause they believe in.

The results in the US presidential election last November speaks to their politically and culturally engaged mindset. Last year, we saw the largest number of young voters to date – the majority of which voted for President Joe Biden.

student at a pride festival

“Authenticity is about which type of people or communities they [the brand] are trying to connect with. It’s about trying to connect with the audience – it’s showing diversity in their social media photos, it’s showing diversity in the people who are selling these items to us. That’s really what reminds me of authenticity – that I can find myself in the people that are trying to connect with us.” – Biological Sciences student, Edward.

More recently, we’ve seen a lot of support for the Stop Asian Hate movement circulating on social media and in the news. Our latest insights on this topic reveal that at least 46% of US students have taken some form of action on this issue, and 97% think brands should get involved in this issue.

Gen Zs are the most diverse generation to date, and this is reflected in their forward-thinking response to these important issues. Gen Zs want to keep raising awareness – and they want to see brands continuing the conversation beyond a specific month or day that’s dedicated to a cause (such as Pride Month or International Women’s Day). 

Now, get creative and show initiative

Upon educating yourself on key issues that resonate with the Gen Z audience, the next natural step is to be proactive in your messaging – making sure it aligns with the views and values of young consumers. As a brand, you want to come across as authentic in order to really make an impression – so make sure you establish your own voice to avoid sounding disingenuous.

“I’m not constantly shopping for the same things, the same ideas, I’m trying to find something that’s unique. So for you to just follow your own path instead of following the path that everybody tells you – that’s what’s really going to be authentic to me.” Finance student, Rachel.

Group of students smiling in a selfie

Showing initiative and creativity is the perfect way to establish your own voice. Take ASOS, for example. They’ve adopted a very clear-cut Instagram strategy that strikes all the right chords with Gen Zs. Their content is key – they repost images from customers and influencers rather than their own models to show real people wearing their products. They also label themselves as a ‘judgement-free zone’, which is very much reflected in their fun tone of voice and range of style suggestions. Their LinkedIn works in a similar vein, showing that their professional environment reflects the same values they promote to their customers. Consistency is key.

Australian-based fashion retailer, Princess Polly, is also taking action against causes that their young consumers care about. We recently spoke to the brand’s Head of Performance, Kim Zorn, who revealed that quarterly customer surveys are a method they use to ensure they are putting their customers at the heart of decisions. The results led to the brand launching multiple sustainable initiatives – including the Princess Polly Earth Club, and their sustainable clothing range, which sold out in record time.

Exercise authenticity in your workplace

Gen Z’s ethical awareness goes way beyond their customer experience. As older Gen Zs start entering the workforce, the way employers and the workplace treat topical issues, like the gender pay gap and diversity, is a big deal to the next generation of consumers.

Our advice? Practice what you preach.

Get active on social media to stay relevant with the student audience. Why not create a business account that’s private to staff. Younger staff in particular will feel comfortable with this format – it’s a great way to put out company news, highlights, initiatives, and important messaging around key events like Pride Month, for example. For bigger companies, it’s also a great way to stay connected.

students sat at a table working

“I would say for me I definitely look to social media, Instagrams and profiles and advertisement when it comes to authenticity, especially when it comes to promoting said brand – like the diversity behind it, the materials they use, the process in which the products are created. Authenticity is the brand saying the truth behind their business. I think the detail is very important, and Gen Z pays very close attention to it.” – Animation and Media student, Kenia.

One example of a brand making a statement in this area is Uber. During the height of the pandemic, the brand produced really effective and regular content over lockdown, highlighting the importance of safety for riders and Uber drivers. They were transparent about how they were keeping their workers, as well as their customers, safe throughout the pandemic – which gave their employees peace of mind and their customers the confidence to use their service.

Want to find out more? Tune into our panel discussion: The voice of Gen Z to hear from real Gen Z students – Rachel, Kenia and Edward – about what makes them tick.

Gen Z and the Future of Ecommerce

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