5 Brands To Inspire Your Gen Z Marketing Efforts



Business Insider’s comprehensive “State of Gen Z” report offers fascinating insight into not just the online habits, but the purchasing habits of this emerging generation.

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Business Insider is exploring the habits and motivations of a rising generation, with the help of Pew Research Center and nearly 2000 forthright and insightful voices. The result, their engaging and eye-opening “The State of Gen Z” report, reveals a great deal about this cohort of consumers and consumers-to-be. The full report holds some fascinating details, but we’ll start here with some inspiration to drive your work.

By their own admission, Gen Z is tremendously driven by price. Raised by a generation that felt the impact of the 2008 recession, their spending habits mirror those of their thrifty parents. And yet, a developmentally appropriate sense of image-consciousness (Gen Z is currently aged 7-21) means that they’re often balancing a desire to be conservative with resources, with an equally powerful desire to stand out amongst their peers. To that end, here are a few brands who have caught this generation’s eye—and how their winning practices can inform your interactions with this burgeoning cohort of customers.

aerie + American Eagle

Lesson: Engage this generation with an authentic commitment to diversity, and by acknowledging their price-consciousness with affordable and flexible options.

American Eagle and its intimates offshoot, aerie, have each found ways to present a profile that powerfully attracts Generation Z. For aerie, it’s their commitment to authenticity and representation that has caught their eye. The brand was one of the first to eschew airbrushing in its models (as early as 2014), and saw 18 consecutive quarters of double-digit growth as a result. This action represents a larger transparency that is incredibly attractive to this generation. The tools to “fact-check” are so close to the fingertips of Gen Z, trust is rarely a given; aerie has stood out for its consistent authenticity, including recent campaigns with models of all sizes and shapes.

Its parent company, American Eagle, is a strong contributor to a larger trend in this generation: the rise of rental and resale as a means to pad a wardrobe. As the most photographed generation, there’s a sense of pressure to present a “repeat-free” wardrobe. Companies like Rent the Runway have created a market for rental fashion, but isn’t yet a destination for Gen Z’ers. AE, however, is offering some options with its Style Drop program. Subscribers can rent three items at a time for $50/month, and if they’d like to purchase a rented piece they can do so at a discount of at least 25%. “There is a trend toward clothes having a second life or being used again,” said their global brand president Chad Kessler. By being able to meet that need for a generation that equally values social status and sustainability, they’ll likely remain relevant for years to come.


Lesson: Engage with the world around us, making the news digestible and making advertising relatable.

Given the rapid rise of the Facebook-owned property across all consumer segments, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they rank highly with Gen Z. 65% of survey respondents report using Instagram daily, and it’s the third most common mechanism used for communication—after texting and, interestingly enough, Snapchat. And yet, when asked what their primary motivator for buying a product or engaging a service was, 60% of respondents responded with price. Social media presence was the major motivator for only 9% of this generation’s consumers or prospective consumers. So if brand presence isn’t the major driver for consumer decisions, what can you grab their attention with? Per their behaviors, news and current events.

Brands who can engage with the news of the day, crafting natural and insightful relevance, will ultimately win out on the platform. Social media is far and away the most common method by which this generation gets its news, and companies like NowThis and The Grio are thriving as a result for their ability to make the news Insta-worthy.


Lesson: When committing to a cause, stick with it.

“Gen Z is more fickle than previous generations, and if brands are slow to engage or break their promises, these young shoppers will move on.” This conclusion, drawn from the report, explains how a brand like Nike—which can often be pricey, and therefore a tougher consumer decision to make for this thrifty group of customers—gained a foothold with this generation.

And yet, a generation drawn strongly to humanitarian and just causes wants to see the same in the products and services it supports. This notion crosses generations (66% of consumers want brands to take stands on social issues), but is especially pertinent to this crop of buyers. In that regard, Nike can soar over many more moderately priced and moderately positioned brands. Its commitment to stand in support of groundbreaking figures like Colin Kaepernick, Caster Semenya, and Serena Williams has not gone unnoticed. So while brand loyalty often isn’t the primary driver for their decisions, those brands they do choose often have a greater meaning than the matter of status.


Lesson: For pricey purchases, help create an investment that lasts a lifetime.

21-year-old Tanner Frick, one of several Gen Z’ers profiled in the piece, is an outlier in the study in that he describes himself as a “brand freak.” In addition to Nike, he cited Patagonia as one of his go-to labels; but rather than naming status as the reason for his loyalty, he referred to the warranties and longevity they provide.

Patagonia is well known in its industry for its generous lifetime return policy; dropping between $80 and $200 for a vest or $280 for a jacket feels like a less daunting purchase when you consider the idea that you’re only buying that coat…one time. Brands that can create that sense of longevity and security in their products and services will endear themselves to this generation.

As the oldest members of Gen Z prepare to move into the working world, and bring their income into the marketplace, it bodes well for brands and marketers to learn what they need, and how to best serve them. Far from being a second wave of Millennials, their preferences and wishes differ greatly. This quintet of brands is already ahead of the game in garnering their trust; these lessons from how they operate will serve your brand well as you aim to create a space in their lives.

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