Financial Brands Must Get “Woke” to Gen Z

Private: Ashley Shahid


Yesterday and today, we’re publishing two posts on Gen Z and social media. Today’s post from Ashley Shahid explores data about Gen Z’s social media use — and what that data means for brands. See yesterday’s post on Twitter as a networking and advocacy tool here.

Move over Millennials, there’s a new generation in town. The next wave of mass-market consumers is already drawing attention from advertisers and marketers. Welcome, Gen Z.

Making up 25 percent of the population, Gen Zers are those born between 1996 and 2012. This previously elusive and uncategorical cohort is singlehandedly changing the way that brands use media to reach customers. Because Gen Z is different, in both their social behavior and how they consume media.

Global Web Index, an audience profiling service, released Trends 18 early this year, distilling consumer data from 2017 and identifying trends in digital marketing for the upcoming year. Topics in Trends 18 range from influencer marketing to the future of the sports industry, but an underlying theme is welcoming Gen Z to the consumer landscape. The oldest members of Gen Z will turn 21 in the year 2018; many are just now graduating high school, establishing bank accounts and beginning to build credit. With a fresh batch of consumers to target, brands must know what Gen Z is all about.

First and foremost, Gen Z is “woke.”

They grew up in a dynamic and tumultuous global climate, surrounded by social media, so this generation is unprecedentedly socially aware and active for their age (vs. past generations). Just think about the impact that Parkland High students have had, mobilizing empathizers around the country. Members of Gen Z are self-conscious, demanding, and responsible. They have been involved in social change concerning everything from the environment, to politics, to LGBTQ and women’s rights.

As my colleague Biz wrote yesterday, in the wake of the Parkland school shooting in February that killed 17 students and staff, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have already changed the business landscape through social activism, and pushing for corporate responsibility. The same students also demanded a CNN Town Hall and teamed up with peers nationwide to organize a march in Washington. Woke.

In the last twelve months, 37 percent of the Gen Zers have either donated or volunteered their time to a cause, and 23 percent of them have boycotted an activity or company. Gen Y is socially interested, but Gen Z is driven. If a business is not morally conscious and upstanding, Gen Zers will find and alternative, and fast . They also don’t care for brands that say that they’re pushing for social change or doing good; they want solid proof that a company is making moves to fix our social climate and paying attention to the needs and wants of their consumers. This newfound consumer awareness and power alone should have brands shaking in their boots — or putting those boots to the ground to evolve to meet this new consumer demand.

GenZers have never known a world without social media. While Gen Z was growing up in the early to late 2000s, social media was too. Naturally, the two are a perfect duo. The key differences between Gen Zers’ social media consumption of and Millennials’ is the platforms that they choose to prioritize and the time spent on each of those platforms. Gen Zers have “crossed the Mobile Tipping Point,” meaning that they spend longer on their phones everyday than they spend on all other devices (TV, computer, tablet) combined. This milestone has earned the generation the nickname “Generation Mobile.”

Generation Mobile spends nearly three hours on social media every day, looking for entertainment to fill up their spare time (sounds nice, right?). This quest for entertainment mixed with extra time for content creation has led to the rise of the meme accounts, famous Vine (R.I.P) users, and viral content that induces cultural shifts. Youtube, Instagram and Snapchat are the most used platforms for Generation Mobile, while Facebook and Twitter are often deprioritized. What does this mean? Gen Zers are the most visual generation. The desire to take and share photos and videos trumps sharing thoughts and text, which are the fundamentals of both Facebook and Twitter. Gen Zers are so caught up in social media that they will not spend more than a few seconds on content if they cannot get all of the information that they need in bite-sized format. Naturally, this creates a disconnect in a brand’s content creation process. What platforms should a brand prioritize? Those that capture Gen Z’s attention, or everyone else’s?

Where does your brand stand?

The biggest challenge for brands will be to differentiate themselves in ways that Gen Z can get behind. Brands should also become familiar with the celebrities and public figures that are influencing their target market. For example, in the fashion world, Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner are far more influential to Gen Zers than Gisele and Kate Moss. In the sports world, two teenage Olympic snowboarders, Chloe Kim and Red Gerard, have more Gen Z followers than Michael Phelps.

That’s the difference between Gen Z and everyone else. They are vulnerable to influence, but they are very picky about who and what influences them. They’re extremely vulnerable to the “cool” factor, which explains why brands such as Supreme, Adidas, and Nike have succeeded with this generation.

On the finance side, Gen Zers could change banking as a whole.  As Gen Z grows up, they are starting to manage their own money, and are not accustomed to walking into a bank branch. Apps like Venmo, Zelle, and Square Cash are staples for Gen Z’ers. It is important to note that most of their peer-to-peer transactions take place online.  As mobile payments rise in popularity, traditional banks are looking for new ways to hold onto the next wave of financial consumers.

Whether it is through social activism, creating more relatable content, or choosing alternative marketing and advertising practices, brands will need to step out of their comfort zones in order to befriend Gen Z. For companies, this generation is a goldmine. Gen Zers sit on $44 billion of purchasing power, but their consumer behavior vastly differs from previous generational cohorts. With the correct strategy and positioning mixed with proof of social intention, companies can win over the hearts of the oh-so-coveted Generation Mobile.