Zed first. How to connect with the generation that’s shaping the future

Gen Z is fast becoming one of the biggest consumer groups

Imogen Judd

Senior Strategist Team Eleven


Perfection rejecters, TikTok addicts, illiberal, apathetic, world-weary; the picture painted of Gen Z is often one of a disengaged, disenfranchised teen. But the eldest in the cohort are now 26 and shaping trends far beyond the trivial.

There’s an overabundance of opinion pieces out there on Gen Z’s wants, needs and defining characteristics, and mine is just another small voice in the ever more deafening cacophony. But if there are two things I know for sure, it’s that Gen Z is fast becoming one of our biggest consumer groups (currently, they make up 30% of the global population and are expected to represent 27% of the workforce by 2025), and they’re looking to brands to help them deal with the impact of the cost-of-living crisis.

Gen Z are far less tolerant of misinformation and causewashing.

Imogen Judd, Senior Strategist at Team Eleven

For a generation entering adulthood in the shadow the COVID-19 pandemic and trying to build financial independence and stability among rising inflation and the brink of recession, fiscal confidence is low. In fact, 62% of Gen Z report feeling like they will never have what they want in life because of their finances, and a survey carried out by Intuit found that Zers would rather talk about sex, politics, and infertility than disclose their salaries, or talk about debt.

So, how can brands adapt to support a generation forced to find their feet amid such global turbulence?

Bake in transparency as standard.

Speaking in the documentary I am Gen Z, body image and mental health campaigner, Natasha Devon describes the generation as having an “overdeveloped sense of fairness”. Having been exposed to a constant barrage of sobering world events, from the Great Recession, through the Trump presidency, to the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine and now the cost-of-living crisis, Gen Z are being shaped by a growing sense of discontentment, which has bred a culture of hyper-empathy.

This elevated awareness of and concern for what’s happening in the world around them can be a help and a hindrance for brands trying to engage with Gen Z.

On the one hand, Zers are far more open to opinions that oppose their own, and far more willing to see past the façade to the humans behind a business, which makes them much more accepting of failings and flaws. Only 39% of the people in this generation expect a company to answer customer complaints on the same day; compared to over half of older generations.

Conversely, this openness and curiosity mean Gen Z are far less tolerant of misinformation and causewashing. In fact, 80% refuse to buy goods from companies involved in scandals and a whopping 96% stated that they’re willing to pay a premium for brands they deem transparent.

Tap into the ‘treat yourself’ mindset.

There’s a certain brand of ‘IDGAF’ attitude that comes with a life pockmarked by global crises. Entering the workforce at a time when rent, energy, food and the rest are at an all-time high has emboldened Zers to spend their money on, well, whatever the f*** they want. They’ve resigned themselves to never buying a house (nearly half think of home as a feeling, while just 13% describe it as a physical space) it’s all about the everyday indulgences that make them feel good.

Dazed call it “emotional spending” – the act of sating emotional hunger with the dopamine hit of a good old-fashioned splurge. What’s the point in saving for a house I’ll never afford; I’d much rather spend my money on what will make me happy now. 

Chasing that high has led Gen Z to invest a lot more in low-key luxuries like takeaways, clothes, skincare, and cosmetics. And perhaps more distinctly zeddy, they’re searching for alternative investment opportunities too, such as crypto, art, wine, and farms. 30% of Gen Zers choose to invest in alternative assets. While sound investments can be an excellent way to satisfy ‘treat brain’, many of the alt assets Gen Z are opting for can pose a significant risk. As the cost-of-living crisis protracts, there’s an opportunity for brands to help younger investors decode misinformation and improve financial literacy.

Reflect their unique eccentricities.

Much of the way Gen Z present themselves to the world is grounded in vehement opposition to their older counterparts, millennials. From dopamine dressing to cluttercore, and beauty maximalism, Gen Z are rebelling against the millennial thirst for unattainable minimalism. Fuelled by TikTok trends, our 16 to 25-year-olds are reclaiming that which their older counterparts shunned and embracing colour, self-expression, and a healthy dose of chaos. It’s all about individual expression and finding your niche. So how does that extend to brand experience?

Gen Z want their brand interactions to be as unique as the world they curate for themselves. Almost half of Gen Z value brands that don’t classify items as male or female, and they’re willing to pay a premium for products that feel truly personalised. Simple but hugely impactful changes, such as de-gendering product categories like toiletries and cosmetics, would take a huge step towards quelling Gen Z’s rejection of labels and conformity.

In fact, that’s just what we did in supporting Superdrug with the launch of their biggest own brand cosmetics range, Studio London. Cosmetics is a hugely saturated and, for the most part, hugely gendered market. We at Team Eleven set out to change that. Positioning Studio London as wholly inclusive meant empowering makeup lovers of all gender identities, sexualities, ethnicities, and religions. Make up is a powerful tool for self-expression and Studio London allows everyone to access that. And with sales outperforming the next best-selling range 2:1 at launch, I think it’s fair to say our audience agrees.

The cost-of-living crisis has put a strain on all of us, but it’s particularly tough for a generation who have barely found their feet in adulthood. As the fastest growing consumer segment, adapting to suit the wants and needs of this extraordinary generation is surely going to pay dividends.

Guest Author

Imogen Judd

Senior Strategist Team Eleven


Constantly curious about brands, categories, and consumers, I’m obsessed with understanding what makes people tick, how they really engage with products or categories in their lives and ultimately unlocking the real problem to solve. I see my job as a strategist as taking the complex and making it simple. I soak up all the scraps and tough bits and gnarly ends and bits and bobs and synthesise them into something useful. That’s what I do for my clients, and what I’ve spent my entire career honing. I make it my business to walk hand-in-hand alongside any brand I work with, because the best strategy is born out of an intimate understanding of a brand’s purpose. From FMCG to medical devices and pharmaceuticals, I’ve run the gamut of brands and problems but it really all comes back to this.

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