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Catering to Gen Z Is a Balancing Act of Activism and Selfies

From an unwavering devotion to “King Kylie” and wistful dreams of becoming influencers, to making their rally cries heard in Washington D.C., Gen Z is proving to be a complex and rebellious generation with a consumer language all their own.

Brian Trunzo, senior consultant and trend forecaster for WGSN, broke down the fundamental traits and habits of this 2-billion strong generation at Première Vision in New York Tuesday, guiding brands and retailers on where to find Gen Z and how to make the most of their 8-second attention span.

Gen Z 101

Gen Z was born from 1995 to 2010, or as Trunzo described “a world where Google always existed but Biggie Smalls never existed.”

Whereas millennials were defined by the high level of resilience needed in a post September 11th and Great Recession world, Trunzo said Gen Z is shaped by shifting values, technology and political times. Digital connectivity through social networks, a lack of trust in institutions and celebrated diversity are cultural drivers for Gen Z.

Streaming services and smart phones, Trunzo said, have developed a highly visual generation that wishes to live in the moment, but instinctively has to share that moment with their followers. While social media provides opportunities to connect, Trunzo pointed out that it has also created a level of damage. The selfie-made generation feels the need to always be on. “They are under microscope,” he said. “It used to be just celebrities that lived with this pressure and now they are plagued with that too.”

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And with access to information at their fingertips, the generation has a “great radar for realness” and awareness for fake news. “Honesty is key in marketing,” Trunzo said. “They want to be loyal to brands that cater to individuality or to their community.”

However, the spectrum of Gen Z runs wide.

On one end, Trunzo said there is Gen Me, a subgroup that favors brash colors and self-indulgent habits making it easier for marketers to identify. Trend obsessive and consumed by conflicting thoughts of being unique and trendy, Gen Me strives to create their own personal brand, and perhaps, monetize their social following.

“Gen Me cultivate a visual lifestyle and curates it by buying new stuff all the time,” Trunzo said, adding that while most are jobless they somehow shell out more than $300 a year on beauty products. “We call it the Kylie Jenner effect…their dream is to monetize their faces and social media following, which is toxic for a teenager.”

Although 64 percent of Gen Z prefers to shop in stores, they are not interested in having a traditional consumer relationship with retailers. “Teens are not really into traditional customer relationship,” Trunzo said. “They see their patronage as a two-way street. Give me a reason to be in your store and I will give you access to my followers and if you’re lucky my wallet.”

And they aren’t beholden to the traditional fashion calendar, which is why labels like Supreme, Palace and Bape lock in Gen Z dollars. “They’re driven by IV drip of new products from covetable streetwear brands,” Trunzo said.

On the other end is Gen We, a subgroup that puts community first through activism and support for social causes including sustainability, gun control and inclusivity. For Gen We, “caring is the new cool,” Trunzo said.

And don’t confuse it with youthful optimism. Unfiltered, raw and worldly, Trunzo shared that Gen We is fed up of the world they inherited and want to drive change, which is demonstrated through student-led protests like March For Our Lives in 2018. “They want to face their problems,” he said.

Gen We wants the latest hype item, too. However, Trunzo says they reward the brands that align with their views.

“They put collective progress above their own success,” he said, adding that brands with a sustainable and transparent supply chain and companies that adopt anti-fur policies have the most to gain.

But with Gen Zers moving fluidly from Gen Me to Gen We, the goal for brands and retailers is to bridge the divide through offline events that cultivate community, while offering opportunities to help define their personal brand.

“Find the middle ground,” Trunzo  said, “so it appeals to their most selfish and community driven desires.”