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Forget Millennials—Brands Need to Focus on Generation Z

Still struggling to get to grips with the Millennial consumer? Just give up.

“As a retailer, if you haven’t reached this demographic, you don’t understand Millennials, it’s too late,” said David Yi, a fashion reporter at Mashable, speaking recently during a panel discussion titled “Breakfast With the Disruptors” and co-hosted by Project New York and Fung Global Retail & Technology.

Going so far as to call Millennials “super boring” and “dead,” he urged the brands and retailers in the room to focus their attention on Generation Z—those born after 1995—instead.

“They’re so different from Millennials. They’re so much cooler,” he gushed. “This is a generation that’s all about being who they are, being empowered by who they are. They’re also one that’s very genderless—gender fluid and sexually fluid…They just want to be themselves.”

Take Jaden Smith, the 18-year-old son of actors Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, commonly called the poster child of Gen Z. In a recent issue of British GQ Style, Smith explained, “I’m not saying that I get it, I’m just saying that I’ve never seen any distinction. I don’t see man clothes and woman clothes. I just see scared people and comfortable people.”

Yi continued, “They don’t want to be marketed to. They want to discover things on their own. And they want to have their own mind. They are the future movers and shakers and consumers.”

Any naysayers in the audience who might have been wondering when exactly this group of people aged 21 and younger would start to influence spending habits were likely shocked to learn they already are.

“Right now in households they are influencing $600 billion worth of commerce every year,” Yi said. “They’re influencing their parents on what to buy, and their siblings and their friends, but also they’re influencing the marketplace on their own. They’re generating about $16.19 a week, which in total means that Gen Z spends around $44 million in the U.S. alone. So they do have spending power.”

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But good luck trying to get them to stay on board with your brand—they’re even less loyal than Millennials.

“They don’t really care too much about quality. They care about the social cache and how cool an item is,” Yi explained, pointing to the roaring success of Kanye West’s Yeezy sneakers. “Are they the best shoes ever made? Probably not. But are they the best shoes that you can find on social media? Yes.”

And if you really want to catch their eye, take care to enlist the help of some famous faces. These temperamental youths may hate marketing, but they’re not too cool for school that a celebrity can’t convince them to hop on a bandwagon.

As Yi put it, “They want to authentically find something on their own, but if a celebrity or influencer wears it and they happen to see them on their Snapchat then so be it.”

But before you scrap your entire approach to marketing, consider this:

“We’re discovering Millennials at a stage in life that they’re currently at, just like Gen Z, and we’re doing it because the data is available and the technology is available,” countered Greg Petro, founder of retail predictive analytics firm First Insight. “When I was 25 I didn’t have money so [instead of shopping] I went out to restaurants and bars with my friends. Now we’re discovering that Millennials like experiences over things. So I wonder if we’re pandering social behavior and mixing with generations right now, and we’ll learn over time that there are patterns of behavior that we go through as a society and a group of people at each stage of our lives.”