Andy Culbert on how best to cater to Gen Z’s wants, needs, and habits
Following in-depth research into Gen Z’s wants, needs and habits, Andy Culbert reveals how to gain their attention
Dubbed “more influential than millennials” by the Financial Post and with an estimated spending power of £109 billion, it’s no wonder designers are upping their game to grab the attention of Gen Z – the cohort of digital natives now entering the workforce.
Our own research supports industry findings that Gen Z has a strong level of self-direction. Comprised of selfreliant innovators, they’re driven by experiences (good or bad) to affect change through the digital spaces they occupy. Design that’s empowering, presented to encourage personal growth and the capacity to shape surroundings resonates with this audience. Stereotypical design elements and imagery will have the opposite effect, so content should feel real, personal, casual and informative. And never commit the sin of ‘designing for young people’.
Being ‘unique-seekers’, Gen Z is also a cohort that pushes boundaries. This can be really exciting for designers. Imagery can be experimental; colours confident and clashing. It even has its own colour – Gen Z yellow.
There’s scope to exploit the unexpected; a concept we explored during a recent rebrand for Beauty Bay. In development, a bold proposition of breaking the rules was favoured by the Gen Z audience. We challenged the traditional idea of what a beauty brand should be and pushed the idea as far as we possibly could.
As well as making things look appealing, brands need to facilitate Gen Z’s desire for efficiency. A slick online experience is the only way to engender its loyalty and design should be digitally intuitive – just like the audience is.
All content needs to be scalable – ensuring fonts are available for digital and legible on mobile is a must. Designs must work in the smallest of digital spaces first and then be scaled upwards – not forgetting that creative still needs to work offline.
Gen Z wants to align itself with people, brands and causes that reflect its carefully curated online personas. Research has also shown that, while Gen Z is open-minded and diverse, identity is dynamic; it doesn’t see itself as having defined roles or traits. Brand flexibility is therefore needed in order to stay ahead.
Brand guidelines created at a moment in time to deliver consistency can date easily – particularly when competing against a constant influx of fresh new brands. To grab Gen Z’s attention, brands don’t need to be constantly reinventing themselves, but they do need to refresh more frequently.
A flexible identity system will allow brands to stay current, whereby consistent brand identity, deep rooted in the brand’s values, is supported with regularly updated flexible guidelines that flex according to trends.
For example, a fixed primary brand colour palette, logo and typography style can be supported with seasonal, trend-led identity packs – a flexible palette of colours and icons that reflect ‘trends’. It’s a way of refreshing the brand in line with external influences while maintaining consistency and control. Within this system, branding can support campaigns and imagery to greater effect; there is less disconnect when photography and visual assets evolve.
The first cohort born into the digital age, Gen Z is accustomed to flitting between numerous screens with a perilously short attention span. If brands thought grabbing (and keeping) audience attention was tough before, Gen Z take it to an entirely new level.
The upshot is that this audience is quicker to decide if something is relevant to them, making them more open to abandoning brands that don’t keep up with their pace.
To cater for their fast and flighty rules of engagement, the most effective approach is to design in their language. Short videos, image sequences, images with text overlays and quotes will cut through the noise, as well as vibrant, eye-catching colour combinations that twist convention. Legible typefaces that work across all media are a must to allow for easily digestible messages that Gen Z can interpret quickly.
And the holy grail is to use bite-size, sharable content, mobilising an army of hyper-connected social media natives who can amplify a brand like never before.
The digital age presents us with unrivalled opportunities to understand real-time consumer behaviour, both within a brand’s platform as well as prominent social channels.
Designers no longer have to hope that a design will connect with a specific target audience when they put it live. It also means it can be tested with real audiences and then easily adapted concurrently as consumer behaviours change.
Understanding Gen Z’s nuances is crucial if you want to deliver what it needs at every touch point – whether that’s through your platform or Instagram. So ignore ongoing user testing at your peril. To be truly customer-centric, the only way to really know if a design or feature will produce a positive reaction is to test it with real users in real time.
Introducing a new brand identity can revitalise a decadeold business but, with this generation, the new identity must reflect the brand ethos. Claims must have substance and Gen Z is quick to call out brands that aren’t authentic. Through social media they have an authoritative means to do this.
The challenge for established brands implementing an update is how to remain true to core values and make the new brand part of the organisation’s DNA. To succeed in this area of design, explore the business, its culture and audience in great detail. Any brand revamp needs to work from the inside out, with internal teams owning the brand. ‘Live the brand’ workshops with staff can help to define the company’s vision and what new direction it needs to move in.
Success with Gen Z will come from being original, innovative and authentic, rather than a question of who shouts the loudest. Cater for its needs with empowering and intelligent design. Couple that with a slick online experience (that works how it’s supposed to) and it shouldn’t be too difficult to engender its loyalty. For a short time at least.