February 3, 2023

Gen Z: The Rise of the Empowered and Impact-Driven Consumer

Shailja Sharma

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As we celebrate the coming of age of Generation Z, the impact of their entry into the job market is already sending ripples throughout many industries. The world of work has also evolved following disruptions such as technological innovations and the COVID-19 pandemic, which ushered remote and hybrid work arrangements into the mainstream. The interplay of these two factors will keep many employers on their toes as they adapt to the dawn of a new age. An age in which factors such as authenticity, diversity and inclusion, social and environmental responsibility, flexibility, and personal impact are of central importance to the generation that will be the most ethnically and racially diverse group on the planet.

Indeed, as Gen Z progresses through their careers, these workers are predicted to have huge spending power by 2026, and will become pivotal to the future of retail. Savvy marketers should start building relationships with them now in order to tap into this growing segment. For this to happen, marketers must understand the proclivities and preferences of this generation.

The average Gen Z consumer received his or her first smartphone at the age of 12. This tech-savvy and mobile-first generation have digital demands that they expect brands to meet. After all, they are the first consumers that grew up in a wholly digital era. These empowered consumers undertake their research zealously and at the click of a button can send out scathing reviews into cyberspace that will cause irreparable damage to a brand that falls out of their favor. These consumers expect to be delighted. Their attention and approval must be earned. They must be courted thoughtfully and deliberately. The evergreen marketing tenets that underscore the importance of gaining consumer insights and knowledge must be applied rigorously when dealing with this generation. To woo them and win their favor, marketers must understand what drives and motivates them, what products and services meet their needs, how and where to connect with them, and champion the causes that they believe in.

Who is Gen Z?

These digital natives born roughly between 1997 and 2010 are a hypercognitive generation that are able to integrate virtual and offline experiences without batting their eyelids. They are the product of true digital immersion. Indeed, some of them have already begun navigating the metaverse through the use of Minecraft and other technologies.

The elder half of this generation has entered the workforce while the tail end of the generation is still in school. This fact alone implies that our current understanding of this generation is still evolving. The younger cohort are still undergoing their own progression into adulthood and are subject to formative socioeconomic influences. They have lived through unprecedented disruptions like the COVID-19 pandemic and major economic downturns. Some of these individuals entered the working world as remote workers or were hired only to be laid off shortly thereafter. The trickle down effects of economic upheavals such as unemployment, interest rate hikes, and reduced purchasing power have impacted the perceptions, attitudes towards and demand for products and services.

Environmentally Conscious

Stories of fires engulfing neighborhoods, floods washing away whole villages, and arctic blizzards transforming buildings into giant ice sculptures populate current news segments. Generations are shaped by the context from which they emerge. The Gen Z generation are witnessing the effects of climate change firsthand. This new generation are taking it upon themselves to drive movements to correct the folly of their forebearers. Sustainability has therefore become the mantra for this generation. They will choose brands that reflect this consciousness. Gen Z do not believe in wasteful consumption. They have been shaped by the era of economic downturns. The growth in the resale market is a testament to their belief in spending less and minimizing wastage.

As a marketer, it is important for you to recognize that Gen Z are leading the sustainability revolution and to appeal to them, make sure your company is minimizing its carbon footprint and creating products and services that are environmentally friendly. Saving the planet should become a central feature in your marketing campaigns. Raise awareness of important issues, and you will attract the attention of Gen Z. Messages that are perceived as self-serving will alienate consumers.

Diversity and Inclusion

Gen Z have grown up in a more ethnically diverse and multicultural world. Their exposure to new cultures from a young age has shaped their attitudes and their outlook. They crave uniqueness and individuality. They strive to live in a more inclusive world that celebrates distinctiveness. Companies the world-over are churning out diversity and inclusion strategies and prejudice and bias has no place in the new world order. Digital natives can easily uncover which companies are not walking their talk.

Marginalized groups have Gen Z’s sympathy and this generation will mobilize behind them to advance their cause. Brands need to place diversity, inclusion, and racial justice at the heart of their strategies. Disenfranchising their multicultural peer groups will backfire. Gen Z care about their community.


Research has shown that Gen Z place a premium on authenticity. The ideology that appeals to them is rooted in freedom of expression, freedom to craft their own identities, and freedom to be their authentic selves. Self-fulfillment is prized above wealth. Their zeal to ‘be true to themselves and their values,’ influence their spending habits. They look for brands that reflect their own personality, self-concept, and ideals.

Furthermore, Gen Z will dismiss marketing fluff and only connect with messaging that is sincere and rings true. Your campaigns that purport to align with a noble cause must have substantive action behind them. Unsubstantiated claims are fodder for crusaders that are on a mission to expose companies that are ‘greenwashing or goodwashing.’

Partner with Gen Z consumers that want to make a difference. Co-create campaigns with them that will make an impact. Take engagement to a whole new level by putting them in the driver’s seats and helping them fulfill their innate desire to make an impact.

Need to Connect

Following two years of lockdowns, digital natives have developed a new respect and appreciation for in-person experiences. The old ‘brick and mortar’ is making a resurgence. The need for connection coupled with the rebellion against online retail giants who are perceived to wield too much influence is driving consumers to seek unique in-person brand experiences. Retailers will need to meet their new expectations by engaging in experiential marketing that is entertaining and inclusive.

In summary, Gen Z are highly pragmatic, analytic individuals. They absorb tremendous amounts of knowledge online. They are informed. They are socially conscious. They will take a stand. They believe in an inclusive world. They eschew stereotypes and prize individuality. They believe in self-expression and actualization. Their ideals will permeate through consumer and business culture and set higher standards for good corporate citizenship. They are on a mission to right the wrongs in society. They can change the world. Their coming of age may indeed become a cause for celebration.

Article by Shailja Sharma, SBS Faculty Member and Leadership and Career Coach

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