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Unpacking a Generation: Gen Z Holds Two Truths at Once
by Kate Kane, Strategist
There is no shortage of depiction of Gen Z in the media; we’re told they’re glued to their phones, obsessed with fame and fortune, radical activists for a slew of social issues, gender fluid by default – the headlines span for miles. However, here at Egg Strategy, we couldn’t help but think there was more to the story. We felt it was time to peer into the truth about Gen Z: Who are they? What are their biggest fears and aspirations for the future? Why do they behave as they do? Through a US-based study, we went right to the source – combining the rigor of a quantitative survey with the richness of in-depth interviews to illuminate what makes Gen Z unique.
Spoiler alert: get ready to abandon many of your preconceived notions of these young people. Like most things in life, the answer is rarely as black and white as it may seem (or how we would prefer it to be, anyway). Gen Z is a generation of complex identity; a generation that knows how to hold two truths at once; a generation who’s most definable trait is their refusal to be put in any one box.
Certainly, this is in part due to their age. Ranging from 13-24, the members of Gen Z are anything but close to fully forming their identity. This life stage is a very malleable one, an important consideration when trying to understand who they are (and more importantly who they want to become). To differentiate the growing pains of young adulthood from the fundamental distinctions that will last well beyond their youth, we examined Gen Z through three key macro forces: major events (think: The Great Recession, COVID-19), reaction to prior generations (learning from their mistakes, picking up the pieces), and innovations (major tech advancements that impact daily lives and habits).
This is the first in a series of four articles that will unpack some of the biggest misconceptions about Gen Z, and, in their place, illuminate the spectrum of reality that Gen Z’ers exist across. We’ll use these spectrums as an anchor to understand the implications for brands and entities that are looking to interact with this generational cohort. Future articles will focus on spectrums such as open minded/cancelling and cause-driven/reactionary activism.
Today, however, we will start with a spectrum fundamental to Gen Z’s identity and how that manifests in the beauty industry; At their core, Gen Z-ers have a strong sense of individual identity. They lean into their uniqueness and celebrate each other for the same. While the youth of past generations may have felt the pressure to conform or fit in, this group admires and values self-expression above all else. Of course, prior generations have always challenged the status quo and sought to express themselves as they come of age, but valuing differences peer-to-peer is more apparent with Gen Z. In today’s world, it’s cool to be different.
Gen Z is also more accepting of different cultures, identities and communities that exist all over the world, both online and in-person. They see themselves as an individualist collective – connected, but embracing subjective individuality in all aspects.
What’s more, compared to previous generations, they are willing to try on a multitude of identities themselves. However, while social media can be a place that fosters acceptance and community, it also can foster constant wrestling with how one is perceived. With trends changing more rapidly than ever, Gen Z struggles to assert their individuality vs. keep up with major trends. While the onus to be true to oneself is ever-present, the speedy and connected nature of their reality (especially as consumers) means they are chasing a moving target of status quo.
“I think it’s fair to say we do repost to put up a front. It’s also hard because we are young, and we have to keep up all the time with what is going on.”
When we consider the impact that Gen Z’s perception of identity has on commerce, we need look no further than a category that is defined by self-expression and trends: beauty.
Category Spotlight: Beauty Standards Disguised as Self-Love
With constant rapid evolution, beauty is key to this individualist/collective tension that Gen Z experiences. Gen Z has been raised in an age where all body shapes and sizes are celebrated, and yet they simultaneously have had to grapple with navigating their teen years on social media where selfie filters and photo editing apps shape their perceptions of body image.
They are still learning what the beauty industry means for them and are finding solace in the individuality and self-expression it is evolving towards. Still, they continue to have to overcome and ignore societal pressures to look a certain way as a singular beauty standard remains at the forefront. As with all categories attempting to serve Gen Z, the one thing to keep in mind is the pull between valuing their individuality and the yearning to connect with their peers across the globe.
What brands need to know:
To connect with Gen Z’s personal expressions, brands must empower confidence and embrace intersectional identities. Although natural beauty is a marker of inclusivity and diversity, it’s important not to conflate it in campaigns as the new beauty standard. Beauty that aligns with ethical drivers and personal values, such as sustainability, diversity, or even empathy, expands the purpose of beauty beyond the physical body. We may begin to see a shift in focus from external beauty or appearance (natural or not) to internal beauty (behaviors and traits) shining outwards.
“I think now a lot of people are realizing that beauty is different for every human being. For me, a beautiful person is someone who is loving and kind.”
To resonate with Gen Z:
- Design for the individual, represent the collective
- Celebrate individuality and creativity, leaning into the natural playfulness of the category
- Create products that allow Gen Z to express their values through their beauty brand choices – sharing on the outside what’s on the inside
- Break the “rules” of beauty with new products that empower Gen Z to express themselves in their own way (think: gender-neutral cosmetics, unexpected applications, products designed to enhance features that products are normally designed to cover up)
Ultimately, Gen Z is an emerging cohort of youth that are still finding their way in the world. While they are more comfortable with a flexible identity than the youth that came before them, Gen Z also has a massive nimbus of influence surrounding them and balancing these voices will be a challenge they continue face as they come of age. Brands that honor their individual expression and provide the room to connect with the larger group will be more likely to find a home with this generation.
Stay tuned for the coming few weeks as we unpack some of the biggest misconceptions about Gen Z including their activist stereotype, how they interact in the digital sphere, and how their values manifest into consumer behavior.
To receive a copy of Egg Strategy’s full report on Gen Z, please reach out to us at email@example.com. We hope to hear from you!