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Gen Z-Approved Brands: Learn from Companies Kicking it With the Kids

by Rachel Serpa

October 6, 2022

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Gen Z’s influence is undeniable. From travel to music and everything in between, this powerhouse generation is shaping the future of brand marketing and operations. Want to engage Gen Z buyers, employees or both? We’ve got you covered with strategies and examples that will help your company appeal to the world’s largest generation.

In this article you’ll learn why your brand should be targeting Gen Z now — even if they’re not one of your biggest markets (yet). Then, discover which brands are winning the hearts and minds of kids these days along with takeaways you can directly apply to your own business. Let’s dive in!

Why Gen Z Matters for Brands

Think your brand doesn’t need to reach Gen Z audiences? You might be risking $700,000 with that mindset.

That number represents the median revenue loss of brands that are slow to respond to change, according to a recent survey. In fact, the study also found that 56% of brands have reported financial setbacks as a result of this.

On the other hand, brands that have remained resilient and flexible to the changing needs of one of the marketplace’s biggest consumer and employment groups have reaped the rewards. Gen Z controls $360 billion of wealth.

Want a piece of that pie? Let’s take a closer look at brands who are already kicking it with the kids and how you can do the same.

4 Examples of Brands Gen Z Can’t Get Enough of

Gen Z already has tremendous buying power and it’s growing day by day. This generation now represents 32% of the world’s population and a large portion of the workplace. And while we may not see Gen Z’s collective income surpass that of Millennials until 2031, the impact this generation has already had is impressive. If your company hasn’t started to care, they should — fast.

Not sure where to start? Whether they’ve always aimed to reach a younger demographic or they’ve had to pivot their marketing to appeal to a new generation, the brands listed below are shining examples of what Gen Z resonates with most. In this section we’ll go over who these brands are, how they manage to stand out from the crowd and what you can practically take away from each example.

1. Spotify

The way we work has changed — a lot. So it should come as no surprise that Gen Z has a fresh perspective on what makes a company great to work for. Enter Spotify.

Spotify is widely considered “career goals” as far as this generation is concerned. But it wasn’t always that way.

According to the 2022 NSHSS Career Interest Survey, Spotify was considered the 46th most desirable place to work two years ago but has impressively risen to 3rd since then. One key to their success is that they actually take Gen Z seriously.

How do we know they’re doing this? Let’s take a look at some of their recent initiatives.

In 2021, Spotify’s CEO publicly announced the brand’s goal to appeal to more Gen Z listeners. To kick things off, they launched user-generated playlists that populate directly on the app’s homepage based on the feedback they received from younger users.

They also invested heavily into original research on Gen Z preferences and behaviors. Since then they’ve published insightful reports on topics such as “How Gen Z Is Using Audio To Hear and Be Heard,” among others.

And, perhaps most importantly, they’ve revamped their organizational culture to reflect their new direction. The streaming app’s workplace now prioritizes the following:

All of these characteristics check important boxes for potential Gen Z recruits. According to Business Insider, Gen Z employees are looking for roles that are meaningful (collaborative, innovative) and support a larger, impactful goal (sincere, passionate). They are also seeking work environments that prioritize health and wellbeing through flexibility (open and trusting) and the opportunity for self expression (idiosyncratic and quirky, playful).

And last but certainly not least, we know that another reason why Spotify is so popular with Gen Z employees is because it’s an established brand. According to research by JUV Consulting, 54% of Gen Z respondents said they’d rather work for a company that has already made a name for itself as opposed to freelancing, working at a startup or working in a non-profit.

That’s not to say new or small businesses don’t stand a chance at acquiring talent from this pool. But it is worth considering during your next recruitment cycle.

Takeaway: As you can see, Spotify is prioritizing Gen Z consumers by actively asking for feedback, listening to what is said and applying it. And it’s not just paying off with Gen Z consumers. As the NHSS Survey shows, it’s also being noticed by Gen Z employees. Use consumer surveys, fund original research and then learn about and apply the values this generation holds to your own work environment to attract and keep more highly qualified Gen Z candidates.

2. Youth to the People

They don’t just talk about making a difference — Youth to the People actually spends money on it. And Gen Z has noticed.

If you’re not already familiar with Youth to the People, the skincare company is “a vegan, cruelty-free, sustainable brand that actually has glass packaging and the expectation is that you’ll refill your product but still have something that isn’t plastic or is plastic neutral,” explains Shaina Zafar, Co-founder and CMO at JUV Consulting.

Recently acquired by L’Oreal, the Gen Z-approved business focuses on community building through transparent, purpose-driven practices. One example of this is who they choose to partner with when it comes to brand collaborations.

As Zafar points out, “They partner with social media influencers who are authentically going to engage with their mission statement. They are diverse folks themselves rather than falling into the cliche or Eurocentric beauty standards we usually see.”

Takeaway: Put your money where your brand’s mouth is and Gen Z will champion you. Standing up for a cause and transparently communicating through actions rather than words are the cornerstones of mission-driven branding, which is a highly effective strategy for reaching this generation.

As branding expert Andy Cunningham has said, “Every company today needs values, a purpose and a mission. You can’t do great branding until you understand what your purpose is as a company.”

3. AmTrak

Think only the new brands in town can reach Gen Z? Think again. AmTrak is a great example of a brand that has had to pivot to kick it.

“I don’t think a lot of people would think of [AmTrak] as a Gen Z brand”, says Zafar. “It’s not as flashy or as hot of a brand you would expect to necessarily resonate with Gen Z.” Zafar goes on to point out that it’s not typically associated with the colorful pastel aesthetic consumers expect from brands that Gen Z loves. But that doesn’t seem to matter.

What Gen Z really cares about is their commitment to environmentalism and conscious consumerism. In fact, studies have shown that Gen Zers overwhelmingly prefer sustainable businesses and 3 out of 4 would choose a company that is environmentally-friendly over a name brand if given the choice.

Knowing this, AmTrak saw an opportunity to rebrand and reach Gen Z like they never have before.

As AmTrak’s own website says, they’ve recently created a company-wide sustainability program that aims to increase awareness about and improve the practices of their operations. “Through continuous improvement, we aim to create long-term benefits for our customers, employees and business partners,” they declare.

Here’s just a sampling of what the AmTrak brand has done so far:

The result? Excellent word of mouth marketing among Gen Z travelers.

Zafar’s coworker recently took a trip from New York to Chicago and raved about the experience. In addition to being scenic, the AmTrack route was also more affordable and sustainable than flying. It also provided her colleague an opportunity to do work while she traveled thanks to WiFi available onboard. Hearing this story made Zafar ask herself, “Should I be doing that? I’ll book an AmTrak trip!”

Takeaway: Afraid of rebranding to appeal to Gen Z audiences? Don’t be. If AmTrak hadn’t taken the leap towards making a massive impact on a cause Gen Z cares about, they never would have created large-scale positive change for the environment or revamped their image so effectively.

Start by picking an important cause that matters to the younger generation. Then, create and share your intentions for supporting it. Build or refresh your branding around this goal and market accordingly. Be sure to follow up with statistical analysis like AmTrak does with their sustainability reports in order to prove your brand is really walking the walk.

4. Overtime

No, being part of Gen Z isn’t just about loving TikTok. But it is an important part of their life. And as Overtime’s success shows, there’s more to it than posting a few dance videos.

Overtime is a media company that has branched out to a lot of different things but it’s focused on high school Gen Z athletes,” says Brian Bosché, Director of Product Marketing at Smartsheet. In fact, Overtime is one of the first brands to acknowledge there is a market around high school sports, “high school basketball especially.”

According to Bosché, they used TikTok to pioneer high school highlights going viral. And the creative marketing campaign has paid off.

Tom Weingarten, Head of Social Media at Overtime, shared the strategy behind their digital and social eCommerce plan in a recent interview with Conviva. He said it all came down to two things: growing the community through their comment sections and maintaining the mindset that going viral before their competitors is their first priority.

To do all of this, they’ve established a strong project management process and daily workflow while encouraging their account leads to take complete ownership of their page. “We want [Gen Z’s] experience with our account to feel like a human as much as possible. I think that’s been the differentiator for a lot of our content.”

That might be a large part of why marketing leaders are taking notice. “They have done an incredible job of building a community where they now go into different sports, and they have channels for different sports across TikTok,” says Bosché. “They produce original content and shows. They even created their own professional sports leagues, Overtime Elite and a professional basketball league for high school students in Atlanta,” among others.

Takeaway: Focus on selling through digital and social commerce (and yes, TikTok!) if you want to meet Gen Z where they’re already spending time. Lead with authenticity by giving your team full permission to share their personal lives, thoughts and creative impulses on your social accounts. Plan to be first and best every time you post content. And set your team up for success with the systems and processes that are required to maintain brand consistency through each channel you use to reach Gen Z consumers.

Gen Z and Me: Next Steps for Brands

If you take away nothing else from this article, just know that targeting Gen Z is no longer a “nice-to-have” strategy. It is now crucial to business success no matter what sector you serve. By learning from the success of brands that are already beloved by this generation you can replicate their wins.

Ready to deep dive into what makes Gen Z tick? Hear more from Zafar and Bosché when you watch a replay of our free webinar on how to build a resilient, future-ready marketing strategy that aligns your brand with Gen Z.