There is no shortage of interest in Generation Z, and similar to the Millennial hype of the early 2000s, there are plenty of generalized identities defining their behaviors, interests and passions. Gen Z consumers have made it their mission to set themselves apart from Millennials. In many ways Gen Z consumers (born between 1997 and 2010) are inherently different. They’re the first generation to grow up alongside digital technology, they’re more diverse than any other generation before them, and embracing uncertainty has become a constant they can rely on.
However, history will always remind us that as things change and evolve, patterns remain. With many Mintel Trends dating back to the 2008 recession, exploring the lifestyle and cultural shifts that Millennials embraced can inform us about the patterns that Gen Z is currently exhibiting today.
Common Ground: Storytelling
At the onset of the 2008 recession social media was limited to Facebook and Twitter, but another digital medium was gaining significant ground – blogging. The popularity and accessibility of blogging was accelerated by the 2008 recession, which gave Millennials a broader perspective on the world, beyond traditional news and entertainment outlets. The emergence of blogging created a sense of community and connection for Millennials, who were eager to feel empowered by what they could control. Bloggers marked the start of the creator/influencer culture we know today, and they created an outlet for a new version of storytelling to emerge in traditional marketing.
For Gen Z, this same pattern exists, just through a new medium. TikTok has become Gen Z’s portal for community and content. What’s different for Gen Z is that the barrier to entry for engaging on TikTok is significantly lower than starting a blog, which creates even more room for various trends and cultural movements to take shape at an accelerated pace. The trend surrounding TikTok Beverage Girlies involves TikTok users sharing their assortment of daily beverages. Drinks have always represented a sense of breaking from a task (e.g. the classic coffee break or happy hour) and for Gen Z consumers the joy of the drink itself is their version of self-care.
The Ryl Company, which offers flavor-forward functional ready-to-drink teas, meets this demand by marketing a proprietary formula of 200 mg of tea polyphenols in every can. This turns the beverage into an afternoon ritual, in the same manner that people would think about taking their vitamins every morning. A TikTok story doesn’t need a beginning, middle and end, but rather a defined point of connection.
Common Ground: Aesthetics
The rise of visual content marketing took off when Instagram and Pinterest entered the social media landscape, and Millennials became known as a generation seeking aesthetically pleasing products. This desire for aesthetics led to headlines of Millennials overspending on visually pleasing products. This is evident in the home retail space with cookware brands like Our Place charging $145 for their Always Pan, with the main difference from other retailers being the brand’s array of aesthetically pleasing colors. Gen Z is commonly thought of as a more practical and resourceful cohort, but they may seek out the same aesthetic value as their Millennial predecessors.
The pandemic played a significant role in shifting a mindset toward material items, and aesthetically pleasing items are no longer just being designed for capturing a perfect Instagram image, but rather to bring personal joy. The extreme popularity of Fishwives Tinned Fish, known for its extremely colorful and exuberant design, has gained massive popularity with Gen Z despite being sold for $10 a tin (compared to store brand tinned fish that can cost as little as $2.50 a tin). The popularity of tinned fish on TikTok is grounded in a budget-friendly mindset and Fishwives adds a premium touch to an otherwise budget-friendly dish. Across both generations, aesthetic value is not a fad, but a new standard in the overall purchase decision. Mintel’s 2023 Global Trend Intentional Spending (client-only link) notes the role pleasure and joy are playing in today’s purchase decisions, which is ultimately what a strong aesthetic provides.
Common Ground: Evolved Ownership
The rise of the gig economy following the 2008 recession was a significant shift in how Millennials perceived ownership and trust. The sharing economy (eg Uber, Airbnb) went from being on the fringe of society to mainstream when Millennial consumers realized the value of these services, and the broader flexibility they offered. For Millennials, the desire for these services aligned with their desire for experiences: the convenience of booking a unique Airbnb instead of a standard hotel, or having access to a ride when off-the-beaten path. This enabled travel to become a one-of-a-kind experience, which resonated particularly with Millennials.
For Gen Z, shifts in ownership have focused less on experiential desires, and more on broader consumption habits. Sustainability is a top of mind issue for Gen Z, but not to the point that it removes their desire for convenience and quality. As a result, the rental and repair market is growing. Whether it’s clothing, tech devices or kitchen appliances, more brands are offering repair services, removing the need to buy something brand new. This mindset will have a much greater impact on the ownership mindset, as Gen Z will gradually seek out quality investment pieces that have the ability to be repaired over time. Patagonia is the most well-known retailer embracing an investment mindset, but more niche retailers are starting to establish this practice. In the summer of 2022 appliance rental company Green Gooding launched an appliance repair and rental program, available at NYC’s Maison Jar, a low-waste grocery store.
How should brands approach Millennials and Gen Z today?
Gen Z is growing up in a different cultural context and thus will have different attitudes and behaviors than Millennials. Millennials took pictures, while Gen Z prioritizes video. Millennials embrace minimalism, and Gen Z embraces cluttercore. Ultimately the common ground that shapes Millennials and Gen Z consumers isn’t the portal or method in which they express themselves, but rather a reminder that they are generations who have found their voices.
Millennials represented a turning point for a new era of consumer and brand relationships, and Gen Z consumers are amplifying that relationship at an increased speed.The battle is no longer big brand versus small brand: Mintel’s generational data reveals 55% of Millennials prefer older, bigger brands, compared to 45% who prefer smaller, newer brands. The divide is even more narrow among Gen Z consumers, with 49% of Gen Z adults preferring older, bigger brands compared to 51% preferring smaller, newer brands.
Every brand can have their story told; it’s just a matter of offering the proper roadmap.