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Understanding What Gen Z Wants From Brands

It’s our job at 360 to put our clients at the center of what’s next, and key to understanding what’s next is also understanding who’s next, namely Gen Z consumers. Gen Z is the most diverse generation yet. Comprising about 20% of the U.S. population (roughly 67 million people),1 half (48%) of Gen Z identifies as non-white,2 and this generation is more likely than any other to identify as LGBTQ.3 Gen Z has considerable spending power – spending their own money and influencing the purchasing decisions of others around them, especially their families’ spending habits.4

To find out more about what Gen Z wants (and doesn’t want) from brands, 360PR+ engaged 20 students ages 18-21 and they, in turn, engaged their Gen Z circles. The special research project was directed by several members of our team and included both original research and an analysis of third-party research, all through the lens of our Gen Z students.

A group of students gathers online as part of 360’s research with Gen Z in Summer 2021.

We’re excited to share highlights of our Gen Z research here.

Better Representation in the Media

As a more diverse generation, Gen Z expects more and better representation in the media they turn to and the content they consume. For brands, that can come in the form of partnerships with a diverse group of influencers on Instagram, YouTube and TikTok – the most popular platforms used by Gen Z. Brands should also be reflecting this diverse generation and their families in the content on owned channels. Gen Z is actively looking for this representation.

Seeking Connection – and Video

Influencers can provide a pathway to finding and making new connections, which is something that’s important to Gen Z. According to Statista, 79% of Gen Z reports feeling lonely5 and seeks community in online spaces. In fact, these digital natives are more likely to seek connection in online spaces than older generations, and that is one of the reasons for TikTok’s massive appeal with Gen Z. According to Wallaroo Media, 60% of TikTok users are members of Gen Z, and 90% of users aged 16-24 visit the app multiple times a day.6

TikTok virality is often created by power users and influencers, not brands. That was the driving reason for 360’s pairing SUNNYD with teen musician Johnny Orlando for its “Sweetest Summer Yet” TikTok challenge, an instant hit with Gen Z. Orlando took to his TikTok channel to announce SUNNYD’s new flavors and the chance to win a private concert, and teens responded by creating and posting their own videos featuring SUNNYD and how they planned to have the sweetest summer yet.

According to YPulse, 7 out of 10 teenagers spend more than 3 hours per day with mobile video, and social media is often the main source for all media consumption.7

Purpose Over Product

Another important theme our students identified is that Gen Z pays close attention to brand purpose. When surveying their peers, they found that many are willing to spend more money on a brand that has a clear purpose. “If a brand was able to convince me that they really did care, that would be a big positive in my eyes,” commented one Gen Zer.

Purpose should of course go hand-in-hand with authenticity, but that’s not as easy as it sounds – and Gen Z cautions brands not to come across as pandering. The recent Pride Month campaign from Vans is a prime example of how to get it right with Gen Z. Looking to mark Pride in both an authentic and unique way, Vans launched an entire line of Pride-themed clothing and premiered its “Together as Ourselves” campaign spotlighting LGBTQ artists. Vans also made a $200,000 donation to four LGBTQ non-profits: GLSEN, Casa 1, Where Love is Illegal, and Tokyo Rainbow Pride. By spotlighting LGBTQ artists, Vans put representation front and center of their campaign and avoided the common pitfall of brands that “Pride wash.” The Vans campaign received high marks from our students and other GenZers for not only being robust, but also because Vans had earned its place in the LGBTQ community long prior to Pride Month as a brand that includes the LGBTQ community in its everyday communication and business.

We’d like to thank the following students for spending their summers with us and contributing to this report:

  • Aima Ali, Brooklyn Tech High School
  • Kimberly Almeida, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts
  • Jamie Berrin, Eleanor Roosevelt High School
  • Anya Button, Pomfret School
  • Litao Chen, Boston Latin Academy
  • Connie Deng, Brooklyn Tech High School
  • Shivani Desai, Georgetown University
  • Elise Dohoney, Notre Dame
  • Isabelle Fama, Boston University
  • Brooke Govoni, Marist College
  • Henry Greene, University of Colorado Boulder
  • Darya Iranmanesh, Lexington High School
  • Emily Liu, Westwood High School
  • Caroline Miller, New York University
  • Nicholas Ranieri, Williams College
  • Achintya Sanjay, Needham High School
  • Robert Sheng, Belmont High School


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