How Gen Z is shaping trends during COVID-19

For brand managers looking to bounce back post-crisis, a careful look at what young consumers demand is a crucial first step.

Gen Z content

The coronavirus pandemic, and resulting quarantine, have required consumers to adjust their daily routines to revolve around digital connectivity. With millions of people staying at home, digital media consumption has soared to new heights—with Gen Z leading the charge.

Around 30% of Gen Z spends more time binging TV shows on streaming services and scrolling through social media than any other generation. (I can’t be the only one shocked whenever I see my weekly screen time, right?)

The increased time spent on digital devices is beginning to pave new trends in the communications industry. With brands, studios, and independent content creators publishing more than ever before, the demand for something new is growing—and Gen Zers are seizing the moment.

We want authenticity, and we want it now

Brands need to understand that Gen Z isn’t going to wait around for you to take lead on an issue or an emerging trend. They’ve learned to democratize creativity and find their own forms of entertainment.

Take TikTok for example.

What was once thought of as a mere fad has boomed into one of the most popular social media sites. In 2020’s first quarter, TikTok saw more than 315 million global downloads, which is more than any one app in a quarter. What’s more, a majority (60%) of its users are Gen Z.

What makes TikTok so popular among our demographic is how most of the content is made directly by our peers. User feeds aren’t crowded with ads or paid-to-promote influencer content. Content doesn’t need to be professional or high-end to go viral. Real people doing something relatable and immediate is the secret to TikTok’s success.

The communities and content TikTok has championed are what companies should focus on when building their communications strategies. What this platform has shown, more often than not, is that Gen Z will buy into a brand if its digital content is rooted in relatable customer testimonials instead of paid celebrity endorsements.

The desire for authenticity is why micro-influencers have better relationships with Gen-Z. Intimate relationships with audiences breed trust and rapport, which in turn can produce leads and potential sales.

Creating the digital experience

COVID-19 has pulled the rug out from under major life plans. Milestones like graduation, senior prom and dream jobs/internships may no longer be an option for this generation.

However, technology presents brands with an opportunity to reach this demographic in new ways and build customer loyalty. For example, Teen Vogue hosted a Virtual Prom to celebrate the class of 2020. The nationwide virtual community experience featured celebrity cameos, interactive choreography, curated playlists and more.

In a time where social interaction is limited, it’s important for brands to maintain a sense of community with their consumers. The influx of digital content requires PR efforts to be as engaging and interactive as possible.

Be careful, though.

No other generation is as quick as Gen Z to call out derivative and clichéd content. Companies must be strategic and purposeful when building out these experiences. According to the Boston Consulting Group, personalization will shift $800 billion in revenue to the 15% of companies who get it right. The most successful brands will leverage customer data and provide personalized content that users want to revisit.

The use of technology and data to maintain consumer relationships is especially critical while social distancing is still in place. For Gen Z in particular, expertly crafted digital experiences allow us to pinpoint the brands who are willing to welcome us into their community. That can make all the difference in whether or not your company can weather these times.

By 2026, Gen Z is estimated to become the largest U.S. consumer population. Some of us are already entering the workforce. If businesses are looking to survive long-term, they need to speak our language.

Remember: We don’t want to see photoshopped pictures, or care about celebrity endorsements. We want to see our opinions valued and have a platform for our voices to be heard.

If brands make room for Gen Z in their world, Gen Zers will make them a part of ours.

Carolyn Lok is a senior public relations student at the University of Florida. She currently serves PRSSA as the national vice president of digital communications and is the PRSSA National President Elect for 2020-2021. Connect with Carolyn on LinkedIn.

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