Can brands keep up with the rising digital era? The answer is yes. Don’t let their social media habits and mobile addictions fool you, the post-millennial Generation Z, born between 1996 and 2001, still has a strong consumer culture.

It is true that post-millennial consumers live a life dominated by social media and mobiles. A quarter of Generation Z spends at minimum 30 hours a week on their phones, racking up almost as many hours as a full-time job, so it’s sure to create a different outlook on life. It’s also true that Generation Z prefers to stream media and connect with people online as opposed to in person. But despite all of this, it seems that paradoxically they still live a consumer culture with a strong preference for in-store shopping and a strong affinity to luxury brands.

By comparing Generation Z to the general population, we can bring light to the differences and similarities amongst this new consumer generation, and after many years, take the spotlight off of millennials. Successful brands know exactly how to engage with millennials, but until now, this new generation, Generation Z, has not been researched on a large, quantitative level. So Research Now surveyed 1,050 UK young adult members of our panels aged 16 to 21 in the UK and a second, nationally representative sample of 1,041 UK consumers for comparison. This study presented the answers to the questions that brands need to know right now, as this new generation becomes active consumers.

Yes, talk to me online

In comparison to the quarter of Generation Z who spends 30 plus hours per week on their phones, of the general public only 8% spend 30 hours or more on their phones. So what exactly is this new generation doing spending more than four hours per day on their mobiles?

For one, they’re no longer making calls. Only 11% of their time is spent talking to others. Instead, they’re spending twice as much time on social media compared to the general population.

It’s safe to say that Generation Z has adopted nomophobia, where more than half of Generation Z respondents are frightened of leaving the house with a dead battery, and 44% are worried (or very worried) to be somewhere isolated from the internet.

Target me on social media

What does this mean for brands? More than half of Generation Z feel that the ideal way for a brand to target them is via social media, double that of the general public. On average Generation Z are active on 4 different social media channels compared to 2.7 of the general population. With the exception of LinkedIn, the younger group over-indexes for use of all the major social media platforms, with significantly higher usage on YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat.

Brands need to earn Generation Z’s trust using a platform they feel comfortable on. As the first generation to grow up in a world of social media, 43% of Generation Z usually or always trust brands on social media compared to only 36% of the general population.

Brands we love

If you’re a tech, fast food, fashion, or luxury brand, you’ve already got a jump start. When it comes to brand affinity, Gen Z has stronger affinity to most brands tested across these sectors.

Generation Z has a stronger brand affinity for Microsoft and Apple than the general population who have a stronger affinity for Sony and Samsung. Generation Z also has a significantly stronger brand affinity for fast food companies with 75% having a strong affinity to McDonald’s compared to only 49% of the general population. Generation has a far stronger affinity to most fashion brands tested, particularly sports brands such as Adidas and Nike, with the general population preferring Levi’s. Members of Gen Z are also aspirational, showing a strong affinity to all luxury brands compared to the general population, particularly Mercedes, BMW, Gucci, and Ralph Lauren.

It may seem we’re isolating ourselves…

It’s surprising that 73% of Generation Z often forgo regular nights out for nights in watching TV and streaming media. Over 40% prefer saving money for bigger one-off events such as festivals, compared to just 22% of the general population.

However, it’s not as surprising considering almost a quarter of Generation Z prefer to speak to friends via WhatsApp and Snapchat than see them in person, compared to only 15% of the general population.

But we still thrive in a consumerist world…

Although Generation Z behaves differently in some ways, they have the same strong interest in brands, consumerism, shopping, and spending money as the rest of the population - 60% still prefer to shop in store, similar to 56% of the general population – making their general shopping behaviours very similar. In fact, consumerism in Generation Z may be even stronger considering 39% like to be seen buying popular, trendy brands compared to only 18% of the general population. In addition, Generation Z spends more money via mobiles, whether on games or shopping, at £23 per week (the equivalent of 21% of their disposable income) compared to the £16 weekly spend (10% of disposable income) by the general population.

Despite the significant amount of time spent online, it’s clear they remain a consumerist group. And brands that establish relationships with Generation Z on social media, in the environment in which they are most comfortable, will be rewarded. Determining the best ways to engage online, and how to measure the value of these online conversations, will be key to success. As Generation Z grows we’ll see increasing impact from their lifestyle choices – something for brands to plan for now.


By Michael Murray, associate director of research services at Research Now

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