Understanding America’s Generation Z: 3 fast-growing trends

Updated: Sep 18, 2020

Photo by Gemma Chua-Tran on Unsplash

At Quilt.AI, we’re a diverse group of people. We’re a team of techy and artsy people, a team of quant whizzes and wordsmiths, and a mix of Gen Xers, millennials, and a few zoomers (aka, Gen Z). 

Recently, we’ve been conducting more consumer research on Generation Z in America. 

Our cultural researchers studied cultural concepts across the USA over the last four years. These concepts were then checked against search volume data. Average search volumes and rate of change were measured in order to understand which cultural concepts were dominant and emerging. 

Categorising the Concepts

To visualise the different concepts, we plotted them along axes of individualism and familiarity. Along the axis of Individualism, we have on one end concepts that are related to honing the Self, setting oneself apart from the pack. On the other hand, we have concepts focused on the community, in which Gen Zers celebrate being part of something bigger. 

Along the axis of Familiarity, we classify concepts based on their distance from the comfort zone. On one end, we have ‘Alternative’, where concepts closer to this pole are ones that involve challenging the status quo. On the opposite side, we have ‘Familiar’, involving being closer to the mainstream. 

Which are the fastest growing concepts?

Based on our analysis, we see that the top three fastest growing concepts are ‘Uniquely Common’, ‘Civic Engagement’ and ‘Made for Me’, at rates of 759%, 229% and 210% respectively. 

Uniquely Common: the era of e-girls and e-boys 

Being alt is in. We see that Generation Z people commit to being part of the subcultures they identify with, not toning down their demonstrations of group belonging for fears of a particular subculture being considered ‘uncool’. This means emulating the aesthetics and linguistic quirks of subcultures they choose to belong to. 

In the branding world, this translates to a cult brand phenomena- gyms are now homes to ‘fitness tribes’, and beauty brand names become identity badges. Gen Zers associate themselves with brands almost as if brands are subcultures themselves. Think of a Glossier girl and certain personas would come to mind. Think of how a Barry’s Bootcamp HIIT gym goer might be, or an F45 #Crossfitfam member, and we would draw up certain associations with disciplined eating, an interest in health and wellness, and trendy athleisure.

Civic Engagement: A greater sociopolitical consciousness

Undeterred — and perhaps even spurred on — by their youthfulness, Gen Zs want to lend their voice to broader ideas and causes. This has resulted in online and offline activism. In the sociopolitical sphere, this translates to attending protests for the environment, rallies for human rights, and online, micro-debates in the form of twitter reply threads, reddit submissions and instagram comments.

In the brand sphere, we see that the Gen Z consumer’s product world is very much informed by their stances on issues in society. For instance, cruelty-free brands have become symbols indicating an ethical living mindset.

Made for Me: It’s all about Custom

Our research has shown us that Generation Z increasingly values customisation. They want the ability to have deciding power and hence a hand in making their own products and experiences distinctively theirs.This manifests in a love for customisable shoes, personalised fitness plans and beauty boxes. This manifests in a love for customisable shoes, personalised fitness plans and beauty boxes.

This signals a shift in the consumer’s relationship with owning ‘Coolness’. Owning ‘cool’ has always meant owning a brand signature, whether that’s a pair of Nike Air Jordans or a Hermès Birkin bag. This meant entrusting the responsibility of creating coolness to the brand and their celebrity ambassadors. But will that be enough for Gen Z?

In a few years down the line, might superstar brand collaborations lose their appeal as the desire for customisation grows?

This rapidly growing desire for customisation signals that the new generation wants to be involved in this creation of coolness, no longer wanting to be mere recipient of a cool item, but maker too.

In the brand world, what could this mean for the future of the ‘Signature’ model, and how might brands pivot?

Want to know the full scope of our Gen Z research? Email [email protected] to find out more.