Keeping up with the Zoomers

Editor's note: Joeri Van den Bergh is cofounder of InSites Consulting. He can be reached at

Generation Z – aka post-Millennials, the iGeneration or Zoomers – is the world’s largest generational cohort, accounting for one third of the global population. Unaware of a life without Google, this digitally native generation is social media-literate, always-on and hyper-informed. Online platforms are their means to be in the know, to stay connected and to amplify their voice. With many coming of age during the pandemic, the past two years put a mark on their lives and their outlook on the future.

Having the fastest-growing disposable income, which is expected to reach $33 trillion over the next decade, Gen Z is an important audience for any brand. So, what characterizes these Zoomers and what are their expectations towards brands? 

This article highlights some key insights from our Ready for the Zoomers? report, based on a survey with 1,072 U.S. consumers (Gen Z, Gen Y, Gen X and Baby Boomers). The report is available free (registration required) at:

Gen Z and finance

Growing up in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and against the backdrop of the COVID-19 recession, Gen Z wants to write its own money rules. Like their Millennial counterparts, who are still leading the way with their drive for entrepreneurship (64%), 51% would like to start their own business. Yet unlike Millennials, they are driven by passion rather than achievement. While 52% of Gen Y say a job defines how successful you are, this is only true for 32% of Gen Z. Flirting with TikTok and YouTube algorithms, this generation turns its social game into a business plan in no time. 

Gen Z is the first generation with an incredibly high level of financial literacy at a very young age. Fifty-three percent state that their interest in financial planning and/or investments has increased in the last two years. Rather than enrolling in expensive business courses, they self-educate online by following influencers (aka fin-fluencers) on social media for financial advice, for example. Even if their disposable income is not (yet) reaching the heights of that of Millennials, they are closing in on their older counterparts when it comes to financial investments: 62% of Gen Z made investments in the past year. 

While more traditional products like stocks and education funds take the biggest share in their investment portfolio, Gen Z sees a lot of potential in art and new investment products such as cryptocurrencies and NFTs. In fact, 25% of Gen Z believe NFTs will increasingly replace physical artwork and 41% would even like to be paid or get an allowance in cryptocurrencies.

What this can mean for brands: Gen Z expects brands to support them in building financial resilience by providing accessible and actionable advice. Copper is a debit card and banking app for teens that helps them to set goals, learn about budgeting and save for the future. At the same time, parents can monitor purchases in real time, through the app.

Gen Z and mental well-being

We all experience a certain degree of stress, yet Gen Z is atop the chart for most stressed-out generation. In the U.S., 55% of Gen Z feel stressed, their main stress factors being mental health (60%) and studies/job (45%). Yet, this “It’s ok to not be ok” generation does not shy away from talking about their struggles. Gen Z is all about dropping taboos and raising awareness for mental health.

While social media is a space for Gen Z to connect, be creative and relax, it is often cited as a contributing factor to their mental health struggles. Comparing themselves to others (34%) and external expectations (16%) add to the stress equation. The unrealistic depictions and filtered images put a lot of pressure on looks for this generation (67%), with only 46% feeling comfortable to show their real, unfiltered self online. 

What this can mean for brands: Gen Z’s focus on mental well-being can inspire brands to take on the role of life coach, supporting youngsters in prioritizing their mental health and encouraging discussions around the topic. For Mental Health Awareness Month 2021 and in collaboration with The Jet Foundation, Victoria Secret’s PINK launched Make Your Move Fest, a program full of tips on ways movement, expressions, connection and self-care can help us feel our best. As part of its Beauty Unaltered campaign, CVS Pharmacy implements a special mark for any unaltered image, because images are powerful and, the thinking goes, using unaltered images can lead to a powerful change. CVS is asking its partners to join the movement, hoping to encourage realism in beauty marketing. Building on last year’s #ReverseSelfie campaign, Dove launched the #DetoxYourFeed campaign in April 2022 to demonstrate the harm created by toxic beauty advice on social media. The campaign is part of Dove’s Self-Esteem Project, aiming to tackle low self-esteem caused by idealized beauty content.

Gen Z and the metaverse

Seamlessly blending physical and digital worlds, Gen Z are true digital natives. For this “always-on” generation, social media plays a central role in their everyday lives; 34% even feel anxious if they (must) disconnect for a day. 

While this visual- and video-driven generation turns to YouTube for entertainment and tutorials, TikTok provides a creative outlet for memes and viral content. Together with Instagram, the latter is also used for digital activism. Just think about how the Black Lives Matter hashtag – which originated in 2013 after the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin – engaged a worldwide audience online after the video of George Floyd’s killing went viral in 2020.

Compared to older generations, Gen Z has a more positive image of social media companies. While 55% feel these companies have too much power, this rises to 73% for Gen Y, 66% for Gen X and even up to 76% for Baby Boomers. Yet, Gen Z is not naïve when it comes to protecting their privacy, with half of them distrusting how their data is used and one third using encrypted messaging apps like Signal, Threema and Telegram, etc.

Next to the more traditional social media platforms, Gen Z is fully exploring the metaverse, from Fortnite to Animal Crossing to Minecraft and Roblox. Hanging out with friends in virtual worlds, creating an avatar and spending money on virtual outfits is nothing extraordinary to them. No generation will embrace and shape the metaverse more than Gen Z, which is where they also expect brands to be.

What this can mean for brands: Generation Z expects brands to play a relevant role in both their online and offline realities. Cereal company OffLimits launched 2,500 custom cereal box NFTs. The NFT owners are invited to collaboratively design and mint a one-of-a-kind cereal box NFT – both in the metaverse and in real life. In fact, all verified NFT owners will obtain four real-life packing containers of the ultimate cereal NFT.

Gen Z and inclusivity

Like Millennials, Gen Z believes brands should play an active part in shaping a more sustainable and inclusive future and expects them to communicate about their efforts.

Thirty-eight percent believe that brands that don’t communicate about sustainability are not sustainable, showing this generation’s call for radical transparency. With the internet at their fingertips, Gen Z are pro fact-checkers and they do not shy away from rejecting brands that don’t align with their views. In fact, 34% refuse to buy non-sustainable brands.

The global issues that keep Gen Z up at night are related to social inequalities. Being the most ethnically diverse generation in history, diversity and inclusion are key to them. Consequently, more than any other generation, Gen Z considers racism (48%) and LGBTQIA+ rights (18%) as top issues to tackle at global level. Striving for gender liberation, Gen Z values brands that acknowledge gender diversity and break gender stereotypes. In May 2021, Instagram launched a feature allowing users to add up to four pronouns to their profile from dozens of available options, including he, she, they, ze, ve, etc. Users can even submit a request for pronouns not yet included in the list.

Forty-three percent of Gen Z want brands to challenge societal issues. This focus on social justice is also reflected in their spending behavior, with 69% being willing to pay more for brands that treat employees and suppliers fairly. Moreover, 42% are willing to pay more for brands that are Black-owned and 41% for female-owned brands. 

What this can mean for brands: Gen Z not only expects brands to take a stand on societal issues but also to help educate them on how to support minority groups and communities. Google makes it easier than ever for these generations to find Black- and female-owned businesses by adding badges that represent Black-owned and women-led businesses. U.S. retailer Target made a commitment to invest over $2 billion in Black-owned brands by 2025, by featuring Black-owned brands and offering mentorship to Black designers. Since Target started investing more in Black-owned brands, sales increased significantly.

Need for guidance

Gen Z is a very important generation that will bring about change in society, not only because they want to but because they have the skills to do so. They are much more vocal than their predecessors but they are also vulnerable and are growing up in difficult times. They have an enormous need for guidance, especially from brands. 

No matter what you call this generational cohort, they are the largest in size and their disposable income is expected to outperform that of any generation. Your business’s future is likely to depend on them. Are you ready for the Zoomers?