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Why brands are looking to “Millzys” to determine their next moves

The consumer impact of Millennials and Gen Z is forcing businesses to reimagine how they interact with customers. An agency creative director predicts how this will all shake out.

Why brands are looking to “Millzys” to determine their next moves

By 2030, nearly three-quarters of the American workforce will be made up of just two generational groups: Millennials and Gen Z. That demographic shift will impact everything from how we think about the office to how we order our food, but it will also force businesses to rethink how they interact with a new consumer class and their evolving sets of values, expectations, and tastes.

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Max Pinas

Max Pinas, executive creative director of the digital agency Dept, is helping businesses around the globe prepare for this generational shift by getting them to focus on their purposes and their values, two things that Millennials and G’z—”Millzys,” as Pinas calls them—look for in everything from the clothes they wear to the cars they drive. Here, Pinas discusses how brands can better prepare for the coming demographic swing and how the events of the past 18 months have accelerated changes that were already starting to emerge before the pandemic. Because moving forward, brands need GenZ to survive.

What do the brands that navigated the pandemic especially well have in common with each other?

Max Pinas: The pandemic put an end to business as usual. Brands got separated into the ones that were digitally mature and the ones that were not. For brands that had, like, 5,000 stores and depended on people going in for physical visits, they struggled like crazy compared to companies that were already moving towards a digital-first mentality.

Gen Z now dictates trends faster than global brands ever can through a never-ending archive of inspiration through social media.”

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There were a lot of companies scrambling to do things like pick-up and returns, or to do other things to enable their businesses again. I’m not saying they did anything wrong, but for years it was already a trend. They said, “Yeah, we’ve always done this. We still have enough money. So, let’s keep doing it.” And then suddenly they got confronted with this new situation and—sure, some were able to flip the script and become more agile—but a lot of them struggled.

Do you think these changes are going to be permanent?

It’s like a rubber band: We pulled a lot on this side and it’ll go back a bit. But when it evens out, I’m convinced it will be more like what we’ve seen last year than anything else. Just for the simple fact that if you look at the total working population in only three or four years, it’s 80%, 90% Millzys. Meaning that everybody that has an active income, and an active life and children, etc., will demand the next normal—that you can order your groceries and have them delivered in 10 minutes.

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Due to the massive wealth that the older generation had, this new generation is now forced into living in smaller apartments and houses, or even living together because they can’t afford to live in places that are ideal for them. So, they are not focusing on owning a lot or having a big car. For brands, we are getting used to these new, very good user experiences. If I’m at home, it doesn’t matter if I’m 50 or I’m 20, Netflix always works, and Uber Eats always works.

Gen Z on the whole is deeply in tune with a brand’s “purpose.” Do you think they would ever trade that frictionless experience for a brand that is less in tune with their own values?

I would say there is definitely an audience for that, but if you look at the mainstream, I’m not so sure. What I do believe is that there will be brands that take care of the planet a lot better than others and that are way more diverse and inclusive than others. So, if you have an equal choice, but one takes care of the planet and one doesn’t, then you still have a preference of choice.

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I think Gen Z is the most focused on doing good and being diverse, but having said that, they are also the ones that most easily order something to get it in 10 minutes, because they are so used to doing things that way. But I firmly believe brands that demonstrate grit and do good will win over Gen Z.

What do you think makes Gen Z unique? And how should brands adapt to those characteristics?

The funny thing is, the real world has become this part-time metaverse—an admittedly broad and undefined term—for Gen Z. It’s the exact inverse of other generations. Gen Z now dictates trends faster than global brands ever can through a never-ending archive of inspiration through social media. TikTok, Snapchat, YouTube, and Instagram—they’re all style and culture archives for this generation. And they can tell how authentic a brand is on TikTok instantly, which can make or break a campaign or brand messaging. That doesn’t mean the only way to reach them is through technology, though, since they’re very connected but also more willing to unplug.

While Gen Z may feel misunderstood, brands that are willing to listen can gain an advantage.”

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I also think brands need to understand that while Gen Z doesn’t have all the money, they do have all the swag. The high-end luxury brands see this, and it’s not for nothing you see Gucci Garden or NIKELAND appearing in Roblox. These experiences, combined with trending hashtags and challenges on TikTok, dictate modern pop culture more than anything else that’s out there right now.

One other thing is that they’re also really aware of what’s happening in the world, and they want to make big social changes that reflect their values. They’re challenging inequality between different societies and people; they understand the urgency of environmental challenges and are concerned about the potential impact of new technologies, like robotization in the labor market. Those are all things Gen Z thinks about a lot, and it should inform how brands interact with them. While Gen Z may feel misunderstood, brands that are willing to listen can gain an advantage.

What does it mean to be a “genuine” brand that can appeal to Gen Z consumers? What does that actually mean to you?

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That’s a hard question. I don’t want to be too generic, but as I mentioned, they can smell you from miles away. So being genuine needs to be in your DNA. You cannot say, “I do good” or “I’m diverse” if you aren’t. And if you’re not that yet, then you need to start working on changing that before you start communicating.

It’s also really about being transparent, genuine, and honest about the things you do. Don’t try to hide or glorify anything, because this generation is so street smart. They understand what you do and what you’re saying. Patagonia works because it’s what they are.

Do you think you need to integrate those generation’s perspectives in your brand in order for them to become loyal customers?

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Yeah, definitely. Sometimes I sit in these rooms with CMOs and other people I genuinely respect, but nobody is in Gen Z. So that’s when you get into situations where you have good intent but a bad campaign. Giving Gen Z a seat at the table will help brands grow faster. Don’t just think of them as young people; take them as seriously as you do your own peers. That generation grew up way faster than us so they know more, they see more, they understand more. When I talk to my kids, it’s ridiculous what they know and what they talk about. They don’t have our generation’s experience, but they have a lot of knowledge, and they’re really smart.

Looking forward, what do you think is going to surprise brands and creative strategy in the next few years, especially when it comes to Gen Z?

I don’t know if they will be surprised, but the virtualization of products and services will be important. There are so many things that are new, from NFTs and gaming to virtual showrooms, virtual fashion—people showing off themselves but as an avatar. It’s taking off so fast. And the adoption of 5G means more and better connectivity everywhere. That means that brands suddenly have a new way to communicate, collaborate, and show off who and what they are. It opens up such a new world. Brand innovation has never been easier if you act now.

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FastCo Works is Fast Company's branded content studio. Advertisers commission us to consult on projects, as well as to create content and video on their behalf.

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