Technology and innovation
min read

How to capture the hearts and minds of Gen Z with your product

Written by
Izzy Hall
Published on
March 19, 2024
Last updated
March 19, 2024

What this article covers

Subscribe to our newsletter

Subscribe to receive the latest blog posts to your inbox every week.

Subscribe

By subscribing you agree to with our Privacy Policy.

In 60 seconds...

  • Gen Z is drawn towards glimmers of hope, something that’s particularly evident on visual platforms like TikTok 
  • They want clever, interesting products that bring joy beyond initial consumption - it’s about products that surprise them and drive them to review
  • Capturing Gen Z’s eye (and spending!) is about realizing what they love about your product, and taking it one step further

Ah, Gen Z. The TikTok generation. The generation of digital natives who are renowned for playing hard to get with brands. As marketers, you may understand the huge significance of engaging this young generation, but they have increasingly high expectations for those wanting to capture their attention and spend. Gen Z seeks brands that stand out from the crowd and demand product theatre that puts mainstream brands in the shade. 

The solution? Brands need to elevate the role of their product as part of an overall investment into brand experience. 

In this blog, we’ll be looking at the products that this generation leans into and why. We’ll be hearing from Andrew Wardlaw, Chief Ideas Officer at MMR Research, a global consumer and sensory research agency, and Sarah Rooney, SVP, Head of Huxly US and sponsors of our YMS NYC event. 

To better understand Gen Z shoppers, MMR sent Gen Z consumers a box of product samples to get their thoughts on products that crossed 85 brands and 12 food, beverage, and personal care categories. As a further step, the company also deployed an AI chatbot to have over 700 ‘conversations’ with this cohort, gaining further insight into how and what this generation buys.

Today, we’ll be sharing key learnings from their research, discussing the importance of innovation, and looking at how brands can capture the hearts and minds of Gen Z with products.

Why is product theatre so important for Gen Z? 

Right now, life is a bit rubbish for Gen Z. From political upheaval to rising inflation, young people are growing up surrounded by uncertainty. So it’s no surprise that this generation is looking for joy wherever they can get it: MMR’s research revealed that Gen Z is drawn towards glimmers of hope, something that’s particularly evident on visual platforms like TikTok. 

We talk about TikTok a lot, and that’s no surprise when 72% of US Gen Zers use the platform. It’s an app that young people love, and it assists brands in creating content that really pops when it comes to packaging. It’s the place for flaunting your goods. 

And as for what Gen Z likes? MMR’s research revealed bright colors and chaotic maximalism to be amongst their favorite aesthetics. But these glimmers of joy don’t end with the packaging itself. “So many brands will consider how their product looks on the shelf, but for this generation, value starts to be sucked out of an experience if halfway through the packaging aesthetic looks messy”, says Andrew. “So, for example, if it doesn’t reseal properly or if it tears messily when you open the product.” 

For Gen Z, it’s about the whole product experience. 

What products does this generation lean into? 

Ultimately, Gen Z wants clever, interesting products that bring joy beyond initial consumption. It’s about products that surprise them, driving them to review, unbox live on camera, and share reviews on social media. 

“Manufacturers [need to] consider the rituals of packaging, for example”, says Andrew. “Brands that are really clever can deploy their story in stages and reveal layers of their story. There’s a ritualistic element that also builds a sense of anticipation which this generation responds to.” 

But, as is always the way with Gen Z, it’s not straightforward. Whilst bright colors and chaotic maximalism may work for some consumers, it’s important to remember that this is a spectrum… and Gen Z is a generation of extremes. At one end of the spectrum, there is bright packaging, says Sarah, while on the other there is the stripped-back, simplistic, and calming product experience. Both of these can have the same effect - it’s the novelty that really counts. 

“When we talk about semiotics, we’re really talking about the novelty within semiotics”, explains Sarah. “So, the brightness is a novelty in a way. But, there are other categories where they step away from that, which can also be novel. 

“So, for example, [in the chocolate industry], Tony’s Chocoloney is at one end of the spectrum, whilst you get Hu at the other end, which has that corrugated, undyed, matt [look]. These are two ends of novelty.” 

But why is this? Unlike other generations, Gen Z isn’t willing to settle for less. Thanks to the vast array of choices, if they don’t like what you’re offering, they’ll just go elsewhere. “They’re willing to leave convention because it doesn’t seem to be giving them what they want”, says Sarah. “They’re leaning into different types of brands that are created from culture, for example, Mr Beast.” 

Why is innovation so important? 

So, to build on this idea, why is this creativity and innovation so important for brands wanting to capture the spend of Gen Z? 

Firstly, rising inflation. Thanks to increased costs, Gen Zers are increasingly searching for dupes to save themselves some previous pennies (and why not - you’d be a fool not to!). But “it’s not about [Gen Z not being] willing to spend money”, says Sarah, “it’s about where they want to spend their money. We all recognize inflation and how it affects us, and they’re a younger generation so naturally will have less income than other generations. We know that they still spend lavishly on things that are important to them, but what’s different is that they’re much more discerning about what’s important to them.” 

And, secondly, the power of user-generated content. Peer-to-peer recommendations are one of the most effective ways of engaging young people, and this goes hand in hand with creativity and innovation. “It’s the unexpected moments that get people to go out on TikTok and share with their friends”, says Andrew. “The ritualistic packaging, the QR codes on the pack… the consumption is only just the start of it.” 

Case studies 

Crocs 

The shoe that started out as industry footwear but got a mega-revival amongst Gen Z. Aside from huge collaborations with stars like Justin Bieber, Sarah believes part of the product’s success is down to Gen Z’s “backlash to discomfort” and the personalization on offer.

“It’s this experience that I get to have in creating my own identity and trading and engaging”, she says.

@shanspaldingx run to @inspiredthelabel to make your crocs look cute #crocs #croccharms #decoratingcrocs ♬ KU LO SA - A COLORS SHOW - Oxlade

Coca-Cola Creations

Alongside their core ranges, Coca-Cola regularly produces innovations to keep the brand alive and salient, something which brings incremental volume, drives purchases, and leads to huge volumes of UGC. 

@mofoodd Coca Cola Creations K-Wave is here! The new limited edition coke flavor. Let’s try it! #mofoodd #cocacola #coke #cocacolacreations #newfood #drinks #fy #fun #foodfinds #soda ♬ TRAINING SEASON x DONT STOP THE MUSIC by Adamusic - Adam Wright

How to capture the hearts and minds of Gen Z with your product 

Andrew’s top tip for winning over Gen Z is “turning up the volume of the sensory experience.”

“It might be the fragrance, it might be the texture…”, he continues, “what we deduced from [our research] was that it very much plays into FOMO. It’s an opportunity for brands - if they can understand what their consumers really value about the product experience, now is the time to turn that dial up.” 

“Most products just do a great job and fulfill their promise, but they don’t necessarily piece the consciousness with any particular sensory element or characteristic”, says Andrew. For example, brands like Sol de Janeiro, who have gained massive popularity amongst Gen Z on TikTok, are ramping up the fragrance of their Bum Bum cream - something that many young people describe online as smelling ‘like heaven’ and ‘delicious’

Essentially, capturing Gen Z’s eye (and spending!) is about realizing what they love about your product, and taking it one step further. Take the peak of your product and elevate it, making it memorable - think of the crack you hear on that first bite of a Magnum - that’s a sound stuck in everyone’s heads! 

Want to learn more with MMR? For YMS NYC attendees, you can drop in and chat to the team at Stand 13. Or, for more information, set up a call with the team now to find out more. 

1,000+ brands trust Pion

Ready to see how Pion can supercharge your sales targets?