• Gen Z (2000 and younger) is growing up and becoming a viable segment of the market.
  • CARLY (Can’t Afford Real Life Yet) is the persona of many in this generation (but isn’t limited to Gen Z).
  • In an impersonal world of the internet, CARLY deeply cares about a brand’s authenticity.
  • Be bold with who you, as a brand, are. Take risks.
  • By doing so, you may alienate some, but you will make your core audience customers for life.
  • Social media is excellent for sharing this personality—and for what you stand.

While there has been a lot of study and research on how to reach the millennial generation, there is a new one creeping up unawares to everyone. This generation is considered generation Z. Follow through to hear of the new research that is happening and how you can gain a larger and more loyal customer base. 

Meet Phillip Jackson, with Future Commerce

Phillip is considered a legend in this industry. His motto is: always be learning. Phillip’s love for learning is contagious, and he shares with others what he is learning in the Future Commerce Podcast as well as their Future Insider’s newsletter. 

In today’s podcast, article, Joseph discusses with Phillip about his study of this new generation: Gen Z.

His findings have brought him to name a persona, CARLY (similar in idea to HENRY). We will seek to better understand who Carly is today.

The differences between Gen X and Gen Z

Gen X (typically 1965 to 1980):

  • Are expensive customers to acquire (as others have spent much money trying to attract them).
  • Shop all the time.
  • Have many options.
  • Are older and more established in their career.
  • Loves premium brands (who doesn’t?!).

Gen Z (typically 1995 to ?):

  • Is young and many fit into the Can’t Afford Real Life Yet (CARLY) persona.
  • Likes premium brands she relates to.
  • Associates with aspirational brands that are personal and tailored to her.

Who is Carly?

CARLY (the acronym for persona who Can’t Afford Real Life Yet, from Gen Z) and the things that matter to her will help you reach her. The world in which she has grown up in (post 9/11) has created an unsafe environment: new security measures, recession and public dissatisfaction around mass media, government, politics and religion.

Carly’s conversations and friendships are authentic, and she’s open about the things that she cares about. She likes the brands that join into public conversations and are willing to take a stand (along with the heat associated with that) for being part of important social concepts and contexts. She loves authenticity.

Authenticity is NOT SAFE

But, then again, in many ways, Carly also doesn’t feel safe—so that would be considered alignment.

In conversations with merchants, I often hear the fear of being authentic: “if I show how I am religiously aligned, or my political beliefs, it will alienate my potential audience.”

Phillip shares that this comes back to authenticity. Who are you as a company (Start with Why by Simon Sinek)? Who do you wish to align with?

Being authentic is not an overnight change. Being authentic takes months and years to prove. Ultimately, being authentic is best if that is truly who you are. Your customers will eventually see that you are trying to spin a yarn of authenticity—and that doesn’t work.

While many do not agree with Nike’s stance on Kaepernick, their alignment on this social issue has continued their growth:

Yet, fears can be realized when something is not authentic.

Risk is mitigated when you know your loyal customers

  • How many conversations do you have with your customers? Do you know your customer inside and out?
  • How well do you align with this base?
  • What if your base becomes fired up (in a good way) about their similarities to you?

Being authentic is more than the products you sell. It comes back to how you present your brand. What issues do you take up as important? What value propositions do you put on your website? Who do you hire to work at your company?

Being authentic is not about your mission statement. Being authentic is who you are.

“It comes down to understanding and imagining your brand and the products that you create through the lens of somebody who is looking at your brand and they’re thinking about how it appeals, not just to their social circle, but also to their ideals in life.”

Phillip Jackson

The Crocs case study

Crocs are a picture of irony because they are counter-cultural. They are not cool by anyone’s standards, especially to the parents. A gen Z probably grew up wearing Crocs only because they were easy and convenient. But no Crocs would’ve appeared on Instagram because Mom and Dad would’ve cared about having a perfect Instagram presence.

Crocs is aligning with artists and musicians that resonate with their audience who already has this positive affiliation with the shoes. Remember, Crocs are practical footwear (not luxury).

In doing so, custom-branded shoes go for 2x what ordinary Crocs would sell for.

Post Malone

Post Malone is a great example. He dresses… not like your parents. He is against the trends. And, he is gaining popularity with the younger generation. Carly relates to him. And, Crocs picks up on this:

How is Crocs doing lately?

As a result of this (and other changes), Crocs turned from almost being defunct in 2016 to this in 2020:

Not bad, if you ask me.

Le Labo case study

As Carly (who Can’t Afford Real Life Yet) still enjoys “nice things”, she looks for it in smaller packages. Le Labo is a great case study:

  • Perfume that comes in 0.5oz containers (small, and inexpensive, but still provides that great smell).
  • Stores are not “perfect” in that they have flawed beauty—broken bricks, rough floors.

Yet, it is this type of authenticity that is attracting the next generation.

Authenticity is sharing who you are

Phillip shares his father-in-law as an example: he makes beautiful finish carpentry. 10 years ago, he would have a WordPress blog. 5 years ago, it would be Squarespace. Now, it’s literally unthinkable to NOT have a Instragram—where you share your stories.

They’re going to text search engines like Google in the last possible moment when they’ve already made their mind up in the, in the purchase decision.

Phillip Jackson

The place to get in front of your customer is BEFORE they get to Google. As such, building your audience’s loyalty through genuine interaction will net you long-term customers.

In addition, Phillip makes the good point that sharing stories is difficult through a .com website. It must be perfect—and any developer will quickly tell you that websites are never perfect.

However… many social media experiences only document sales.

  • Sales are impersonal and often meaningless.
  • Sales train customers to wait for purchases so they can “get a better deal.”

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