As I was reading eMarketer’s latest report on consumer trends —this one about Gen Z consumers not trusting big business—I glossed right over the implications at first. It wasn’t until partway through that I realized just how frequently I’m reading about this generation as the new big gorilla of consumer spending.  For so long, I’ve been tracking the trends related to Millennials, but increasingly, the commentary is shifting.

When I started in this industry, we were all talking about Baby Boomers and their level of disposable income. I’m pretty sure the discussion skipped over my generation—Generation X—maybe because we were Baby Boomers’ more digitally savvy mini-me. Then it was all about the buying power of Millennials and how they valued experience over traditional buying factors. Now we’ve moved on again. Except this time, the challenge is that traditional blueprints for any type of marketing messaging are out the window. That’s because Gen Z has a trust problem.

Not that I blame them. This generation has grown up in the age of social media, where trying to find truth and objective facts can be like trying to catch the wind. Who do you trust? It’s a problem, both for Gen Z consumers and for the marketers trying to sell them things.

In describing this challenge, eMarketer cite the following data:

  • Only 42% of Gen Z trust companies. This was lower than Millennials (50%), although trust has fallen among both groups since 2018 (Salesforce).
  • Only 48% of Gen Zers worldwide think businesses are having a positive impact on society (Deloitte).
  • Only 53% of Gen Zers said brands come across as authentic compared to 61% of Millennials (Salesforce).

This matters because this more mistrustful generation now accounts for 40% of consumer spending. They not only have a higher number of transactions, but spend more per transaction than any other generation. But how do you market to buyers who don’t trust what you say? We can personalize the tar out of marketing communications, but if the audience doesn’t trust you, it’s not going to matter.

Here is where authenticity and transparency play a critical role. Gone are the days in which super polished content wins the day. Better to use real people in real situations in a way that comes across as genuine. In other words, when it comes to marketing video, an iPhone carried around the office carries more weight than an actor sitting in a studio. Customer testimonials and influencer marketing win out over slick ad copy and the angle of the product shot.

As eMarketer notes, reflecting diversity in those communications is key, as well. Gen Z wants advertising and marketing to look like a cross-section of our nation. I think about Dove’s Real Beauty campaign depicting real women and what they really look like, and Mattel with its Barbies of different skin tones and body types, even those in wheelchairs or with prosthetic limbs.

This generation is also much more aware of the capabilities of digital data harvesting and don’t want to be exploited by all the things that companies can learn about them. “Gen Zers are increasingly uncomfortable with how companies use their personal information and are becoming savvier and more cautious about what they divulge,” notes eMarketer. “They are less likely than older generations to feel comfortable seeing ads that have been personalized for them based on personal data that had been collected.”

I find it fascinating how different generations are so different, and how their shopping behavior can be completely different from the generation before. As Generation Z rises to become the big gorilla of consumer spending, it’s time for marketers to shift gears (and messaging)…again.