Top 5 Ways Retail Brands Can Win with Gen Z

As we look at what is filling the diminishing role that religion plays in the lives of Gen Z, we can clearly see this generation gravitate toward products, services and experiences that provide ways for them to take care of their physical and mental well-being and offer them community and social connection.

According to a Current Forward survey of 2,000 Gen Zers and millennials, Nike received top mentions as a brand that reaps benefits similar to loyal followers or enthusiasts of religions. What can other retail brands learn from Nike and the ways it meets the many needs of Gen Z? Here are the top five takeaways:

1. Build a community and foster connection.

Being relevant to Gen Z consumers starts with providing spaces and places for them to connect with existing friends and family as well as meet new people. Survey participants that cited Nike as a top brand said, “[I] can log into the Nike run club app and feel like [I’m] a part of a global running community.”

While Nike builds community using an app, other brands like Outdoor Voices promote connection through ongoing local event series. Brands that create spaces and places both digital and physical will build relevance and preference with Gen Z over time.


2. Create brand value-driven content.

Content provides shared experiences through which Gen Z builds community and social connections. One survey respondent described this by saying, “When I discuss [content], I feel like I am connected with the people I am discussing with. When I read articles, I feel connected with the writers. And when I actually watch movies and TV shows, I feel connected with the actors/actresses and the other viewers.”

To build relevant connections with Gen Z, brands should develop lifestyle content based on their brand values. Sweaty Betty’s Instagram features content about female empowerment, fitness inspiration, exercise tutorials and more. Engaging content like that can help Gen Z consumers connect with the brand as well as each other over a shared experience.

3. Think about mental health.

For Gen Z, prioritizing mental health is a first step toward achieving meaning, purpose and human connection. Brands need to acknowledge that everyone is on a mental health journey and find ways to help them on their path. For retail brands, that can look like smart partnerships with brands more dialed into the mental health space, for example Nike’s partnership with Headspace.

Alternatively, helping Gen Zers with their mental health journey can look like promoting inclusivity and body positivity. Using models of all shapes, sizes, colors and abilities can be a simple visual cue that your brand supports mental well-being by promoting healthy body image. Fashion retailer Aerie is just one example of a brand that has leaned into this approach as it shows its apparel on a diverse range of models and doesn’t retouch their photos.

4. Use music to drive relevance.

Over half of Gen Z says music provides them with community and connection, and after family and friends is the most popular thing that provides attributes of religion. Music is an important aspect of building relevance with this generation.

For brick-and-mortar locations, consider the music playing in the store. Find ways to make it meaningful both to your brand and your customers. Music not only has an impact on the in-store experience, but it also makes an impact on the associations Gen Z makes with your brand.

Finding ways to make connections through music outside of the store can also help build your brand. Historically, brands like American Express and Pepsi have used music in various ways to build relevance and positive brand perception with Gen Z and other generations.

  1. Help Gen Z help others.

According to a YPulse survey, three-quarters of Gen Z actively seek out brands that support causes they believe in; however, Gen Z’s view of support goes beyond financial contributions. They believe support also comes in the form of their time, availability and advice. For brands to dive into helping Gen Z help others, they must go beyond monetary give-back efforts. Center brand efforts around community and connection as much as giving. Brands like Madewell that offer a denim recycling program, and Reebok, which has a physical activity program for kids called Boks, provide consumers with ways to get involved in causes they care about.

Winning with Gen Z

When building your retail brand, start with developing a strong community and a purpose-driven approach. Fostering mental health and offering Gen Z opportunities to connect with relevant music, causes and content will get them excited about shopping with you and championing your brand.

As a former creative director with a history of creating innovative and award-winning work, Ashley Lapin co-founded Current Forward with the goal of helping brands find fresh ways to be relevant to their audiences. She thrives on uncovering consumer insights to drive business value for brands like WW, Mailchimp and Pepsi. Her work has been recognized with Gold Addys, IAC Best of Show awards, an OMMA Website Excellence award and more.

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