You’ve heard it before: Gen Z is the future, and that future is here. Gen Z is now 26% of our population…But how do we connect with them? To successfully market to Gen Z, we need to understand not just what Gen Z thinks, but also why Zers act the way they do – and how to capture their attention while striking the right tone. 

In an industry where trends are constantly changing, Gatesman knows how important it is to  stay ahead of the curve. Beginning in the spring of 2023, the team executed the research study, Gen Z Reframed: Placing Common Conceptions in Context, where the team dove deep into the latest beliefs, behaviors and trends of Zers to better understand the Gen Z mindset. Gatesman also conducted independent analysis and hosted a 13-Zer focus group to give context to the findings. The study results demonstrated that Zers often view themselves quite differently than how they are described in headlines, which illustrates the perils of making surface-level assumptions about this generation.

To share these key takeaways with marketing and advertising professionals, Gatesman released a six-part explainer video series with promotional partners AAF Pittsburgh and AMA Pittsburgh and hosted an invite-only Gen Z Reframed LIVE Q&A event. The event featured updates from the research, Q&A with Zers from the original focus group and real-time ad critiques – illustrating winning and losing marketing strategies according to this generation.  

Group discussion spanned Gen Z’s self-concept, the new American dream, purchasing behavior, the rise of social media and mental health. 

Select excerpts from the discussion are included below, but a full event recording can be made available by submitting a request to 

Do you feel your generation as a whole is becoming more anxious in adulthood? Why?

Brady: It goes back to our self-concept and the research that shows all the outside factors such as inflation and climate change that are going on right now making us feel like you need to meet these needs and standards. It feels like a race to get there. 

Why do you think Gen Z teens may be reporting less anxiety than Gen Z adults, at least in the results from the recent survey we shared? 

Zion: Gen Z teens are more willing to ask for help, and they have Gen Z adults there for them. Gen Z adults are willing to help and be a resource for Gen Z.

Josh: It surprises me that there are less teenagers with anxiety. Now, it feels like everyone’s trying to one-up each other in posting to social and it’s hard not to get anxious over that. 

How has social media played a role in anxiety?

Kayla: I got my first phone when I was 12, and seeing people hanging out without me was so anxiety-inducing. Why aren’t they hanging out with me? Why are they posting about it? Do they want me to see it? Do they want me to get anxious about it? I’m getting anxious just talking about it! Having social media at a young age is a fast track to anxiety, but there are ways around it! You can engage in self-care and with mental health-focused content, so you get more of that type of content in your feeds.

Do you think the pendulum might be swinging back in attitudes toward college? Why do you think Gen Z teens might be showing greater optimism toward higher ed than Gen Z adults?  

Kayla: People are getting more educated on what they might benefit from. I feel like it’s also people listening to TikToks that are transparent about reasons why people love, hate or transfer from a university.

We know that Zers are concerned about the monotony of their work, but mastering more rote tasks has historically been considered essential to build skills that lead to future success. Do you believe Gen Z understands and agrees with this?  

Brady: I’d say yes we agree. In order to be successful in the position you’re in or going to be in, you have to have a foundation of skills in order to elevate yourself as a professional. I think LinkedIn helped bring that mindset and help understand hard vs. soft skills.

Are there underutilized internal communications efforts that are important to retain Gen Z workers?

Brady: When I talk to friends of mine, things that pull them in are the perks and benefits that come with the job. What can I do to better myself, or what is going to be offered to me to help stay secure in this type of environment? Whether it’s the culture or in the job benefits, we look for a sense of security.

Do you feel pressure from parents and schools that you have to go to a higher education?

Zion: At first, my mom was pressuring me into going to a 4-year college, but after I got my job before going to school, I proved to her I didn’t really need the degree. But now that I’ve gone to the workforce and have seen other options, I’ve decided on my own that I want to go to school and continue my education.

With limited resources, is it better for a brand to pick one platform and really focus on creating content specific for it, or spread out content even if it’s not the perfect fit to hit a range of channels realizing how fractured the media space is? 

Josh: Focus where your audience is. Why are you going to post in a bunch of different places and hope someone sees it when you’re seeing success elsewhere?

Brady: You need to make sure you tailor your content based on the platform you’re on - there’s a difference between TikTok and LinkedIn and your content needs to reflect that.

How impactful are influencers? Do you trust that they actually believe in the product they are promoting?

Josh: I hate the word influencer! The number of followers a person has doesn’t matter, it’s about how people engage. I like to follow the nano- and micro-influencers that have a niche. If I see someone posting about a brand, I will go to their page and look to see what type of content they typically post to make sure they’re trustworthy. 

If a brand makes a mistake, is there a road back from cancelation for your generation?

Kayla: Yes there can be, for example, most recently Bumble had a very off campaign about celibacy and dating. Brady, do you remember? 

Brady: Yeah, they had a campaign with unfavorable copy, and essentially because of that, they issued a three-slide apology on Instagram basically explaining why this was perceived the way it was, that they recognized there were many different groups who could feel differently about they message, and that they were truly sorry. Because of that, they wanted to donate to one of the domestic violence organizations and also donated their billboard space to these groups. It’s very expensive to run a billboard in Los Angeles, so it was pretty cool to be donating that space to them. So I think there's a way to find retribution, but it’s about finding the right way to do it.

Does emerging research about the unintentional consequences of broad mental health awareness messages influence your thoughts on the role brands should play in supporting mental health?  I.e. how best to participate in an opportunity like Mental Health Awareness Month? 

Brady: What would make the most sense is always keep the audience in mind and be considerate of what the audience needs. Will my messaging be impactful or hurtful? You need to get a better understanding of the audience.

Kayla: The best way to know if you’re helping Gen Z is to hire Gen Z people! That’s one of the best ways to understand if you’re aligning with them. You need to market with them. 

Interested in further unlocking the Gen Z mindset? You’re invited to check out Gatesman’s Gen Z resources below, or contact

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