Generation Z – the next wave of jewellery consumers

Millennials are no longer the youngest generation in the consumer market, that specific honour now falls to a new age group. Meet ‘Generation Z’. 

Jewellery brands have spent the best part of a decade coming to terms with the Millennial consumer. Sons and daughters of the baby boomer generation, they were vastly different to what had came before them in terms of tastes and habits, and brands scrambled to adapt to new preferences in order to survive in the retail and consumer product landscape. However Millennials are no longer the youngest generation in the consumer market, that specific honour now falls to a new age group. Meet ‘Generation Z’. 

Who are they?

“Brands are aiming to hit the coveted 18-34 age range, that is the so-called sweet spot which brands often think of as targeting millennials. Hearing that is like hearing nails on a chalkboard for me”. Those are the words of ‘generation expert’ Angie Read, co-author of the book ‘Marketing to Gen Z: The Rules for Reaching This Vast and Very Different Generation of Influencers’. “They used to be 18-34,” she says, “but they have aged and the oldest millennials are now 38-years-old and the youngest are 23-24, so if brands are after the 18-34 year range they are already targeting ‘Gen Z’ but they just don’t know it yet.”

Although the exact start and end dates for ‘Generation Z’ vary, the most accepted version and the one proposed by Read in her book, are from the years 1996 to 2010. This means that the oldest of ‘Gen Z’ are currently 22 years of age and the vast majority of them will be sitting between the ages of 13-18.

Despite their age, Read explains that ‘Gen Z’ are more akin to their grandparents than they are to millennials. “We call them old souls in young bodies, because in many ways they are more like their grandparents than they are millennials.

“There are obviously some similarities to millennials in their use of technology and expectation of 24-hour information at their fingertips. But some of the differences are that they are very hard working and financially independent, they value financial stability as they witnessed their parents in the recession. In this regard they resemble a much older generation.”

Why the jewellery industry needs to be prepared

Continuing from his talk in Hong Kong Jonathan Kendall, senior vice president of Forevermark – the De Beers owned diamond brand – explains that is it important for the industry to not be blindsided by this new form of consumer. “It is about being ahead of the curve,” he says. “As an industry we are not always ahead of the curve and we need to be ready as they become significant purchasers of jewellery. It is getting to the time where we need to start thinking about them. According to population statistics there are 2.25 billion ‘Gen Z’ers’ worldwide and in comparison there are only 1.7 billion millennials – so this group is going to be far bigger and we need to get ready for them.

“I think at the moment we are very focused on millennials and I am not necessarily saying that is the wrong thing as they are a significant purchase group but we have to start planning towards this group coming into the market place in the next five years. They have got quite significant funds and they are influential on their parents spending as well – research from ad agencies has suggested that 20% of parental purchases were highly influenced from their ‘Gen Z’ kids,” continues Kendall.

Read agrees that jewellers will need to adapt their strategies to make sure they are effectively reaching Generation Z. “Although there will be some overlap, for it truly to be effective jewellers will have to change their marketing. Although currently Millennials also aren’t as swayed as traditional marketing as older generations, ‘Gen Z’ will be even less so than Millennials. They simply aren’t going to be swayed by traditional advertising, they can smell it from a mile away.”

How to reach them

Read explains that ‘Gen Z’ are mobile first and will do their research often on mobile phones before shopping in stores. “You would think they are shopping online only but research shows that 98% still want to shop in a physical store. They are looking for experiences, it is not just about the product, they want to go and have a shopping experience. They don’t have a clear line between offline and online so for jewellers their experience should blend together, the online presence should be as good as their offline.”

Millennials come in for some flack – being the ‘social media generation’, they are often derided in the media as lacking in concentration and focus, such is the expendability of online material. Read says the accepted wisdom in marketing circles is that Millennials have an attention span of 12 seconds – further estimates put ‘Generation Z’ at around eight seconds. This means that content will need yet more captivating to keep their attention and immediately draw them to the product or brand.

This is something that Kendall says Forevermark has already taken into consideration. “What we are doing is more and more fast, mobile communication, we have a far less expectation that TV will be that important,” he says. “Our media and marketing programmes are significantly changing, millennials have taken us to this area but ‘Gen Z’ will enlarge it to a much stronger and much more dynamic approach.

“We are beginning to work on programming that suits them. It is all about multiple social media networks interestingly their favourite sites are Youtube, Snapchat, Instagram, Periscope and Meerkat. We are doing more activity on those platforms building up our image. We are also finding that communication needs to be interesting and storytelling with major visual impact – short videos viewable on their mobile rather than traditional ads.”

This is a view also shared by independent jewellery brand Franco Florenzi which has grown a successful jewellery business through advertising to younger consumers through Instagram. “We started in 2014 based on the wrap bracelet concept with the bow and arrow as the signature of our jewellery we make,” explains creative director Lucky Nwosu. “We pushed that out through social media as our main strategy and in our first year we grew by 150,000 followers. That was the base of where the brand started from.”

Back in 2014, says Nwosu, influencer marketing “wasn’t really a thing”, the kids were just getting used to Instagram so Franco Florenzi “were taking our photos in-house”. He elaborates: “Another thing we did was paid promotion via some bigger pages on Instagram giving us shout-outs for the brand. This was back when Instagram did not have any analytics so you had to guess the kind of people who were following the specific pages. One thing we did notice was that a couple pages were being followed by 13-18 year olds, so those pages were good to advertise for ‘Gen Z’, and then if we wanted older audience of millennials of 24-35 years old, we would advertise on luxury pages or car pages. This was how we tried to target our audiences and what pages we wanted to use.” 

Sharing their values

Kendall explains that Forevermark has found that ‘Gen Z’ consumers want to buy from companies that share their values, and they place a large emphasis on ethical and environmental issues when deciding which brands to shop with. “On the environmental side we measure our carbon footprint, we are reducing and neutralising [it] by buying global carbon credit. As an industry we need to do more and more of that we need to drive this to becoming normal practice. We have to keep up with the changing environment and world.

“There is no doubt about it that social responsible companies are going to become virtually an expectation. That is why at De Beers there is a whole research programme going on that in around five years time our scientist will have found a way to store carbon dioxide in the kimberlite that we mine so that ultimately a diamond mine can be carbon neutral.”

Influencers over celebrities

Traditionally jewellery campaigns often feature celebrities heavily. Cristiano Ronaldo as the face of Tag Heuer, Karlie Kloss with Swarovski or Mila Kunis’ deal in 2014 to feature in multiple campaigns for Gemfields are prominent recent examples. However, celebrity-filled campaigns will not have the same effect on ‘Generation Z’ as it currently does with the older generations. “They want to see real people compared to celebrities and typically that will come across through social media influencers”, says Read.

“The biggest influencers are Instagrammers and YouTubers – this is something we have seen slightly already with younger millennials but that was brands using influencers with millions of followers. Now to reach ‘Gen Z’ it will be more effective to use influencers with smaller but more concentrated niche followers.”

Kendall seconds this notion, explaining that Forevermark has earmarked the approach for its future practices. “A lot of these celebrities developed from social media platforms and they spread like wildfire,” he says. “There are people I have never heard of who have 5 million followers, which is incredible. Of course if they decide they don’t like a jewellery brand they have a huge influence which could be detrimental to the brand.”

He continues: “It is very likely it is something we are going to move into shortly, I am not sure if many people in the industry are doing it yet. I think local celebrity faces are going to become more popular.”

Nwosu and those at Franco Florenzi are among the few brands that have already moved into using local influencers, although he stresses it is not just important to find an influencer that has a lot of followers but to find one that naturally fits the brand. “Depending on the influencer and what audience we are trying to target we need to find an influencer who fits and resonates with them but still feels natural. As much as it is easier to find an influencer who is just popular it is more important that we find someone who will represent our brand well and feel authentic. If they don’t genuinely enjoy your brand and fit your brand vision then your are missing the mark,” Nwosu muses.

What’s next?

Read suggests the pace of technological change presages big shifts in the characteristics of the youngest of ‘Generation Z’ and in the notion of generations as a whole. “Everybody is already trying to label what the next generation is going to be called – most often the guess is ‘Generation Alpha’, however I believe that ‘Generation Z’ will be the last so-called generation.”

While the most intuitive members of the jewellery industry are already making strides to adapt to the next generation of consumers, the real difficulty will lie in staying up to date with their rapidly changing trends and viewpoints. “As we move forward we are more likely to see ‘micro generations’, as time goes the difference between the older half of a generation is going to be vastly different to the younger half. Brands are going to have to keep adapting to these changes if they want to survive.”

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Lewis Catchpole

Lewis is a multimedia journalist and a alumnus of the University of Sheffield. He is a keen reader, follower of all sports and an avid supporter of Manchester United, for better or for worse. If you have any news or feature ideas please do not hesitate to contact.

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