To round off our series on Beauty and Gen Z, we’ve taken a step back to assess what underlies the dos and don’ts of reaching this audience.

While Gen Z have a lot going on, their defining feature is their status as digital natives. They grew up with access to information at their fingertips, which also means that from a young age they’ve had to adapt to the heightened scrutiny created by having an online presence. As a result, Gen Z are hyper-aware of who they are, the world they live in, and how that world views them. This heightened consciousness comes with its own set of challenges.

Indeed, Gen Z are often caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to self-expression, particularly online. A tension emerges between the ‘best self’ they present online, and their deep desire to be real, authentic and grounded.

This dichotomy is exemplified by the rinstagram vs. finstagram phenomenon: Gen Z often pair their ‘real’ Instagram accounts (carefully curated, public perfection) with ‘fake’ accounts that defy Instagram etiquette, where they can share anything unpolished, raw, or emotional with a controlled audience (arguably making it realer than ‘real’).

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An Instagram user’s rinstagram (left) and finstagram (right) accounts

The same tension is evident in Gen Z’s attitude towards make-up: many want to experiment with color and create bold, daring, expressive looks, but instead they often opt for a more natural, ‘less is more’ style of makeup, because they don’t want to cover up their real face or risk pushing the envelope too far and appearing unrecognizable (to others and to themselves).

Gen Z’s preoccupation with authenticity not only impacts how they use make-up, but also informs what brands they buy. Since consumption – and the ‘badge value’ created by certain products and brands – are key to constructing personal identity, Gen Z prefer to purchase brands that they know and trust – and that enable them to stay true to who they are.

From talking to our Gen Z respondents, it’s clear that the brands that resonate most strongly with them do a combination of the following to establish authenticity:

1. Be vocal about the things that really matter to Gen Z

Topics as wide-ranging as fourth wave / intersectional feminism, LGBTQ rights, and animal welfare appeal to Gen Z’s ‘stay woke’ mentality – and brands that can authentically address these issues are more likely to gain their loyalty.

By ensuring they communicate with a clear and unique voice, brands like Milk Makeup demonstrate that they are more than just abstract entities. Taking a stand on social matters and being honest with consumers positions brands as real, trustworthy, and about more than just money – just as Gen Z expect them to be.

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2. Encourage individuality to echo Gen Z’s desire to stay true to themselves and accept what makes each individual different

Both Anastasia Beverly Hills and Kat Von D unabashedly convey a ‘you do you’ attitude, without coming across as fake or try-hard. They celebrate diversity, promote inclusivity, and enable Gen Z to beautify themselves however they choose – without judgment, shade, or lemonade.

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3. Put products in the hands of influencers (but not necessarily traditional celebrities) to convey trustworthiness, authenticity, and realness

Connecting the brand to a real person helps ground it and make it more accessible. Gen Z trust vloggers and Instagram faces to have expertise when it comes to make-up and to always ‘tell it like it is’. Putting products in the hands of these influencers allows brands to be more honest and transparent – and enables Gen Z to assess brands on their own terms.

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Because of their digital native status and habituation to the vagaries of the online world, Gen Z will continue to desire authentic, transparent, and trustworthy brands, even as they grow older. Brands that can establish themselves with Gen Z now will endure into the future.