As if the B2B buyer’s journey hasn’t changed enough over the past few years, Gen Z is challenging the traditional notions of the purchasing cycle by embracing multiple identities, ironic marketing and community-based insights, according to “Unveiling Gen Z: What They Want You To Know In Their Own Words.” The survey report highlighted the distinct social dynamics that shape Gen Z behavior and brand engagement, which include the realization that Gen Z embraces multiple identities beyond traditional identity markers, have penchants for satirical marketing and put more stock into social currency when making purchasing decisions.

The study was conducted by industry experts at Acceleration Community of Companies (ACC), a marketing and media network, alongside graduate students from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

“When we initiated this research directive, our primary objective was to ensure that the Gen Z voice was genuinely heard,” said Monica Chun, Chief Client Officer of ACC, in a statement. “Despite being the subject of extensive studies, this generation often feels misrepresented. We focused on the critical domains they wanted to share and deemed important. Over time, I realized that many of my previous assumptions were misinterpretations.”

Gen Z Is Having An Identity Evolution Called “ZEGOS”

The study — which defined Gen Z as U.S. adults aged 18-27 — revealed that the age group is drawn to niche communities that cater to their interests. Specifically, 78% of Gen Z belongs to one or more communities specifically related to their interests, hobbies or extracurriculars. Interestingly, as they participate in these communities, they tend to adopt layered identities and characteristics that change depending on the group.

This identity fluidity, dubbed “ZEGOS,” represents the unique intersection between digital spaces and lived experiences, enabling Gen Z to find an immediate sense of belonging among different subcultures. In fact, 74% of Gen Z shared their desire for brands to understand and cater to their many interests and identities in a way that goes beyond personalization and into individualized outreach.

How Gen Z Interacts With Brands

Humor, specifically satire, plays a huge role in Gen Z’s engagement with online content. In many cases, brand marketing that was not meant to be funny is reinterpreted by fans who take what they perceive as funny to an overexaggerated level, creating an unintentional but powerful connection. Even memes have become a language of their own, and brands that speak that language fluently often inspire brand affinity or product purchase.

According to the survey, 41% of Gen Z said they pay more attention to brands that use humor or satire in their marketing, while 35% added that it makes them like a brand more.

And instead of a singular “third place” (outside of the internet and real life) for Gen Z, they now have a “Zegosystem” — Zego + Ecosystem — that represents the seamless transition Gen Z makes between real life and online communities. At the core of this ecosystem is Gen Z’s tendency to world-build around their passions, bridging the gap between the psychological benefits of a virtual community and the positive impact that comes from in-person connections.

Connecting On & Offline With Generation Z

As part of that community building, the research found that Gen Z increasingly looks at the comment section as a critical forum for connection, offering a unique opportunity for brands, as 43% of Gen Z is comfortable with brands commenting and reacting to comments. And, to bridge the gap into offline connections, 53% of Gen Z prefers experiences that are intimate and enable them to easily connect and interact over.

“[Gen Z] has an extremely keen awareness of marketing tactics and tropes, so brands that want to resonate need to learn new languages and navigate the nuances of the many communities that they live in,” said Professor Matthew Le Veque, who led the USC Annenberg course, in a statement. “The Gen Z consumer expects a brand to relate to them on a more personalized level and they are experts at recognizing when it doesn’t. They crave engagement that celebrates their sense of uniqueness.”

Gen Z’s Impact On The Workforce

Understanding how Gen Z interacts with marketing messaging and tactics is more important than ever before, as Forrester research indicated that 43% of buyers who have the most influence over the buying journey were born after 1997. With such high representation, it’s important to understand how younger generations are navigating their buying journeys. Specifically, younger buyers indicated that the most impactful sources for generating information are:

  • Technology information websites (47%);
  • Forums (42%);
  • Industry websites (38%).

Additionally, younger generations are more apt to be critical throughout their buying journeys, as 90% cited dissatisfaction with the vendor in at least one area. The two primary sources for younger buyers’ dissatisfaction revolved around the relationship with the sales rep and their competence during the buying process.

For deeper insights into the habits of Gen Z buyers, check out the full report now. For more information into the general buying habits of younger generations, check out the Forrester report here.