Picture: 123RF/FABIO FORMAGGIO
Picture: 123RF/FABIO FORMAGGIO

For the seventh consecutive year Nike has been voted the coolest brand overall in the Sunday Times GenNext , which assesses youth brand preference and consumer behaviour. Nike won in four categories: the Coolest Clothing Brand, the Coolest Shoe/Footwear Brand, the Coolest Campaign Targeted at Youth and the Coolest Fitness App (for the Nike running app).

In the clothing category, Nike has a 10% lead over its closest competitor, Adidas. In the shoe category it leads Adidas by just over 8%.

What is it about Nike that makes it such an enduringly well-loved brand in the youth market?

It has developed a cult-like following among its supporters and has become a globally recognised brand in its close to five decades of existence. This has largely been as a result of its ability to foster emotional connections with its customer base through storytelling.

The brand has long championed self-empowerment and fought against conformity. Founder Phil Knight has been quoted as saying that rather than being a footwear company, Nike became a marketing-oriented company and its product became its most important marketing tool.

Nike’s image is one of being fashion-forward and enduringly cool. However, as a brand where image is everything, the challenges it faces, wrote Sara Germano in an article published in the Financial Times earlier this year, will be balancing its power as a global retailer and its formidable influence in style with social messaging and culture at large.

While some may view Generation Z consumers – classified as those between the ages of 6 and 24 – as too young to be significant, the reality is that this cohort’s income is predicted to increase by 140% in the next five years. According to TransUnion research, SA’s Generation Z is helping to drive the consumer credit sector forward. According to the report, bank personal loans, home loans, store credits and vehicle loans are the fastest-growing products among credit-active Gen Z consumers.  

“Generation Z is proving to be very different from millennials when it comes to their views on property. A recent Bank of America survey indicates that over 80% of Generation Zs want to own a home. To achieve this dream, they’ll give up spending on experiences like travel so that they can save for a deposit on a home loan,” says Carl Coetzee, CEO of BetterBond. 

This is a generation that has never known a world without Google and is accustomed to spending considerable amounts of time online. “They are very comfortable with remote living -  40% of those aged 16-17 prefer hanging out with friends online to doing so in person, and will happily settle anywhere that has a good internet connection,” says Coetzee.

While all generations these days prioritise convenience over brand, this is particularly true of Gen Zers. “Businesses need to remember that this is a cohort that cannot remember a time when anything wasn’t on demand with a tap or swipe. As a result, they are experimenting with both established and emerging ways to simplify purchases. Self-service accounts are now used by more customers than not. More cutting-edge offerings powered by artificial intelligence and automation are gaining traction, too,” says Robin Fisher, senior area vice-president at Salesforce’s emerging markets unit.

This means that brands and businesses must recognise that doing things as they have always been done doesn’t necessarily work for what is likely to be the majority of their customers. Jonathan Hurvitz, CEO of Teljoy, says: “It necessitates an in-depth evaluation of how you create value, and tailoring that value to meet the needs of Gen Zers at the exact point where they want it. Brands which choose to ignore the needs and preferences of this segment of the market do so at their peril, as these are groups who call for products, services and approaches that align with their values and financial goals at large.”

Businesses that recognise the relevance of the new buying market should emphasise values and social responsibility as a key approach to gaining the attention of the audience. What is the significance of this? According to Salesforce’s “State of the Connected Customer” report, while the majority of the population trusts corporations to be honest and behave in the best interests of others, Gen Z customers (36%) are slightly more likely than baby boomers (at 42 %) to have doubts about a company’s honesty.

”Businesses need to pay attention to this sizable group, which will more and more define buying trends,” says SweepSouth CEO Aisha Pandor. “As a generation that is focused on social and environmental impact and brand identity, they will set the standard for the value that consumer products need to add to their lives. With their strong opinions, they will undoubtedly compel other generations to adapt to them, and are poised to become the most disruptive to economies, markets and social systems."

Despite their youth, Gen Zers wield significant economic power, which means businesses need to factor them into their marketing strategies. Importantly, businesses must recognise that this generation will be closely watching brands to see how they respond to societal challenges.

To view the complete list of GenNext winners across 61 categories click here.

The big take-out:

The youth market wields significant economic power which means that brands ignore them at their peril.

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