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Gen Z are true digital natives; they have grown up with the internet, social networks and mobile systems. Unlike the millennial generation, these teens are turning away from common millennial behaviours and setting a new paradigm for beauty brands. They occupy the space between traditionalism and non-conformity balancing traditional ethos and conservative behaviours with liberal values and beliefs.

The world where Gen Z finds itself is one of war, poverty and economic crises. They feel connected by a desire for a better world. Their global outlook draws them to brands that seek to make a difference in the world. The Gen Z audience appreciates brands which welcome all types and have strong opinions which can become points of identification.

Brand Me – Personal Identity

Growing up in the age of selfies and social media, they are much more concerned with their own appearance than previous generations. They value individual expression and are constantly evolving – building their own personality – or “Brand Me” – over time. But it’s not narcissism that’s behind this behaviour, but rather an awareness that they can be photographed at any time, anywhere  – and those images will quite likely appear online. Their personal identities are so public, due to social media, so they are very conscious of how they present themselves at all times.

A large part of their personal brand development is expressed through experimenting with their individuality through makeup, fashion and hairstlyes – sharing the process with friends over social media as well as in person. They look to online tutorials for inspiration and advice, unlike previous generations who turned to mothers and older siblings.

Defying Categories

Their more liberal, global outlook is reflected in their views on race, gender, sexuality and self-expression. A telling reflection of this undefined ID is gender fluidity. Their mantra is self-expression and collaboration, rule-breaking, experimentation and self-loving, no matter who you are.

Their refusal to be defined or categorised is playing through into the beauty sector where females are no longer cornering the market – young men and teens are becoming just as interested in makeup. Take the 12 year old Jack Bennett. An example of an influencer making the beauty industry more accessible and gender-neutral. Hailed as a makeup child prodigy when he started his Instagram account at age 10, he now has over 450,000 followers who look to him for makeup advice and regularly view his instructional YouTube videos. He’s being taken seriously by the big brand names, having worked with Maybelline, Covergirl and Rimmel. Products like genderless mascara, foundation and other beauty products will continue to have an impact on culture, moving it towards more openness and more embracing of the new gender-fluid world.

Instagram Stories

Instagram has become an integral part of life for Gen Z – both for the beginning of the beauty process and the platform for displaying the end result. They are finding their inspiration for influencers on Instagram, then buying the products while all the time updating their personal ‘stories’ to the platform and finally posting the finished result to their profile.

Peer To Peer Influence

They perceive themselves as individuals working to build their own personal brand over time, and they want brands to recognise this and help them along their journey. They are less interested in celebrities, who they find difficult to relate to, preferring people similar to themselves instead. And this is where the challenge lies for brands attempting to reach out to them – identifying how to relate to a generation more diverse than ever before.

This is a generation averse to traditional advertising with 69% using ad blockers. Instead Gen Z often find it easier to relate to online influencers; and closest to this at the moment are some micro-influencers. Sponsored content with key influencers is one of the best ways for a brand to ensure its message gets seen.

What Does It Mean For Beauty Brands?

Just a few years ago beauty was all about the flawless look; skinny was in and imperfections were out. Today’s Gen Z takes a very different approach to the way they look at beauty. They do not feel the need to look like the latest ‘hot’ celebrity. Gen Z are saying ‘it’s ok to be you’, and this backlash against perfection is forcing many brands to re-thing how they communicate beauty today.

The trend has been driven in part by rise of the influencer culture where learning and trends are generated form peers. Gen Z’ers are showing others how to be the best version of themselves. This need for self-expression and the breaking down of gender barriers is where brands finding room for growth.

Retailers who understand the Gen Z mind-set are reconfiguring their stores to provide ‘spaces to browse and play in a low pressure environment’. Bloomingdales provides anchor ‘play tables’ where groups can hang around, try products and take selfies.

Sephora caters to this selfie movement in their New York store, where customers can sit by a screen and follow a video tutorial and then upload a selfie of their new look to a large digital screen in the centre of the store – the result – instant fame.

It’s a generation that is no longer looking for perfection, but rather for brands who will encourage them to work with their imperfections as a basis for building their own version of themselves; brands that promote self acceptance – anti-photoshop.