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July 10, 2020

Boomer, Meet Zoomer: Packaging Design for Generation Z

Generation Z (cheekily referred to as “Zoomers”) is a demographic of consumers born in or after 1997, putting the age range of Gen Z’ers between 0 and 23. In other words, when you hear someone grumbling about “kids these days,” you can bet that they’re referring to Gen Z.

But what makes this demographic so different from Millennials or Gen X’ers?

Primarily, Gen Z is still mostly children and teenagers. A few members of the cohort have already reached adulthood, but in general, this demographic – and its spending power – hasn’t yet reached maturity.

And though researchers are still defining this cohort, we do know a few things about them. Gen Z is on track to be better educated and more diverse than previous generations, with political preferences for progressive acceptance and multiculturalism. We also know that this is the most digitally-connected demographic to walk the planet, with many Gen Z’ers born with a smartphone in hand. This group grew up alongside the internet, YouTube, and social media, with all the benefits and drawbacks therein.

As we’ll review, this deluge of technology will shape the driving forces behind Generation Z’s purchasing behaviors – and how consumer packaged goods (CPG) manufacturers can craft their designs to meet this market’s needs.

What Does the Youngest Generation Value?

As always, discussions on packaging design must begin with an assessment of the audience in question. What drives Generation Z at the point of purchase? Who influences their decisions? And what can retailers do to grab their attention?

Let’s return to the technology aspect for a moment. It’s no secret that Generation Z lives in a world of digital access, freedom of choice, and endless content. Unlike past generations, Generation Z was born into a world already inundated with digital media. They’re used to seeing ads, sponsored posts, and social influencer-based promotions as a matter of course.

As such, this generation values authenticity over curation. They’re used to companies trying to serve up content that “we think you’ll like” and aren’t impressed by the transparent sales pitch. Instead, Generation Z values authentic, real messaging that speaks to their values. From a few data points published by Ad Age, we get some interesting insights into this demographic’s preference for honesty:

  • 79% trust a company more when its marketing images aren’t photoshopped
  • 84% trust companies more when they use real customers in ads

Like their older Millennial counterparts, Gen Z’ers prefer to align themselves with brands that share their values:

  • 69% are more likely to purchase from companies that share their values
  • 33% have stopped buying from companies that contribute to causes the customer doesn’t agree with

With these details in mind, we can look at how product manufacturers can work these elements into their retail packaging.

Addressing Generation Z Through Packaging Design

The defining features of Gen Z may be their preference for authenticity, and packaging design should reflect that.

Just as you’ve done with your Millennial-focused marketing, look for opportunities to share details about your brand’s story, challenges, and background. The more unique and troubled your background is, the better. Zoomers will see straight through a glossy marketing “brand story,” so it’s crucial to tap into the passion behind your brand. This idea is laid out succinctly by Sandy Saputo, CMO of Kendo Brands:

The best way to break through with inclusive marketing is to share authentic stories that are rooted in culture and are emotionally meaningful to the consumers you serve.”

Generation Z is an inspired bunch eager to make an impact on the world. Get them on board and let them share in your brand’s passion for change.

Representation

Another defining feature for Gen Z is the push to give everyone a seat at the table. Companies will have an easier time engaging with Generation Z when their marketing messaging shows a clear commitment to diversity in who’s being represented. Of course, you don’t need to build your entire messaging strategy around the idea as long as it’s displayed clearly in your packaging design.

For example, the popular syrup brand Michele’s displays its heritage front and center on the syrup bottle to let everyone know that the brand is woman-owned and founded by an African-American entrepreneur. It’s a simple touch, no more than one line of copy on the label – but it speaks volumes to customers paying attention, and you can bet that Generation Z is listening.

Environmental Care

Just like their Millennial predecessors, Gen Z’ers are hungry for a better world, with much of their attention given to the environment. In a survey of over 10,000 Gen Z’ers across 22 countries, 41% agreed that climate change was the most important issue in the world today. Companies targeting Z’ers should keep this in mind as they put together their packaging.

Best practices for environmentally-friendly packaging apply here. When possible, minimize packaging elements, shift to recyclable components, ditch plastics, and encourage shoppers to re-use packaging materials. And while you’re at it, make these efforts visible in your design’s layout. Generation Z’ers will appreciate knowing your commitment to the environment – but don’t expect them to thank you for it. Another feature of this generation is that they get to watch supermassive companies pollute the environment in the face of climate change warnings – which is partly why business claims about sustainability resonate so well.

Given the importance of climate change for Generation Z’s future, treat these efforts as a “well, duh” strategy rather than a specific selling point.

Reaching Generation Z With Authentic, Inspirational Messaging

Generation Z shares many of the same values as Millennials, but like every generation, there are small variances that warrant closer attention. Gen Z’ers are more diverse, more educated, and more technologically savvy than any other generation – and packaging design needs to reflect these components. Keep your focus on clear, authentic messaging that shares details about your company’s struggle, how you’ve worked toward inclusion, and your sustainability efforts. Keep these benefits at the forefront of your design, and you’ll have a chance to break through Gen Z’s resistance to advertising and earn a place in their lives.

author

by Kevin Smith
SmashBrand helps brands create, optimize, and launch successful products, services, and customer experiences. Our data-driven process is the key to accelerating sales and minimizing risks.

We use a strategic combination of market research, design, and consumer testing to solve complex brand problems more effectively, create differentiation, and forge more meaningful connections with customers.

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