The Ultimate Guide to Gen Z! (Plus 8 Marketing Tips)

Alan VanToai

April 7, 2021

'Stan', 'oof', 'pressed', 'I'm gagged', all of these words hold huge significance in Gen Z culture, but to a millennial such as myself, I am often left scratching my head wondering 'what does this mean?' and asking myself 'how do I reach these kids?'

Gen Z has its own language - from the emojis they use to the social networks they frequent, to the brands they love and trust, this is the generation of digital natives. They grew up on the internet, they are more aware, conscientious, and worldly than the teenagers and young adults that came before them.

Gen Z spends its days building communities online. This is the generation of the K-Pop stans that bought all of the tickets to a Trump rally and never attended, essentially trolling the former president.

They continuously calling out injustices and using their voices for good (of course not all of them, but a healthy portion).

I have said it before and I will say it 1000 more times - Gen Z will save us from our inevitable doom!

But tapping into this group and learning what they like and what they find cringe is tough. Trends change fast with them - something that might seem cool for a millennial or older might be deemed irrelevant in the eyes of Gen Z.

That is why getting into the minds of Gen Z will help you appeal to this group and their extraordinary buying power.

If you are still confused by what this > πŸ‘πŸ‘„πŸ‘ or this > 🀠 or this > πŸ˜—βœŒ mean to Gen Z, then stick with us!

What does Gen Z really think? THAT is the ultimate question.

So let's hop into it! Here is our essential guide to Gen Z.

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Gen Z Characteristics

First, let's break down this portion of the population. Who is considered Gen Z and how big is this group?

  • Anyone born between 1996-2010
  • A population of 3 billion worldwide
  • Make up 35% of the world population
  • $143B in buying power
  • Digital natives - grew up on the internet and first mobile generation
(ZebraIQ Gen Z Trend Report)

How Do Trends Emerge with Gen Z?


While it is hard to condense all of Gen Z into one homogenous group, it is safe to say that TikTok has played a huge role in this generation and the way trends are created, typically at rapid speed.

Due to the ease of going viral on TikTok, trends change fast and it seems that every few days, there is a new song, meme, dance, or cultural event that is currently popular with this group.

Staying up-to-date with the trends on TikTok is essential for marketing to this group.

Another notable app would be Twitter. Trend will start on TikTok and then make its way over to Twitter - or vice versa.

While it used to be Instagram, some Gen Z'rs feel that Instagram only shows recycled content already on TikTok.

Most did like going on Instagram, but not as frequently, and said it was more of an app for shopping and businesses, and due to the algorithm, it is more challenging to find new creators, unlike the TikTok "For You" Page.

If there is a large moment in the culture as well, Gen Z will start pumping out content almost instantly.

Just think about how fast the Bernie meme gained traction after the inauguration!

What Does Gen Z Find Attractive in a Brand?

Gen Z has massive purchasing power but is selective in the brands they choose to patron. Here is what attracts Gen Z to a new brand:

  • Fun and engaging video content and UGC
  • Recommendations from friends and online communities
  • Brands that are honest and transparent
  • Environmentally conscientious products
  • Brands that take a stand on social issues and have strong values
  • Authentic influencer and creator marketing
  • Brands that sell benefits over products- will stick with a brand for the long run if the brand offers long-lasting benefits
  • Brands that are relatable

Gen Z and the Age of Ironic Emojis

Gen Z is the generation of ironic Emojis, and cracking the code of what these Emoji is essential for communicating with this population (and also to see how humorous they are!)

🀠 - Fake happiness, sadness, or anger

😭 - An overdramatization which could mean something is so hilarious, cute, annoying, or frustrating, that you could cry

πŸ‘οΈπŸ‘„πŸ‘οΈ - This combination can find out the bottom of cringe TikToks, YouTube videos, or in the comment section, usually means anger, disgust, or simply 'it is what it is'

πŸ™‚ - Used to show something as awkward or uncomfortable, or extreme passive-aggressiveness

🀧 - Having doubts or frustrations

🀑 - Basically, anyone that is a straight-up clown someone that claims with no facts, or is a fool

✨ (word) ✨ - GenZ being cute with their aesthetic (since they all have one)

πŸ˜—βœŒ - The classic peace sign that GenZers love to do with the infamous duck lips, it's pure perfection

πŸ’€ - Ded, or I'm dead, which essentially means something is so funny or shocking that you're dead

Gen Z Slang

Gen Z is always creating and using a variety of new words, and we love to see it. Here are a few of our favorites that you can add into the mix to resonate with this group.


Being made a fool, self-deprecating humor, or calling out foolish behavior on social media. 🀑

"This guy really thought he did something there with that comment 🀑🀑🀑"


Something that gives you second-hand embarrassment.

"That new James Charles apology was so cringe."

Hits Different

Meant to describe how good something is, often in comparison with something else.

"This oat milk latte hits different."


An influential or highly regarded figure, piece of art, performance, etc.

"Bob the Drag Queen is the most iconic queen of all time," - truly facts.

It's the ___ for me

A common phrase used as an insult, either joking or serious, between friends or people on the internet, and it's full of shade.

"It's the frosted tips for me."


Another way of saying 'same here' or describing something that accurately captures how you feel in the moment.

sees dog napping in the sun "mood," or "that's a mood."


Yikes and oof can be your reaction to just about anything.

spills water on computer "Yikes" or "ooof."


A way to describe a person that is irrationally angry or upset, often over something unnecessary.

"I showed up for work late one time, I don't know why he's so pressed."


Being upset over something of little significance or a small inconvenience.

"She's hella salty just because I didn't text back right away."


An obsesses fan, essentially your biggest fan that knows everything about you, but in a cute (and not creepy) way.

"I'm a proud AOC stan."

Spam Account/Finsta

Your second account, often private, on Instagram or Snapchat where only your closest friends are allowed to join for content you don't want everyone to see.

"I found Harry Styles's Finsta!"


A shortened version of suspicious.

"That guy over there is hella sus"


Codeword for gossip. πŸΈβ˜•

Person 1 - "I have something to tell you."

Person 2 - "Spill the tea!"



A way to describe the mood or the aura of a given situation

Person 1 - "Wow, she looks so comfortable in that hammock."

Person 2 - "That's a vibe."


While GenZ is an extremely innovative group, it's important to note that parts of their culture have been shaped by Black Culture. It is essential, for anyone, but especially creators that are non-Black, to be conscientious of not commodifying and profiting off of Black Culture and/or AAE.

Just as we have called out the appropriation of other cultures, Gen Z is likely to call out non-Black creators that are appropriating Black Culture for clout.

How to Effectively Market to Gen Z

If you want to be more relatable to Gen Z, here are 8 tips to help you gain Gen Z trust and have them stan your brand!

#1 Be Genuine

This one seems pretty straightforward, but it is one of the most important points when it comes to targeting Gen Z. Just be genuine, at the core of your brand, and you will gain the respect of Gen Z.

#2 Stay Up-to-Dates on Trends (but don't try too hard)

Trends change rapidly with Gen Z, so being on top of what is cool and entertaining for this group will help you better tap into this marketing.

But, don't try too hard. Be yourself and be genuine, or else you will risk getting a 🀑 in the comment section.

#3 Be Transparent

Trust in large institutions is on the decline with Gen Z, and they want to purchase from brands that are open and transparent.

That means honest reviews, a strong understanding of the company policy, and no gray area when it comes to marketing will serve better with Gen Z.

While trends are popping up all the time on TikTok and Instagram as a means of generating buzz around a product, Gen Z will typically do their own research and don't believe everything they see. They are likely to trust their peers for honest product reviews and recommendations over flashy marketing efforts.

#4 Create UGC Challenges

Tangent to point three, if you host UGC challenges or competitions for your audience, you will be able to showcase your products in a very genuine way, without gimmicks, all while getting your audience involved.

Hosting UGC challenges and then sharing them will help you grow your audience and see the creativity that your fans have! Plus, your audience will share it on their feed and will show their followers why your brand is great, igniting more buzz and curiosity around your brand.

#5 Partner with Influencers, Especially Authentic Ones

Influencer partnerships are a strong move for brands, especially ones that are popular among Gen Z, but collaborating with more authentic influencers and creators will be even better for your brand.

Find influencers and creators (outside of those hype house creators) that your audience admires and enjoys and partner with them.

There are tons of smaller creators out there with wildly engaged audiences, so tap into these authentic creators for genuine and long-lasting partnerships.

Be intentional about partnering with a diverse lineup of influencers and creators.

#6 Give Creators More Creative Control in Collabs

If you are planning on doing a collab with a creator or influencer, allow them to have more creative control when it comes to shaping the product.

This creator will know exactly what their audience wants to see and will help you curate a product that is perfectly tailored for their fans.

Take the Bad Bunny Crocs collab - while Bad Bunny is a huge artist, he did create a pair of Crocs with so much drip, they sold out in under 16 minutes.

#7 Share Your Value - Gen Z is Value-Driven

Gen Z a selective with the products they choose to buy and will be more likely to purchase from a brand if they deliver value.

Not only does Gen Z wants to see value in a product they choose to purchase, but also strong values at the core of a brand.

Gen Z wants a great product, but also a brand that takes a stance on:

  • Human rights and social justice
  • Environmental impact and sustainable business practices
  • Improved education - brands that educate are a plus
  • Political reform
  • Covid and public health
  • LGBTQIA and Trans rights

But, do it in a way that is authentic, not performative - GenZ can sniff out performative activism like freshly baked quarantine bread.

#8 Celebrate and Push Diversity and Representation

Gen Z has had enough of the cookie-cutter models historically seen in advertising, i.e. white, thin, unobtainable, etc. There is a massive push for systemic change and diversity both inside the company and in the marketing efforts.

This means to change the inner workings of your business, incorporating a variety of voices and perspectives, and supporting and uplifting BIPOC team members.

In marketing, partner with more BIPOC, queer, WOC, neurodivergent individuals, when running a campaign or partnering with influencers. Representation is extremely important, especially to Gen Z.

This is especially true for beauty and fashion - incorporate all body and skin types! Texture and cellulite are real for most people, and Gen Z wants to see themselves represented in marketing.


Are you ready to market to GenZ? Then be genuine, authentic, and value-driven and this brand will stand with you for the longrun!

Ready to turn your customers into your army of brand ambassadors? If so, check out CrewFire's epic demo video to see how you can drive more referrals, word-of-mouth, and user-generated content for your Shopify store.

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Alan VanToai

Co-Founder of CrewFire


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