Gen Z: Peer-to-peer influence is king

The data is in. Mom and Dad may “know best” about many things, but when it comes to influencing Gen Z consumer behavior, it turns out this demographic looks to peers for influence more than any previous generation.


Millennials — individuals born between 1981 and 1996 — have been so heavily documented in marketing trades and business articles that Pew Research Center even prefers to call their successor generation, individuals born in 1997 and onward, "post-millennials" over the Gen Z moniker.

Whatever you want to call them, a changing of the guard is looming. The oldest millennials are turning 37 this year and are well into adulthood. As they get pushed aside by sheer numbers, a recent Ad Age article says that Gen Z is definitely poised to shake up “the influencer ecosystem” where marketers are concerned.

Why you should care

With Gen Z set to become the “largest generation of consumers” by 2020, they already wield $29 to $143 billion in direct spending power. Further, 93 percent of parents say their children have influence over family and household purchases — more than previous generations and surveys.

This is quite significant in terms of “purchasing power” for such a young age, and Gen Z’s nuanced opinions about money and marketing have shifted accordingly. They are more realistic about potential failures in business, more willing to take risks as entrepreneurs, more likely to save money — and this pragmatic approach applies to their expectations with brands as well.

How and where to reach them

According to a study, not only is Gen Z more interested in narratives or content with realistic endings, but they want to receive that information from real people. In fact, they are almost twice as likely to prefer real people in advertisements over celebrities.


It could even be said that the continuum of celebrity endorsements has done an about-face, when you consider that we now live in a world where social influencers can go from a relative unknown comedic vlogger to more than 18 million YouTube subscribers (Jenna Marbles), and where film production companies like Netflix create series around these personalities (Charles Cameron).

Gen Z highly values content creation over consumption and is more likely to be “social creators.”

“This generation is more likely to line up around the block at Vidcon (the annual online video conference) than stand outside a TV show taping,” said Alexa Tonner, co-founder and EVP of Collectively, a San Francisco-based social influencer agency. Logan Paul might be another apt example here, whose rise to fame as a Vine comedy sketch creator has landed him film/TV roles and ad campaigns, and he has written a couple of screenplays along the way.

Overwhelmingly, Gen Z is found online and on social media more than any other generation. Eighty-eight percent of young adults* are on at least one social media site. And this age group also leads the pack for most Facebook users, most Instagram users, most Twitter users, and so forth.

This is not surprising data, as we’ve been talking about “digital natives” and young people owning social media more than other generations for several years now. However, an important distinction has emerged about usage.

“The younger the Gen Z or millennial, the more he or she will consume content in a more natural, seamless way,” says Forbes

Consider this: a single member of Gen Z burns through 68 videos a day on YouTube, Snap and Instagram! And this speaks nothing when you learn that nearly half of Gen Z is connected online for a whopping 10 hours a day. That number is as shocking as it is ubiquitous when you consider that they are consuming content across up to five devices, often simultaneously, on mobile devices, tablets, desktops, laptops and “old-school” TVs.

Say you are a marketer or organization trying to reach a Gen Z audience for goods, services, or even to rally behind a cause, or to create change in this era of cause-related marketing efforts. Short of starting your own video production company or hiring one of these influencer personalities to create branded content on your behalf, how are you supposed to conquer this elusive demographic when attention spans are shorter than that of a goldfish? Especially when the game continues to change so much from (what is now referred to as) “traditional media”?

Peer-to-peer influencers are the name of the game. Peers that are authentic, believable, and most importantly, that don’t preach B.S.

And if you can reach them online? Perhaps even via peer-created video content on one of their favorite social media or video platform channels? Even better.

* Data was sliced as ages 18-29 in this study: