Is cult branding relevant to Gen Z?

The brand, as the ideological glue that holds consumers together as a tribe, is at the crux of cult branding theory, one in which brands such as Apple, Google, Starbucks, Levi's, Harley Davidson, and the likes have been built.
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The new generation of trendsetters and influencers, the Gen Z, are the true digital natives. The hyper-connected and hyper-cognitive generation live their lives through the filter of their digital devices. They live seamlessly within the virtual and the offline, transitioning their experiences with an ease that's unparalleled across previous generations.

This generation values individual expression, wants to stand for a cause, and wants to see some serious change come through their actions.

Having been born in a globally prosperous world (between 1995-2012), this generation, as opposed to the millennials, are less self-focused and more world-focused.

Gen Z's relationship with brands is also multi-layered. Beyond being a possession, a brand provides access, becomes an important form of self-expression, and also becomes a platform through which they can display and practice their ethical concerns.

Brands are a way of self-expression

Individual identity and manifesting that in many ways is at the core of Gen Z's self-expression. Gen Zs are unlikely to buy brands because they help them become a part of a group or a tribe and are more likely to buy brands as individual preference. They are constantly seeking out brands that match their values or help them express themselves better or become a better version of themselves.

This changes the game for many branding theories that have been built over the decades. The brand as the ideological glue that holds consumers together as a tribe is at the crux of cult branding theory, one in which brands such as Apple, Google, Starbucks, Levi's, Harley Davidson, and the likes have been built.

Consumers who choose these brands are co-opting themselves and a group of others who all hold similar values and emotions about the brand.

So if Gen Z prefers to go solo, does traditional branding theory rooted in the principles of community, connection, and shared values have any relevance today? Are cult brands appealing to this generation at all? Is there a change warranted in the way these brands are built?

Gen Z has endured and been at the receiving end of the worst global crisis that has been witnessed in decades. The lockdown has stripped this generation's ability to form real connections and form physical relationships in their most prime years. Their sense of community and bonhomie has been relegated to those managed online through WhatsApp and other social media channels.

The isolation crisis amongst Gen Z is real. Does this global isolation crisis hold an opportunity for brands to come in and say something meaningful? Since brands mean a lot more than just consumption, can brands reignite a sense of bonding and community among a generation who seems to be losing all ties with a connected world?

For the devoid Gen Z generation, can brands offer a powerful platform that helps them connect with other like-minded people who share their passions and their interests?

Is there a chance to revive the decades-old concept of cult-branding at a time when the global isolation crisis is threatening to strip this generation's ability to tribe and vibe with other people?

How brands can appeal to Gen Z?

Balancing the need to personalise with the need to tribe is where brands need to focus their strategies.

Appealing to this generation in a hyper-customised way, but by giving them a platform to connect emotionally with other like-minded people will appeal to this generation's sensibility.

This can be done in the form of stories that talk about the brand's values and ethical ideology. Gen Z wants to read these stories through social media channels and be more involved in them.

Through purposeful initiatives that Gen Z can participate in or through causes that are dear to their hearts. Brands can make significant inroads into the hearts and minds of young Gen Z consumers.

Whether one calls it cult branding or a newer form of engagement-oriented branding, the bottom line here is that every new generation heralds a shift in thinking and ideology. And with every new generation comes newer principles and practices of branding strategy that need to get employed. Here's yet another interesting evolution in the exciting world of branding that reflects the mindset, values, and ideology of a changing generation.

Edited by Affirunisa Kankudti

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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