What Really Matters to College Students: Brand Identity & Authenticity


Gen Z, the demographic currently enrolled in high school and college right now, is often accused of “killing off” brands that past generations had no problem with. This group represents $143 billion in purchasing power and growing, but many brands are struggling to relate to them and often try too hard to match their tone with poorly made memes, or incorrect use of internet lingo.

So what does Gen Z really look for in a brand? The answer is authenticity. Gen Z wants to know that brands are who they say they are. In order to achieve this, marketers should aim to build a strong brand identity.

The problem is that many marketers don’t have a good idea of what brand identity really is. They often get it confused with brand image, or the problems that the company tries to solve. And while these smaller components do contribute to brand identity, they aren’t the full picture.

Rather, brand identity is what the brand stands for, beyond what product or service it may provide. It is comprised of their motives beyond making money, why they do what they do, or what drives them. While this is one of the more abstract concepts of branding, a strong brand identity needs to be represented in everything tangible the brand does, otherwise authenticity is lost.

Another important contribution towards brand identity is the people that make up the company. In a recent study conducted by The Campus Agency, entrepreneurs were rated as being more influential than politicians, athletes, and social media influencers. The voices of company executives matter to Gen Z, and they need to line up with the brand’s philosophies.

Many marketers get into the trap of thinking that only larger brands can benefit from a strong brand identity, and that they need huge creative campaigns to make a statement about who they are. However, this isn’t the case. In many ways, it is actually easier for smaller brands to stay consistent, and strive to represent something greater in many smaller ways.

Recently, brands have found themselves under a microscope. It doesn’t take much for younger people to completely write one off because of its political affiliation, environmentally harmful practices, or poor social media etiquette. Nothing ticks off Gen Z more than when brands publicly claim to support a cause, but financially support its opposition.

One of the reasons that even good marketers often avoid this aspect, is because it is one of the most difficult to develop. It takes time and commitment, but most of all it requires real belief in the brand identity. Companies need to be constantly asking themselves who they are and if their actions align with this vision. By doing this, they are becoming more transparent, trustworthy, and honest in the ways that they choose to represent themselves to their audience. A strong brand identity isn’t just an extra objective that companies should tack onto the ends of their list’s, but rather an over-arching goal that each action should bring them closer towards.

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