The Gen Z Hierarchy of Needs and the Youth Mindsets®

Posted by: Jeff Fromm

The Original Needs Model: Maslow’s Hierarchy

In the 1940s, Abraham Maslow developed the hierarchy of needs model to help us better understand human motivation and behavior. While he probably didn’t intend for this model to be used as a modern-day marketing resource, marketers use this pyramid to help target ads toward consumer groups at different levels of the hierarchy. It makes sense, as brands do connect best with their prospective customers when they are able to appeal to their needs in relevant and meaningful ways.

The Gen Z Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

However, this way of connecting to consumers only works if marketers are using the right hierarchy that aligns with their needs. In the case of Generation Z, clever marketing tricks and gimmicks don’t fool them, and they are moving beyond the traditional basics thanks to their extreme digital connectivity. They demand authentic relationships and expect brands to know them and deliver highly personalized messaging to them. Knowing this, we can detail their hierarchy of needs further to give marketers greater leverage when it comes to connecting with these truly enigmatic consumers. The Youth Mindsets® concept these needs point toward can help educate marketers on how to reach this increasingly important demographic. 

Building the Modern Needs Model: Gen Z’s Hierarchy

Physiological Needs: Like all other living beings, Gen Zers need food, water, warmth and rest. It wouldn’t be off-base to suggest that, as true digital natives, they also require a charger (preferably one that works for all of their devices).

Safety Needs: Again, like the rest of us, members of Gen Z want to feel safe and secure in their surroundings. But this isn’t just referring to physical space anymore. According to a study by the Center of Generational Kinetics, Gen Z is more concerned than Millennials about their privacy and security when paying with credit and debit cards online. Although young, Gen Zers are sensible and responsible when it comes to their personal information and expect brands to be, too.

Additionally, 42 percent of Gen Zers in the study noted that social media has a direct impact on how they feel about themselves, and stats from the National Crime Prevention Council show that, in 2014, 43 percent of young people reported being bullied online. This number has undoubtedly risen since then as the anonymity of many of Gen Z’s favorite apps enables many to say whatever they want to whomever they want. As a generation focused on social movements, one of them being equality, Gen Z does not tolerate these harmful actions. As such, as we progress further into the digital era, we will see these youth find new ways to ensure personal safety in all of its forms.

Belongingness and Love Needs: As the current youngest members of society, Gen Z is perhaps the most focused of all individuals on this level of the hierarchy. In addition to prioritizing their belonging within their family structures, Gen Zers are also at a pivotal moment in their youth – they are realizing not only their similarities with friends but also their differences, and new rules are coming about as some of them begin to develop crushes and romantic interests. They want to feel accepted in each of their personal groups and will need support from the “right” brands – and influencers.

Esteem Needs: While Gen Zers are focused on finding their place in their family structures and friend groups, they are completely individualistic when it comes to their esteem needs. Their feelings of prestige and accomplishment don’t stem from belonging but rather their ability to establish their independence and personal success. In fact, more than half of the teens we surveyed agreed that personal success is the most important thing in life – a figure 10 percent higher than with Millennials. They also ranked higher in belief that success is a matter of hard work – not luck – and winning individual awards is important. It is a mark of a new mentality shaping youth today; a mentality that values personal achievement and dismisses the idea that success might rely on others.

Self-Actualization: While self-actualization is difficult for individuals of any age to fully reach, Gen Z is on the right track. As can be seen from their esteem needs, they, perhaps more so than their predecessors, are determined to achieve their full potential and even go beyond it. Gen Zers are inherently creative, pragmatic and influential. Unlike Millennials, Gen Z will ask you to “help me get myself there” rather than request that you “get me there.”

All of these and more influence the Youth Mindsets that influence Gen Z.

Want more on Gen Z? Stay tuned for Jeff Fromm & Angie Read’s new book, Marketing to Gen Z, coming Spring 2018. Pre-order here!


About Jeff Fromm

Although not a Millennial as defined by his age, Jeff Fromm is the Millennial Marketing Guy. Jeff is President of FutureCast, a marketing consultancy that specializes in Millennial trends, and is a contributing writer at...See Jeff's full bio.