What are the coolest brands to Generation Z and Millennials?

This article was originally posted on my contributor column on TheNextWeb.

In April 2017 Google published a comprehensive study of the differing brand outlooks between Millennials and Generation Z and overall what the two think of most of the top companies and brands out there.  Before diving into the results and realities of this study, it is important to note a few major things for evaluating both this publication and brand power in general.

Firstly, data can be manipulated to say anything, so it is important to take a step back with all studies and forecasts to ask if the process of analysis and results make sense.  Secondly, data always has a sponsor and that sponsor has bias which can influence the results to varying degrees.  Finally, consumer opinions are not equal, since certain people influence brand perceptions and style trends more than others and so understanding the nuances of individual brand stories is critical.

Google’s Results

After interviewing roughly 1100 members of the Generation Z (defined by Google as ages 11-17) and Millennial (ages 18-24) cohorts in Spring 2016, Google compiled a variety of charts and findings about the two subsections of society.  The most interesting component was a chart of brand coolness and brand awareness for both demographics.

According to the results the top 10 coolest brands to Gen Z are as follows:

  1. YouTube
  2. Netflix
  3. Google
  4. Xbox
  5. Oreo
  6. GoPro
  7. PlayStation
  8. Doritos
  9. Nike
  10. Google Chrome

Furthermore, the coolest celebrities included Steph Curry, Selena Gomez, Emma Watson, Chance the Rapper, and Ariana Grande.  The coolest music held Twenty One Pilots, Drake, Beyonce, Fall Out Boy, Coldplay, The Beatles, and Panic at the Disco.  The least cool brands were TMZ, Wall Street Journal, Sprint, and Yahoo!

Social media usage from Gen Z was broken down to state percentage of Gen Z on each platform as Instagram (60%), Snapchat (56%), Facebook (52%), Google+ (42%), Twitter (35%), and Pinterest (27%).

Where Google Messes Up

Before getting into the nitty gritty of this study, Google mislabels Gen Z and Millennial age groups.  The industry norm for forecasting almost always utilizes a 10 to 15-year span and typically defines Gen Z as 5-20 and Millennials 21-35.

So immediately Google is looking for the wrong answers and overly specific conclusions.  If you were to try to describe the difference between someone who is 16 from someone who is 18 you based on cultural tastes, you would be hard pressed to come up with significant explanations about how their lives are different.  This is why generational forecasting needs larger timeframes so as to focus on the effects of macro trends, such as the influence of post-9/11 society.

Google also conveniently never defines how they measured “coolness” and in turn makes it hard for me to believe any member of Gen Z sat down and told someone the absolute coolest brand out there today is Google Chrome.  Yet Google would have you believe their internet browser is in the top 10 and beats out brands such as Snapchat, Instagram, Starbucks, BMW, Tesla, and Spotify.  Also, I highly doubt that 42% of Gen Z actually uses Google+ while only supposedly only 35% are on Twitter, but perhaps that data was determined by if you use Gmail since that automatically gives you a Google+.  Not to mention 3 of the top 10 coolest companies are Google-owned.

Early on it is easy to see this study is wrong in a lot of ways both in its approach to understanding Generation Z and in ridiculous claims of brand perception.

Brand Takeaways

The most important lesson for companies or anyone looking to understand what Gen Z or Millennials think is cool is to use your gut judgment.  Google claims that Millennials rate Wendy’s as cooler than Chik-fil-a, Dell cooler than Virgin America, and Best Buy cooler than Chipotle.  While Gen Z supposedly think, Kraft is cooler than Red Bull, and Chanel is on the same level as Nestle.  Tastes and preferences differ, but these examples should raise an eyebrow.

If things do not feel right, more than likely the data is misrepresenting reality.

Going a step further, the comparison between clothing brands in this survey offers a unique peak at how brand power shifts.  Nike is a top 10 brand in this result followed fairly closely by its subsidiary Jordan and then competitors Converse and Vans.  Much lower in brand appeal are Adidas and Under Armour.  While Nike is a powerful brand, they are hurting and Adidas is dominating both Nike and Under Armour.

Adidas early on made the transition to more of a fashion brand than athletic brand and began rolling out a plethora of collaborations with influencers such as Pharrell and Kanye West.  Their new launches routinely dominated the press and social media for style influencers and their Stan Smith line is ubiquitous on college campuses.  Meanwhile, Under Armour stock has gone down 50% in the last 18 months from poor sales performances and Nike was one of the worst performing stocks in the DOW Jones for 2016 for similar reasons.

While the common person may see Nike as a megalithic brand, tastemakers know Adidas is cooler than Nike right now and that brand trend will make Adidas replace Nike’s top 10 spot in the next decade if the momentum is not stopped and or reversed.  In this sense, just as jumping on the social network startup bandwagon at the top of the industry S-Curve will lead to guaranteed failure, brand innovation follows S-Curves as well.

Companies and forecasters need to continuously identify what is making brand rise and fall, because the king of the hill today will be displaced tomorrow if they are not continuously acting like an industry incumbent.

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