“Who the hell are Zalphas?” you may well ask. And, should ask. Because, for many retail brands, this hybrid-generation is the most demanding, yet most rewarding, audience ever.
Zalphas are nine to 14 years old, they are the most diverse and digitally-savvy generation in history – and they can go on social media and rip your company apart with one well-timed TikTok. But, win them over, and you’ll boast a squad of intensely loyal, engaged and creative devotees who’ll go to bat for you for years to come.
Here are four reasons why:
Historically, this is the transformative time in life when kids explore issues surrounding identity, likes and dislikes, and social comparisons. Yet Zalphas have had to navigate all of that during a global pandemic, with unprecedented digital access, in a world beset by climate change and war.
This hybrid-generation is entirely unique – which is both exciting and terrifying for brands. Companies that recognise this uniqueness and adapt accordingly will be able to tap into and harness Zalphas’:
a) powerful digital influence
b) untapped spending power
c) willingness to hold everyone to account (including you)
However, on the flip side, companies that ignore Zalphas altogether or, perhaps worse, attempt to engage with them as if they’re exactly the same as all nine to 14-year-olds since time eternal, will get a rude awakening.
Kids aged nine to 14 are deciding what tribes they want to be part of – and which they most decidedly don’t. They’re forming opinions and testing boundaries. They’re pushing against their caregivers and experimenting with style. They want to be cool and so fear embarrassment. They also are wary of exhibiting vulnerability with their peers, not having learned to lean into it yet.
And, for this bunch of Zalphas, all of that totally normal and natural growing-up stuff has been supersized by the successive global disasters directly affecting their day-to-day lives. This has imbibed them with a world wariness that, while undoubtedly sad, is also driving accountability and honesty in all their associations – brands included.
Yes, they are more suspicious, and maybe even cynical, than previous generations of the same age, but they are also more willing to imprint on brands that pass their rigorous trust tests. Companies that prioritise Zalphas, therefore – making them feel seen, confident, accepted and positive – will win their loyalty for years to come. For these kids, the brands they wear, support, talk about, play or buy are intrinsically linked to community – and community represents safety.
The power Zalphas hold over brands and commerce is growing immensely. They know how to utilise social media to rally behind (or against) a cause like no other generation and retailers are watching it happen. This demographic of shoppers is making it clear that they prefer brands whose values align with their own. Research shows that they prioritise social issues and sustainability and brands are starting to respond to this.
Gen Zers, Alphas, and even younger children have consumer spending influence like never before. Not only through the digital sphere but also in household spending decisions. Their opinions are being valued by parents (something which most of us are likely unfamiliar with) and this impacts retail both off and online. A recent poll of US parents of children aged 18 and younger shows that over half of the respondents claim their children are influential in family spending. Retailers should be cautious not to underestimate the power of influence Zalphas have on spending.
Zalphas have as much – if not more – to teach adults as vice versa to an extent that is historically unprecedented. These kids are growing up in a world unimaginable to those just 20 years older than they are. Yes, that means they’ve had to get much more serious much more quickly. But, if we have to play the glad game (and sometimes we do), it also means that they’re more accepting of, and adaptable to, the huge global societal shifts that catch us adults unaware. And, when it comes to societal developments, they don’t bat an eye: gender fluidity, different pronouns, diversity, and LGBTQ+ rights are all part and parcel of being a Zalpha. Zalphas can teach us as much as we can teach them and embracing that truth is integral for youth-oriented brands that want to thrive.
Zalphas offer brands an opportunity to grow, develop and adapt, just like the kids themselves. We’re entering a new era for retail and are all having to play an entirely different game and the rewards for those who embrace the change will be immeasurable – not just financially and professionally, but societally.
Lose yourself in the moment. Say, “F*** it, let’s see what happens”. Channel your inner desire to play. Stop caring about what anyone else thinks.
Fully embracing joyful impulsiveness – that’s Positive Recklessness HATTER-style. It’s about creating spaces where boundaries can be pushed, limits can be tested, and worries can be forgotten. It’s about finding moments of magic in the everyday and building experiences that can change lives.