Marketing to Gen Z: Marketing to the Newest Generation of Consumers

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The best marketing strategies focus closely on particular segments of your target audience; crafting messaging designed to “speak” directly to their wants and their way of constructing the world around them. Marketing to Gen Z is no different. You must understand this demographic, identify key elements that make them different from earlier generations, and learn where to reach them with salient messaging.

Defining Gen Z

Born after 1996, the oldest of Gen Z is around 23. And, while the older members of the generation seek their first job, younger members are jumping into higher education or engaging in other post-graduation pursuits (no endpoint for Gen Z exists but we often divide them into groups with 18 as the divide between younger and older Gen Zers). Here’s how McKinsey breaks down the generations.

how is gen z different

Often overlooked in our still incomplete efforts to grapple with the challenges of marketing to Millennials, Gen Z is a force in consumer markets, with a spending power of more than $143 billion, about 40% of global consumers. These consumers make up a substantial 32% of the global population. And, the influence of Gen Zs over success in multiple industries will only grow in the future as their spending power increases and their participation in industry rises from low-level workers to managers.

Notice the striking differences between Gen Zs and Millennials that suggest they share more values with Baby Boomers than their generationally closer cousins. Gen Zs, like Baby Boomers, are more socially conscious, after 2 generations of “me”. Instead of protesting the war, which was common for Baby Boomers, Gen Zs care about the environment, social justice, and aren’t terribly concerned about what they share across online platforms. They’re much more plugged in to what’s going on around, getting information from a variety of news sources then integrating the information to inform their opinion of the world around them. Influencers carry more weight for Gen Zs than celebrities in forming purchase intentions.

Gen Z, the first true generation born as digital natives, are more comfortable with using technology to communicate rather than employing face-to-face or even telephone conversations. And, to them, digital means mobile. Their expectations include ubiquitous access to everything via an app or, at a minimum, a responsive website that allows them to move seamlessly between their mobile device (primarily a smartphone) and other devices, such as laptops.

TV, for Gen Zs means YouTube or streaming services, as they’ve cut the cord to traditional broadcast, cable, and satellite feeds. They get their news the same way and expect businesses they patronize to cater to their digital needs. Thus, offering digital customer service through social platforms, for instance, is imperative. Just like marketing to seniors, effectively getting your message to this younger generation means speaking their language and being where they are.

Focus on values

Gen Zs prioritize getting the most value for the money (not always synonymous with the cheapest price point) and buy products from companies that walk the walk when it comes to sustainability and social justice. According to a study conducted by McKinsey, 4 core values define the behaviors of Gen Zs:

They mobilize for a variety of causes
Privilege personal expression over labels
Gen Zs believe dialogue is the key to resolving conflict and make the world better
They’re analytical and pragmatic

This makes members of Gen Z, more idealistic, more confrontational, and less willing to accept divergent points of view that don’t mesh with the world they see in the future. Overall, Gen Zs are more liberal, although they haven’t thrown away all aspects of collectivism, such as religion, although they do have their own interpretation that bucks key tenents such as their views on gay marriage and use of marijuana.

Experiences and causes

The global recession forms the earliest financial reality faced by these young consumers and it impacts how they make purchases in a way similar to how the depression forever changed the consumption patterns of the Greatest Generation. Unlike their closest cousins, Millennials (who we still struggle to understand), Gen Zs don’t want to accumulate possessions and could care less about what their possessions say about their or what others think about them. They want experiences, give generously to causes they believe in, and want products from companies that embody their beliefs.

Authenticity is critical for winning over the hearts of Gen Zs. If you say you support them and their causes, you need to be out in the streets protesting with them, sending shoes to Africa, or handing out food at the local food bank. Sending money is OK, but Gen Zs would rather see you roll up your sleeves and get a little dirty with them. Combine this with a strong consciousness of waste and the environment and you get some very connected consumers who care about buying things they can use from companies they love.

Add experience

Far away from a world of status symbols that carried a lot of meaning for earlier generations, Gen Z focuses on gaining experiences. Members of Gen Z are more likely to try out extreme sports or new forms of entertainment, like eSports we discuss below. They find spending on travel and real-world experiences valuable despite (or perhaps because of) their digital proficiency, although they look for unique travel experiences, such as visiting the rain forest.

Marketing to Gen Z

Gen Z knows celebrities spout whatever pablum they’re paid to share, while microcelebrities carry weight with this generation. Once you have more than 100,000 in your network, they lose interest quickly. Use relatable, down-to-earth, real people in your marketing campaigns Gen Zs aren’t gonna see your slick advertising campaigns on TV (even sports, the last bastion of effective broadcast advertising) or print. And, they won’t answer their phones or pick up your direct mail, so forget about those tools to reach them.

Instead, think digital. That’s the way you’ll reach Gen Z. YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat are where they hang out. Marketing at eSporting events, watched by millions of Gen Zs via streaming platforms, reaches them where they spend their time. But don’t go dropping in some ad to interrupt their streaming. Instead, focus on influencer campaigns with real people they can relate to.

Detailed information on how your product enhances their experience or using authentic testimonials from people who share their lifestyle and values to your marketing campaigns goes a long way toward convincing them to take the plunge and try your offer.

As you develop marketing campaigns, consider how you align yourself and what you do with these values – advancement, investment, and improvement through education, which are all Gen Z hot topics. Promote your brand by espousing these values and using your marketing campaigns to stress what you’re doing in each of these areas, rather than selling product. Create a convincing moment and you might build trust and convert casual Gen Z customers into brand advocates.

In addition, focus your marketing campaigns on teaching something or providing interesting information that Gen Z gobbles up. The good news is that this type of value-added content provides a great advantage when it comes to SEO (search engine optimization), thus boosting the visibility of your website to users across multiple generations.

Conclusion

Getting it right and connecting with Generation Z is transformational for your company, given the potential represented by this generation. Gen Zs are very loyal to brands that win their trust and who they see as enhancing the value of their lives and contributing to the world they’ll inherit. Success in marketing to Gen Z and you may create a dedicated audience sector with growing spending power. Now is the time to start considering how to reach this new generation and speak to their values.

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