What Marketers Need to Know to Reach Gen Z

Generation Z, those born from the mid-1990s through the 2000s, is about to become the largest generation, with an estimated $44 billion in purchasing power. According to Google, when you factor in the influence this generation has on parents and within household purchases, this purchasing power could be closer to $200 billion. As with any generation, what it takes to reach the newest shoppers is different from the strategies that worked with the previous generations, millennials in this case.

Gen Z’s defining characteristic: Fracture

While millennials were the bridge generation, possessing faint memories of a time before technology was everywhere, Gen Z is the first wholly digital native generation. As a rule, those in this group move quickly — which means they tend to be one step ahead of the brands that are trying to reach them. Brands that are still relying on blanket marketing campaigns or moving into influencer marketing may find these efforts wasted as Gen Z quickly finds new social spaces, new influencers and new online channels.

Even if blanket marketing methods may work for a while, in 10 to 15 years, brands will no longer be able to rely on those methods. As seen in the millennials first, Gen Z places a big priority on identity. Each member of the generation is a unique brand, something that should be unsurprising in a generation that’s grown up side-by-side with social media.

To reach this generation means setting aside the generic marketing campaigns, like the Super Bowl ads designed with mass appeal, and personalizing the message instead.

While this may seem daunting, consider that artificial intelligence, marketing clouds, and customer data platforms leverage the power of automation to get the personalized marketing messages that will be effective here.

Gen Z is surprisingly analogue

According to a study from Student Affinity Network UNiDAYS and Ad Age Studio 30, which looked at 23,000 college students in the United States, UK, Australia and New Zealand, Gen Z has a more complex relationship with technology than was previously supposed.

About 98% of Gen Zers own a smartphone, yet only 22% of survey respondents used it for online shopping. A Fluent Commerce survey found that roughly 25% of Gen Zers said they enjoyed browsing at brick-and-mortar stores. Direct-to-consumer brand Warby Parker actually backtracked into brick-and-mortar, opening close to 100 stores, when it realized that younger consumers placed a high value on the in-store experience.

Approximately 77% of survey respondents said they’d rather read a print book than an e-book, and 60% of Gen Zers either use streaming services on a television (instead of a laptop) or subscribe to cable television.

These analogue habits mean brands that have invested in digital only may be scrambling to reach young shoppers, who aren’t hanging out where companies thought they would. Consider that social media spending rose by 60% from 2016 to 2017, per Adweek. Web Strategies Inc. found that companies expect to allocate half their ad spend on digital campaigns by 2020. With such a significant investment in online advertising, and early findings indicating that Gen Z is markedly different from millennials, marketers must thoroughly evaluate fund allocation.

How to connect with (and convert) young consumers

Think of Gen Z not as one generation but as several small subgroups, each with its own characteristics.

  1. Vary messaging by target and channel.
    As you break your audience into subgroups, adjust your messaging accordingly. It should vary to engender the appropriate coversation in each channel that you leverage. For example, you should have different goals across social, email, in-app, podcasts, and TV – from engagement to transactional.
  2. Budget accordingly.
    Rather than evenly spreading your ad spend across every channel, focus on where your target audience hangs out. Visual social media is dominant among this generation, with Gen Zers enjoying YouTube and Snapchat over platforms such as Facebook, yet Gen Zers are also flocking to new platforms such as Houseparty, a group live chat app. Snapchat and Houseparty both have privacy in common, a value that’s important to Gen Zers.
  3. Stand for something.
    Young consumers want to know, like and trust a brand before they buy. Brands need to connect with them about more than the product. They need to develop a relationship and show that they are a good match, values-wise. Refine your message (if you haven’t already) for authenticity.
  4. Focus on them, not your company.
    Don’t forget about personalization. Remember, Gen Z has grown up with targeted advertisements through email and smartphone. People in this group expect all marketing to be personal in nature. In fact, 26% of Gen Zers told Google they expected retailers to take their preferences and shopping habits into account, for a more personalized shopping experience — a desire for just 22% of millennials and 11% of baby boomers. Consider why YouTube is so popular with Gen Zers: The video platform offers to give everyone a voice.
  5. Respect their privacy.
    Addressing privacy concerns is paramont with Generation Z given the widespread data breaches of current times. Less than 33% of Gen Zers feel comfortable sharing personal information with brands outside of purchase history and contact information. If they could feel confident their personal data was securely stored and protected – and not shared – this generation would feel comfortable sharing more.

Since these digital natives have grown up with online marketing, they’re perceptive to how it works. They know when they’re being advertised to, and they’re quick to skip ads and use ad blockers. The most adaptive brands keep pace with Gen Z with short, use messaging that put the customer first, and dovetail with the individuality and personalization craved by the youngest shoppers.