Marketing to Gen Z: 4 Things to Think About
A quick Google search of the word ‘millennials’ currently nets 140 million results. Not surprisingly, many marketers have dedicated countless hours to understanding millennials over the last few years. Today, however, we’re starting to see studies focused exclusively on Gen Z. This next generation will become the largest generation of consumers by the end of 2020.
What’s clear as we head into that reality: Gen Z is unlike any generation before it in how they bridge the human and digital worlds.
Comprehensive studies such as WP Engine’s 2019 report quickly point out that Gen Z represents the first generation that’s never known an existence without the internet. They are a generation that’s literally grown up in a world connected through social apps, websites, smartphones, tablets and smart devices. It’s how they learn, how they connect with others and how they entertain themselves. To me, that’s why 64% of Gen Zers surveyed value unlimited internet access over a college degree. Being connected is an extension of who they are.
Where Baby Boomers and later generations tend to rely on the internet for specific tasks (email, searches, etc.), Gen Zers use their connectedness in a much more seamless manner. Gen Z blurs the line between “online” and “offline” where previous generations maintained clear boundaries for both.
So, what does this mean for marketers? How can we reach this connected and tech-savvy Gen Z more effectively?
1. Meet Gen Z Where They Are
Marketing to Gen Z starts with meeting them where they are. YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat are the online platforms they use most. They hardly watch traditional cable TV, opting instead to stream shows on services like Netflix, YouTube and Hulu. They turn to YouTube for entertainment first and education second. They expect websites they visit to anticipate what they need, like or want. And they’re willing to share personal data to that end.
That’s why, according to the WP Engine study, 44% of Gen Zers are more likely to share personal data for a more personalized digital experience.
I’m a father of two Gen Zers, both now in high school. For my daughter, Instagram is the clear first choice. Soon after I asked her about apps, she created an Instagram poll asking which app her friends prefer. A few hours later: 64 votes for Instagram and 42 votes for Snapchat. Beyond those two, my daughter said TikTok is gaining traction while VSCO usage is emerging in her circles. She’s not on Twitter, and she just uses Facebook to connect with family.
My son’s habits differ a bit: Snapchat is most important to him. He and his friends jumped on streaks right after Snapchat introduced them in 2016. YouTube comes in at a close second, followed by Instagram. He’s on Twitter to keep up with gaming news and doesn’t have a Facebook account. He and his friends share memes to spark commentary, mainly on Instagram and some on TikTok.
2. Remember that Authenticity is Key
Another Gen Z study from McKinsey & Company polled participants from three of Brazil’s largest cities. This study defines them through “the generation’s search for truth.” It paints them as a generation that values self-expression and rejects labels. This search for authenticity drives their freedom of expression and paves the way for greater openness to different kinds of people.
Another way authenticity shows itself through Gen Z behavior — they inherently understand the value and importance of building personal brand. They tend to think more about the ramifications of what they post online and how it will be perceived. They expect things to be authentic. That’s why producers of Gen Z series like Netflix’s Elite enlist writing help from teenagers and why executive producers of Freeform’s Grown-ish turn to members of its cast for suggestions while on set or to update scripts.
3. Create Content that Teaches While it Entertains
In terms of interacting with brand content, per WP Engine, previous generations overwhelmingly prefer information over entertainment. However, 26% of Gen Z chooses entertainment over being informed. While Gen Zers appreciate content that educates, humor and entertainment also matter. Creating authentic content that informs and entertains will be a big challenge for marketers. Getting it right will require more experimentation and an increased willingness to take chances.
4. Work to Create a Seamless Shopping Experience
This is one of the clearest examples of how marketing to Gen Z doesn’t distinguish between online and offline. Gen Zers are comfortable ordering products via a company’s website or app. But more than any other generation, Gen Z prefers businesses that have online presences and physical storefronts.
WP Engine cites Warby Parker, a company that started as an exclusively online experience to one that now has a growing list of retail locations. Other examples are retailers like Best Buy, who offer online ordering with free shipping or in-store pickups, real-time inventory updates via their website or mobile app, and price-matching major online retailers.
Nordstrom is another retailer that offers in-store pickup of items purchased online or through the app. Their app and website also let shoppers check inventory while the mobile app allows in-store reservations as well. Nordstrom recently acquired BevyUp and MessageYes to build more personalized shopping interactions, and will be looking to add augmented reality options via the app.
Gen Z is unique from all previous generations, including millennials. Reaching them effectively will require experimenting with new technologies in addition to finding new ways to interact via social apps. Content will need to be authentic, informative and sometimes entertaining — a difficult balance for sure.