Marketing to Gen Z – Part One

By Madison Taylor
February 13, 2020
speech bubble with "generation Z" written in the middle

On the internet, everyone older than you is a boomer and everyone younger than you is a millennial. In the marketing world, we have to be a little bit more nuanced than that. Just when we all thought we were getting used to the unique challenge of marketing to millennials, Generation Z is starting to emerge on the scene.

The exact year depends on who you ask, but most agree that Generation Z started in the late 1990s. Pew Research Center sets the range from 1997 to 2012, which means the oldest members of Gen Z are 22 — just exiting college.

Obviously, generational lines are never clear-cut — a 22-year-old Gen Zer has more in common with a 25-year-old millennial than with a child born in 2012 — but there are a few cultural commonalities that unite Generation Z.

The first and most obvious is the internet. Web 2.0 came into being in the late 1990s, so Gen Z has never lived in a world without the web. They’ve probably never heard the signature screeching of a dial-up modem. They might never have used a corded landline or a fax machine. They’ve never seen a floppy disk, and might never have seen a VHS tape. Tech, in their lives, has always been user-friendly, portable, and immediate.

Their attitude around money is different, too. Many of them saw their parents lose retirement funds or even homes during the Great Recession in 2008-2009, so they value financial security. They’ve also seen the millennial generation hamstrung by student loans and credit card debt and are eager to avoid the same problems. They prefer debit cards to credit cards and mobile banking to in-person — half of them haven’t entered a bank branch in the last three months.

They don’t remember 9/11. They don’t remember a time when the US wasn’t at war in the Middle East. They don’t remember a time when Dwayne Johnson wasn’t an actor.

If you’re feeling a thousand years old right about now, you’re not alone. But this new generation is already a third of the world’s population, and they’ll have significant purchasing power before too long. Here’s what you need to do to reach them.

Focus on Experiences

Gen Zers don’t just want to buy a thing, they want to buy the experience that comes with owning that thing. Buying a pair of running shoes isn’t about the proprietary foam insole, it’s about the wind in your hair as you jog down the coast. Buying a new phone isn’t about the amount of RAM it has, it’s about staying connected with your friends and loved ones.

The companies that are really good at this are the ones that will succeed with the new generation. Nike sells a fitness lifestyle. Red Bull sells adventure and adrenaline. Casper sells relaxation and stress relief.

How do you sell an experience? With an emphasis on imagery, people, and making your customers’ lives easier — not selling them an object.

Invest in Video

No one uses YouTube more than Gen Z. It’s the platform they turn to when they want to relax or cheer up. It’s the source of the celebrities they know, the gamers they follow, the documentaries that educate them, and the content they talk about.

Beyond YouTube, Gen Z are using Instagram Stories, Snapchat, and TikTok to share video content and stay up to date on the world. And if they’re watching video, you need to be creating it.

The bad news for marketers is that video takes a lot more time and effort than image or text posts, so it’s hard to make enough posts to fill a social calendar. The good news is that you don’t have to. You can sprinkle video posts into your marketing here and there to keep engagement up without spending all your time on production.

Don’t sweat production value too much. Gen Zers, like millennials before them, don’t want to interact with content that seems too polished and clean. Overwrought video feels fake and polished, and Gen Z customers want authenticity. Take video on your phone, of real employees or customers rather than actors, and you’ll garner much more engagement.

Stay Mobile

Millennials were the pioneers of mobile tech — the iPhone came out in 2007 when most of us were in high school or college — but Gen Z has been saturated in it. Most of them had smartphones of their own before their teens, and even those that didn’t had played with their parents’ devices. Touchscreens are passe to them.

Mobile devices are the way that Gen Z interact with the world, with companies, and with each other. 97 percent of respondents in one survey said they owned a smartphone, so if your website and apps don’t work on a smartphone, you simply won’t reach the younger generation at all.

Keeping Up

The most important thing about marketing to Gen Z is to build your strategy on a foundation of solid, informative, useful content. Flashy marketing tricks will come and go, but today’s modern, tech-connected customers can see right through an empty ad campaign. If you want to convince the younger generation that you’re capable of solving their problems, you have to show them.

Part 2

Use Influencers, But Stay Authentic

Engage with Customers

Prioritize Privacy