After years of focusing on millennials, it’s time for marketers to pivot to Generation Z, the next emerging consumer target group.
By 2020, Gen Z will account for 40 percent of all consumers, according to a 2017 Accenture Report.
Born beginning in the mid-1990s, Generation Z are quickly reaching the age of significant disposable income. Gen Z will comprise 32 percent of the global population by 2019, according to a Bloomberg analysis of UN data. It’s key to understand these emerging consumers and their preferences.
Here are 19 tips to market to Gen Z in 2019 and effectively engage them as customers.
Tip #1: Market & Communicate to Gen Z in Their Language
Salty. Nugget. Piping Hot Tea. Sus. Lowkey. Gen Z has its own dialect and if marketers want to communicate with them, you need to become fluent. “Being on social media since we were young has led to a whole new language that we use primarily because social media platforms like Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter lend themselves to new terms and expressions,” said Zoe, Butchen, a member of the University of Connecticut class of 2022.
Additionally, it’s an emoji world and Gen Z is living and flourishing in it – face with tears of joy, red heart, loudly crying face, heart eyes face, face throwing a kiss, or face with rolling eyes.
“Emojis are half of our communication whether texting or group messaging. It’s an easier way to communicate and it’s more fun and lightens up the mood,” said Ryan Jannuzzi, Rutgers University class of 2022. “It’s just second nature and if brand marketers want to communicate and engage with us, they need to get our emoji language as it is simple, relatable and will get a strong reaction from us.”
Tip #2: Gen Z Wants to Personalize Their Purchases
From pursuing their passions and starting new clubs in high school to designing customized courses in college, Gen Z has grown up in a world where they have personalized just about everything. No generation embodies personalization more than Gen Z.
For brand marketers, look no further for inspiration and proof-of-concept than the century-old Converse brand where, “customers can design their own sneakers from scratch, starting with the color of the rubber and finishing with the eyelets and laces.” Alexa Restaino, a communications major in the Rutgers University class of 2019, commented, “From customizing my own music playlist for every mood I am feeling to designing my own sneakers to personalizing my watches, marketers who will successfully engage with Gen Z will offer options for us to customize and personalize their products and services.”
Tip #3: Brands Should Have a Purpose Beyond the Transaction
Beware brand marketers… Gen Z is looking for you to have a higher purpose that goes well beyond a simple transaction. A recent Wharton Business School study found that Millennials and Gen Z are, “mainly interested in supporting brands that are ethical, caring and strive to do the right thing. “Brands need to stand for something that is not only important in today’s culture and society if they want to have a long-term relationship with Gen Z, but the brand’s purpose must be sharable with our way of living,” said Stephanie Michael, a member of the Montclair State University of 2019. “And, don’t try to fool us, because we can see right through inauthentic marketing. We will take the time necessary to review your past posts, tweets and other content and call you out for misleading our generation.” Before marketing to Gen Z, brand marketers should take quality time to listen to Gen Zers and understand what causes are most important and determine how they can authentically align with their brand. “This is more than corporate social responsibility and donating money to charity,” says Mark Bonchek, founder of Shift.
Tip #4: Make Your Products & Places Instagramable
“We are constantly in the mindset of shooting and sharing the perfect photo,” said Michael. “We obsess over how the images we share on Instagram and our other social media channels are not only going to look, but how well they are going to be received by our followers.” When it comes to brands and their retail locations – restaurants, stores, shops – if the brand doesn’t offer an Instagramable, visually appealing backdrop, they have just lost an opportunity for Gen Z’s advocacy.
Tip #5: Advertising Turns Them Off
As the most popular social media platforms for Gen Z, Instagram and Snapchat, focus on driving incremental revenue, they are turning off some of their most valuable users. “We are not at a tipping point yet, but there is a growing dislike by Gen Zers when it comes to the blatant advertising on our favorite social media channels,” said Sabrina Araullo, a member of the Montclair State University class of 2018.
“Brand marketers should focus more on how to customize their paid or sponsored content specifically for a channel like Instagram or Snapchat so that it naturally and authentically integrates into my feed and I am more likely to engage with it. Today, too many brands are taking a screaming commercial approach and that will backfire with our generation.”
Tip #6: Netflix is Their Go-To Network
According to a 2018 survey of Gen Zers by Hawk Communications, the student-run public relations agency at Montclair State University, more than 85% have a subscription to Netflix, more than 50% admit that Netflix is their preferred method of streaming video and 43% prefer Netflix over all other sources including cable and network television for watching video content. “Netflix offers instantaneous gratification when it comes to watching original content, movies and television shows,” said Araullo. “We can watch an entire series in one sitting at a time convenient for our schedule with no commercial breaks, which is why the majority of Gen Zers are turning away from traditional television.” Marketers in other industries should determine how they can apply the ‘Netflix’ model to their business to more effectively engage Gen Z.
Tip #7: YouTube is the Epicenter of Their Generation
Aside from learning via endless YouTube videos that tutor Gen Zers about any topic they can imagine, YouTube offers so much more including haul videos and unboxing content. “YouTube is the epicenter of my generation. It is so much more than just videos that teach us,” commented Sophia Kazee, a member of the University of Pittsburgh class of 2021. “YouTubers who are Gen Zers are now celebrities and we want to be like them. I am on YouTube all day, viewing the beauty and fashion videos. I love the haul videos which features items a YouTuber purchased, and they provide the details including pricing. YouTube caters to all of our interests from fashion and cooking to budgeting and studying and YouTube partners with many brands in a way that is engaging, especially when they offer special pricing codes.”
Marketers and brands who are challenged with engaging Gen Zers would be well served producing a meaningful Gen Z tutorial content strategy on YouTube. They would be wise to develop and integrate a YouTube element in their Gen Z content marketing strategy. “We go to YouTube for tutorials on just about every possible topic from food to fashion and technology to travel,” commented Katelyn Woebse, a member of the Montclair State University class of 2020. “There is a tutorial for everything and we want to learn everything. We are a generation of explorers.”
Tip #8: You Can Find Gen Z On More Than Five Screens
If you are looking to engage Gen Z with a marketing message, it won’t be easy. It has been well documented that Gen Z bounces between at least five screens – smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop, watch, video game console and television – that is actually seven screens. Not only does Gen Z feel very comfortable transitioning from one screen to another depending on the need, time and location, they do it on their time and schedule so strategically planning to intercept Gen Z as they move from one screen to the next is not something that can easily be planned.
“Being able to hand-pick the content I exclusively want to consume, along with being able to watch it regardless of my location and even live and on-the-go is really changing the media consumption game for Gen Z,” commented Ryan Rose, a 2017 graduate of Rutgers University. “Although I don’t have a cable package, I feel more connected to my interests than ever before, through leveraging the multi-screen capabilities available to Gen Z and all consumers.”
Tip #9: Friends & Family Influence Them the Most
According to the same Gen Z survey by Hawk Communications, when it comes to content on social media, friends and family (27%) have the greatest influence on Gen Z more than social media influencers (23%), subject matter experts (14%) and celebrities (12%).
Woebse commented, “When Gen Zers consider a brand or making a purchase, we conduct extensive research and our friends and family are by far our greatest influence. Social media enables us to crowdsource friends and family about their experience with a certain brand or product to help us gain a better understanding before we invest what limited budget we may have.” Brand marketers should take notice as social media influencers, subject matter experts and celebrities may have greater social media reach, but wield less influence than family and friends when it comes to Generation Z.
Tip #10: You Have Seconds to Get Their Attention
With the introduction of six-second commercials by television networks as well as social media platforms including Snapchat, it should come as no surprise that it has been well documented that the attention span of Gen Zers is eight seconds or less. For marketers, that means you need to do something disruptive and attention-grabbing in the first few seconds of video content or in the headline of a story.
“If you don’t grab my attention in the first five seconds, I am not going to invest my time to consume a brand’s content,” said Summer Beal, a 2018 graduate of East Stroudsburg University. “Branded content doesn’t need to be sensational. However, it needs to be highly relevant for the Gen Z audience as well as still being authentic to what the brand stands for.”
Tip #11: Not All Social Media is the Same
When it comes to Gen Z, as a marketer, never make the mistake of believing that all social medial platforms serve the same purpose. In a study conducted by Atlanta-based Response Media, a digital-customer relationship management agency, it is detailed what each popular social media platform delivers to Gen Z. According to the study, Instagram provides a channel to showcase their aspirational self while Snapchat delivers real-time, unfiltered life moments.
Twitter delivers news and a newsfeed in a timely manner and Facebook, while not as popular with Gen Z, still offers information when needed. As a marketer, when it comes to Gen Z, no one piece of original content can simply be replicated across various social media channels. Content needs to be customized for specific social media platforms based on how Gen Z engages with content while on a specific channel.
Tip #12: Location, Location, Location is Important
It should come as no surprise that for many Gen Zers, Snapchat is among their most popular social media platforms, but it’s location-based features like Snap Map or Find My Friends from Apple that truly engages Gen Z. There is no longer a need to plan to meet someone in advance. Instead, location-based apps allow Gen Z to meet-up spontaneously anywhere especially at major events, destinations or parties. “No matter the location, I can discover if my friends are at the same event or nearby which leads to a spontaneous and immediate meet-up without the hassle of planning,” said Restaino.
“Our generation enjoys discovery through spontaneous get-togethers, and apps like Find My Friends allows for that no matter the time or distance it takes to have an unplanned meet-up,” said Ashley Rose, a member of the class of 2020 at the University of Mississippi. Brand marketers who can harness the power and appeal of location-based technology can create meaningful pop-up activations on-location spontaneously that result in real-time Gen Z interaction and engagement.
Tip #13: Join Their Movement
“One of the most effective ways a brand can engage with Gen Z is to truly join our movements around social, community and political causes,” said Araullo. “Brands can’t simply pander to us. They need to demonstrate that they authentically think like us and believe in causes that are important in our Gen Z world, society and culture, today, tomorrow and for many years ahead. They need to demonstrate a commitment to these causes and in return, they will earn loyal advocates and customers.
Tip #14: They Want to be First… in Their Social Circles
“It is a badge of honor for Gen Zers to be the first in their social network to share content, news and information and that includes everything from branded content that might be clever or funny to a great promotional offer for a product or service,” said Beal. “While we may not have the massive reach of celebrities and social media superstars, brand marketers looking to engage Gen Z should seriously consider a grassroots effort with actual members of Gen Z, nano influencers, who have influence and credibility in our social circles with thousands of very close friends. Those brands that give us the news first, will drive great engagement with those who trust us most, our Gen Z friends who follow our social media channels.”
Tip #15: Minimalism Means More
Less is more when it comes to Gen Z and what they would like to see from brands and marketers as it relates to visual branding and identity. “Gen Z loves photographing and sharing branding, packages and products that are simply designed and branded as it requires no editing,” said Michel. “If a logo or packaging is too complicated and requires too much work to edit and share, the brand is missing out on a sharable opportunity. Rook Coffee and by Chloe are two brands that are designed for Gen Zers to share on their social media channels and marketers should take notice.”
Gen Zers repeatedly have confirmed they want to engage with brands and advocate on their behalf, but logos, packages and designs that are overly branded are not going to find their way into Gen Zers sharable content.
Tip #16: Market to Us via Pop-Ups, Events & Experiences
Brands that create pop-up experiences like Refinery 29’s “29 Rooms” which offers 29 installations in one interactive house of style, culture, and technology, will engage Gen Z and lend themselves well to social media content that is highly sharable. “Pop-up events fulfill our social media need and appetite to capture and share content from unique settings and experiences,” said Brooke Stern, a member of the Cornell University class of 2019.
“Brand marketers should prioritize events and experiences, especially pop-up interactions, if they are looking to engage Gen Zers.” Shelby Fong, a member of the Rutgers University class of 2019, added, “brands that are going to be most successful with Gen Z are those that activate through pop-up shows and events like the Museum of Ice Cream and the Pint Shop that allow Gen Zers to be engaged and immersed in interactive experiences that they can capture and share on their social media channels.”
Gen Z is eager to engage with brands via unique experiences. “If you look at the content we share on our social media channels, it is primarily experienced-based,” said, Jessica Ortega, a member of the Montclair State University class of 2019. “Brands should start focusing more on experiential marketing. It’s not only less in-your-face advertising, but Gen Z will share the branded content and advocate on a brand’s behalf without the direct payment that online influencers increasingly require.” Gen Z has moved past storytelling and is interested in experiencing brands through ‘story living.’
Tip #17: Retro is Relevant…Again
Vinyl records, thrift shops, hand written notes, real cameras (not smartphones), a phone call on your birthday – these are all things Gen Z considers “retro” which they take notice of in their hi-tech way of living. “Living in a 24/7 tech and social media world, what is most disruptive is what we would consider retro products or retro forms of communication,” said Beal. “A phone call or a hand-written note will stop us in our tracks, take notice and even share with our followers on social media.” Keep that in mind brand marketers – as you develop tech-forward marketing campaigns, a little bit of ‘retro’ may disrupt the marketplace and set you apart from your competition.
Tip #18: Tech Drives Gen Z’s Way of Shopping
Antonia Attardo, a member of the Rutgers University class of 2019, emphasized that, “Technology has completely changed the traditional purchase funnel making it more difficult for marketers to target us. From influencers on YouTube who promote specific clothing or beauty products to Gen Z friends who share brand and retail promotions and special offers, we rely on technology as well as our social media channels and compelling content from brands and other sources to influence our ultimate purchase.”
Tip #19: Marketers Will Need to Move Faster Than Ever
“If you are a brand marketer, you need to get ahead of Gen Z. In other words, you need to interview us and listen closely and understand what trends we are forecasting six to 12 months in the future. We move faster than any generation before us and if you are planning some sort of marketing campaign today to engage Gen Z, there is a good chance it will be old news by the time you go to market with it unless you get ahead of the Gen Z curve,” said Derek Drotman, a member of the Penn State class of 2020.
Timing is everything marketers and in 2019 it will be even more important to be ahead of the times when it comes to effectively engaging Gen Z.
Mark Beal is a columnist at Grit Daily. He recently authored his third book, Decoding Gen Z: 101 Lessons Generation Z Will Teach Corporate America, Marketers & Media. A veteran brand marketer, he is a professor of public relations and marketing at Rutgers University. A keynote speaker on such topics as Generation Z; the transition from college to a career; and preparing high school students for college, Mark previously authored 101 Lessons They Never Taught You In College and 101 Lessons They Never Taught You In High School About Going To College.