Guide to Effectively Marketing to Generation Z

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Five young people sit around a table with drinks and look at a mobile device.

 

Ask any marketing or communications professional to create a new campaign or strategy, and one of the first questions he or she will ask is, “Who’s my target audience?” Effective marketers know that it’s essential to have a comprehensive understanding of the audience they’re trying to reach, from general demographics and core values to communication preferences and online habits. And while marketers have given a lot of attention to understanding the millennial audience, there’s a new generation for marketing professionals to begin to target: Generation Z.

These frugal, tech-savvy, and socially conscientious youths are coming of age, and with billions of dollars in purchasing power, they are primed to be the next market influencers. Move aside, millennials — it’s time to get to know Generation Z (Gen Z).

Who Is Generation Z?

Depending on the source, there can be some discrepancy around the precise dates that make up Gen Z. The general consensus seems to land on a 16-year span starting in 1996 and ending in 2012. This places the oldest Gen Zer at 23 years old and the youngest at 7 years old.

The Pew Research Center conducted an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data and compiled some key demographic features of this generation. Compared with previous generations, Gen Zers are:

  • More likely to have at least one parent with a college or university education
  • More likely to enroll in a postsecondary institution
  • Less likely to seek employment in the workplace at a young age (i.e., between the ages of 18 and 21)
  • More likely to reside in a metropolitan area — only 13 percent live in a rural location

Another significant trait of Gen Z is that it is the most ethnically diverse generation to date — almost half of Gen Zers are part of a racial or ethnic minority group. In addition to these demographics, there are three defining traits of Gen Zers that marketers should keep in mind.

They Are Highly Tech-Savvy

It’s no longer surprising to see a young child grab a parent’s iPhone and seamlessly swipe and navigate to his or her favorite app or social network. The speed and adaptability with which Gen Z uses technology far surpasses that of previous generations. This generation was born in the era of smartphones, Wi-Fi, cellular data, apps, on-demand entertainment, and social networking. These communication tools are a natural way of life for Gen Zers.

For example, the iPhone was introduced in 2007, when the oldest members of Generation Z were 11 years old. Millennials grew alongside these technological advancements and can recall a time before smartphones and social networking, while Gen Z will not. Technology and social media are ingrained into their everyday lifestyle. As Business Insider and Think with Google note, members of this generation prefer:

  • Text messaging to email and messaging apps to texting
  • Communicating with emojis and GIFs
  • Visual social platforms, such as Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat
  • Spending more time on their phones rather than watching TV

They Are Value-Driven and Socially Conscientious

Gen Zers have strong values and assertive social and political opinions. They tend to be interested in issues ranging from human rights to online privacy, and they have a growing distrust of major corporations. A survey of Gen Zers conducted by MNI Targeted Media demonstrates the emphasis that this generation places on social accountability:

  • Sixty-eight percent of respondents reported that “doing their part to make the world a better place is important to them.”
  • Fifty-six percent of respondents indicated that they considered themselves to be socially conscious.
  • More than 50 percent stated that a brand’s social reputation impacts which retailers get their business.

They Are Financially Responsible Consumers

Gen Z grew up during a post-recession period, and recent studies indicate that members of this generation are more practical with their spending and concerned about their financial future. For example:

  • A survey by the Lincoln Financial Group of 400 Gen Zers between the ages of 15 and 19 found that 60 percent already have savings accounts — far more than previous generations during this age range.
  • A study conducted by Nielsen found that 47 percent of Gen Zers save money each month but are still not confident in their financial future.
  • When it comes to the shopping habits of Gen Zers, Kyle Andrew, chief marketing officer of American Eagle Outfitters, told Fast Company, “They’re less brand-conscious, and they are not spending as much as millennials do.”

Why Marketing to Gen Z Is Important

There are several important factors that are leading companies to increase their focus on marketing to Generation Z. Here are two major reasons:

Gen Zers Will Have Major Buying Power

According to the same MNI study mentioned above, by 2020, Gen Z will represent 40 percent of all consumers. Not only will this generation make up a large segment of the market, but its market influence will also be felt because of its predicted high levels of disposable income. According to a 2019 survey by Piper Jaffray Companies, U.S. teenagers reported spending an average of $2,600 per year, with top discretionary spending categories including food, clothing, and video games.

Gen Zers Are the Next Social Influencers

Social influence refers to the use of microblogging on sites such as Instagram and YouTube to market and promote everything from beliefs and events to consumer goods. (Think of children’s toy reviews, fitness videos, and makeup tutorials on platforms such as YouTube.) Online influencers are often authentic, relatable, and profitable. Gen Zers are primed to take over this space and become the next online social influencers. To stay on top of their campaigns, marketers should develop longstanding relationships with influencers who share common values. The Forbes article “Understanding the New Relationships Between Brands and Influencers” further outlines the role of influencers in the new economy.

Tips for Marketing to Gen Z

Marketers who want to engage with these consumers, particularly as they mature and their purchasing power increases, should keep the following tips in mind:

  • Communicate authentically and transparently. This generation does its homework. Gen Zers do their research and understand that much of the content they see on social networks is sponsored advertising. They have less trust in big corporations and more trust in online consumer reviews and recommendations from family and friends.
  • Be concise and use this generation’s medium of choice: video. Marketers have approximately eight seconds to capture the attention of Gen Zers before they scroll down, according to Marketing Insider Group.
  • Take a mobile-first strategy. Members of this generation are on their phones more than on a desktop, so focus first on mobile apps.
  • Appeal to Gen Zers’ social morals and values. Highlight your organization’s community investment initiatives and employ social influencers who share the same values.

Resources for Further Learning

The focus on digital and social platforms will only continue to sharpen for marketing professionals as Gen Z begins to become a primary audience. Bachelor’s degree programs that incorporate interactive and digital marketing concepts, such as the Maryville University online marketing degree, are available for marketing professionals and others who are looking to learn more.

Sources:

Accenture, “Gen Z and Millennials Leaving Older Shoppers and Many Retailers in Their Digital Dust”

Business Insider, “Millennials Love Their Brands, Gen Zs Are Terrified of College Debt, and 6 Other Ways Gen Zs and Millennials Are Totally Different”

Criteo, “Gen Z’s Favorite Social Networks”

Criteo, “3 Things Marketers Should Know About Gen Z”

Fast Company, “Your Guide to Generation Z: The Frugal, Brand-Wary, Determined Anti-Millennials”

Forbes, “13 Strategies for Marketing to Generation Z”

Global NewsWire, “MNI Targeted Media Releases Data to Help Marketers Win Gen Zers”

Hootsuite, “Everything Social Marketers Need to Know About Generation Z”

Marketing Insider Group, “Thanks Social Media – Our Average Attention Span Is Now Shorter Than Goldfish”

MNI Targeted Media, “Generation Z: Unique and Powerful”

New York Times, “Move Over, Millennials, Here Comes Generational Z”

Nielsen, “Global Generational Lifestyles”

Pew Research, “A Demographic Portrait of Today’s 6- to 21-year-olds”

Pew Research, “Early Benchmarks Show Post-Millennials on Track to Be Most Diverse and Best-Educated Generation Yet”

Pew Research, “Where Millennials End and Generation Z Begins”

Piper Jaffray Companies, “Taking Stock With Teens Survey, Spring 2019”

Sparks and Honey, “Meet Generation Z: Forget Everything You Learned About Millennials”

Think with Google, “Dive Deeper on Teens With the Following Reports”