In 2019, the millennials are all grown up. And even though they suffered from a PR problem blaming them for everything from dating problems to the death of napkins, they’ve figured it out: now millennials are wealthy, educated and integrated into America’s workforce.
While still a little young, the adolescent stage of those born in the early 1980s is over. They are now society’s default demographic rather than an up-and-coming focus group for marketers to obsess over. Meanwhile, their little brothers and sisters are entering the global marketplace and will soon outnumber them. They have a lot of buying power too: $44 billion according to some estimates.
Five years ago, the oldest members of Gen-Z were in their first year of college. But now they’ve graduated and by 2020, members of this generation will constitute 40% of consumers in the U.S. The time is long overdue for marketers to take them seriously and understand the world through their eyes.
Who is Gen-Z?
To understand Gen-Z is to understand the world that its members grew up in, across political, financial and technological dimensions. As digital natives who grew up with Internet, cell phone access and social media saturation, members of Gen-Z possess a refined savviness that isn’t easily appeased by traditional marketing methods.
Like all younger siblings, Gen-Z is eager to stand out, and it stands out by conforming. This is the first of many paradoxes that color this young segment of society in an irony they are only too aware of. Although socially progressive and crusaders for inclusivity, a shade of political quietism and respect for traditional values has also led commentators to describe Gen-Z – and indeed, 59% of Gen-Z describes itself – as “conservative”
It will be a few years before Gen-Z fully enters the workforce. But as the times have changed, so too have opportunities for employment in the form of freelancing and the gig economy. At any rate, members of Gen-Z are career minded, valuing success and self-improvement. Like millennials, they value flexibility, but are unlikely to upset the status quo in their workplaces.
Living through the financial crisis of the late 2000s, members of Gen-Z are careful with their money, reflecting a frugality that echoes the Greatest Generation. They are not easily swayed by advertising, nor do they like it, though they show appreciation for carefully crafted branding and “influencer” messaging.
Few members of Gen-Z have had the opportunity to live in any kind of bubble. Social media saturation has given them an ephemera best described as “self-awareness,” reflected by their desire to distance themselves from stereotypes or extreme ideas. For this reason, perhaps, brands find popularity with Gen-Z when they employ irony, humor or self-deprecation.
Gen-Z does not have time for deceit or false pretenses. In reaction to information overload and saturation with promotional messages, it has cultivated a strong belief in authenticity for brands and individuals alike. Although this generation values brands that demonstrate social and ecological awareness, it also avoids brands who use activism in ways it perceives as opportunistic or self-serving.
Gen-Z is always on, and always connected to the Internet. Many have only a vague conception of a time when things worked any differently. Social media is not just a tool for them, but a fundamental aspect of their social relationships, work and education. For Gen-Z, a pop-up notification is less an intrusive distraction and more a ritual as natural as breathing.
Marketing to Gen-Z
Due to their complex relationship with brands and advertising, some assume that targeting Gen-Z is a feat not worth the effort or risk. But as Gen-Z is poised to become the largest consumer segment within the next decade, marketing to them is also necessary and unavoidable.
In point of fact, Gen-Z is not as tough a crowd as it may seem on the surface. The always-connected, social media orientation of members generates unique channels for reaching them. By following the right strategies and attitudes, marketing to Gen-Z can be reasonably straightforward.
- Work smarter, not harder– when targeting Gen-Z, marketers often make the mistake of over-tailoring their messages, adopting a mindset summarized by the phrase: “how do you do, fellow kids?” While relevance is important, it can also be counterproductive, as Gen-Z is suspicious of attempts to capitalize on trends or Internet culture. Authenticity and a personal touch mean more than carefully calculated messaging.
- Understand social media– Gen-Z uses email less than other market segments. Social media is the most important channel for reaching them by far. But merely using it is not enough – a brand that demonstrates a genuine grasp of social media conventions, culture and language will easily win respect from Gen-Z. In practice this entails:
- Effective micro-interactions in the form of comments, private messages and sharing
- Immediacy and brevity in communication
- Humor, irony and self-deprecation
- Awareness of competitors and their social media activities
- Appropriate, non-pandering use of meme templates, gifs and cultural references
- Multi-channel approach– members of Gen-Z may have a favored social media platform, but very rarely do they only use one. Research has shown that messages are most effective when they are encountered across more than one platform, so maintaining a presence across popular channels is important. Gen-Z favors microsocial networks like SnapChat, TikTok and Instagram to traditional social networks like Facebook or Twitter, and efforts should be concentrated on them.
- Invest in influencers– as part of their drive for authenticity, Gen-Z strongly prefers messages from entertainers, educators and other influencers they follow across the web. An influencer has won the respect from their audience that it can take brands a very long time to earn; influencer partnerships immediately bring a brand into alignment with something its prospects already care about. In some cases, customers may convert simply out of loyalty/support for the influencer in question.
- Craft the customer experience – when it comes to Gen-Z, the most effective form of marketing is building value through good CX. Members of Gen-Z are more likely to talk about their experience as a customer than any other group. Immediacy, communication, ease-of-use, robust customer support and affordability are all priorities which – if met – will turn customers into micro-ambassadors who support a brand through “word-of-mouth”.
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