Many aren’t yet old enough to vote, but Gen Z wields a mighty economic sword. Savvy brands are onto the reality that this new generation is becoming the developed world’s largest-ever generation of consumers. Market researchers have announced astonishingly high buying-power numbers for Gen Z — as in $143 billion in direct spending, with another few hundred or so billion in influencer spending.
In other words, Gen Z has enormous influence over how their parents and peers spend money — I’d venture to say, more so than any previous generation. Gen Z is also demanding different attributes from the brands they are willing to support, so it is essential to know how to market to them.
Who is Gen Z?
Most market researchers identify Gen Z as the group born roughly between 1997 and 2012. According to a 2020 Pew Research Center study, they are also the most racially and ethnically diverse generation ever, with roughly 25% Hispanic, 14% Black, 6% Asian, 5% other races and 52% white. In addition, one study (registration required) by Barkley found this generation is more interested in global trends and issues, connecting with others around the world via social media and apps.
Characteristics of Gen Z: The duality generation
Ironically, in some ways, Gen Zers have more in common with baby boomers and Generation X than millennials. Like these two older generations, the Barkley study found that Gen Zers tend to demonstrate more conservative views regarding personal responsibility, dependability, work ethic, finances and independence. However, according to the same Pew Research Center study above, they are more liberal and open-minded than any previous generation regarding social issues such as racial, gender and LGBTQ equality.
So, while these young consumers hold “old-school” values regarding financial independence, education and personal responsibility, they also hold progressive, non-conformist beliefs — and they aren’t afraid to speak out against brands that fail to authentically support issues important to them.
Top things to know about marketing to Gen Z
Gen Z grew up with the internet and they’ve become masters at instantly sorting through the deluge of information they receive, meaning they can tune out traditional advertising. Marketing to them requires a different approach than previous generations, so understanding the following attributes will help you connect with them.
Gen Z lives online. They have short attention spans, so your messages must be brief and catchy — short-form videos with music, visual effects and overlays are king. The Barkley study also found that these young consumers operate in FOMO (fear of missing out) mode, so using time-sensitive posts, such as the Stories feature on Instagram, often engage them. Keep in mind, Gen Z uses each social media app differently, so your online messaging approach needs to fit each platform. Regardless of which platform you use, be respectful of their privacy and ask permission before you share their content or data.
Gen Z needs opportunities for engagement and personalization. Interactive features such as quick polls, questions or contests in your social media advertising are a great way to get Gen Z’s attention. Provide opportunities for feedback and respond quickly, whether the feedback is positive or negative. It’s also essential to allow them to contribute ideas for product design and co-creation. Best of all, provide opportunities for them to experience your brand in an experiential marketing campaign such as product sampling and pop-up events. Make your experience spontaneous and delightful so participants will naturally want to snap and share hashtagged selfies of their interactions with your brand.
Gen Z values authenticity and uniqueness. Gen Z is more accepting of non-traditional beauty ideals and prefers to see realistic portrayals from advertisers and celebrities, according to the Barkley study. To connect with them, avoid hiring paid actors or “perfect-looking” celebrities and instead work with micro-influencers on social media (someone with 1,000 to 100,000 followers). Another excellent strategy is to work with in-person influencers on college campuses, concerts and extreme sports events.
Gen Z cares about social responsibility and positive change. As previously mentioned, Gen Z cares deeply about racial, gender and LGBTQ equality. They will not hesitate to call out a brand on social media that embraces a cause inauthentically or refuses to take a stand against inequalities. Their global connectivity and instant access to information have made them more aware of global, national and local inequalities compared to previous generations. As consumers, Gen Z leverage that information when making decisions about which brands to support. If you haven’t already engaged in cause marketing (e.g., partnering with a nonprofit), it’s time to do so.
Gen Z engages with brands they find ethical. Again, due to their ability to access information, these young consumers can often find out where, with what and how things are made. If a company claims to be “green” or support diversity but can’t transparently demonstrate its stated principles, Gen Z may turn its back. Gen Z sees a brand as a whole and doesn’t distinguish between owners, partners, distributors and suppliers. The takeaway here is that even if your brand behaves ethically, you could still lose Gen Z support if any link in your network appears not to do so.