How to (Successfully) Market to Generation Z

Taryn Williams

Gen Z is a demographic every brand wants to impress…but it’s easier said than done. Worth an estimated $150 billion in global buying power, you’ll need to adopt specific marketing strategies to connect with these emerging decision-makers, and here’s how you do it.

If you’ve ever watched a toddler playing on an iPad, you know that age is no barrier to technology.

And no generation is as synonymous with technology as Generation Z. Although a consensus on the exact date range is tough to come by, Gen Z is typically seen as those born in the mid-1990s to the early 2000s.

True ‘digital natives’, Gen Z are the first generation to grow up alongside the internet and social media. Speaking the language of technology, you might think it’s easier to market to this demo since they know the digital world like the back of their hand. After all, they’ve spent their whole lives engaging with digital media - but you’d be wrong.

Growing up with technology means Gen Z can spot insincerity from a digital mile away. They’re highly impressionable but equally tech-savvy. Gen Z knows what content they like and they’re experts at finding it. At the same time, this generation is made up of informed consumers who don’t want to be sold to but are looking for transparency and honesty in the brands they choose.

That makes marketing to Gen Z a challenge…but not impossible. 

Here’s how to engage with the sophisticated filter of Gen Z and forge authentic connections that help your brand grow.

Wait, who is Generation Z?

We know, it gets a little confusing. 

Generally defined as being born after 1995 but before 2012, this generation consists of teenagers and those in their early 20’s. While their predecessors (Millennials) were the first ‘digital pioneers’, Gen Z are digital natives with lifelong access to information at the click of a button in a world where social media is increasingly ubiquitous. 

As consumers, this connection with social media and digital experiences frames their purchasing decisions. It’s not enough to throw an ad on a billboard and expect to sway Gen Z. These consumers choose brands that reflect their values and are more likely to be swayed by the endorsements of influencers over branded content (so yes, the billboard industry is pretty much dead).

A highly impressionable demographic, Gen Z is finishing school and entering the workforce. And as their earning power goes up, so will their buying power.

What does all this mean for your brand?

As of now, Gen Z ranges in age from 11 to 24, placing them at the start of adulthood - and the buying power that comes with it. 

But (there’s always a ‘but’), Gen Z sees the world through digital filters which quickly tell them whether a brand is worth engaging with or not. And they’ll use these filters - and their purchasing power - as an expression of their values. 

If there’s a disconnect between what your brand says and what your brand does, don’t be surprised if Gen Z calls you out for it and looks elsewhere. On top of this, growing up with technology has given Gen Z a natural immunity to branded content. They’re less likely to be swayed by traditional marketing tactics, meaning you’ll need more than a single marketing message to drive ROI.
So, if you want your marketing to succeed (let’s be honest, who doesn’t?), we’ll show you how to approach Generation Z and its estimated $150 billion in global buying power.

Three Gen Zs having fun in skateboards

5 proven strategies to market to Gen Z

#1 - Communicate your values

Previous generations may have been swayed by the best price, the fastest delivery, or the most reviews on Google…but not Gen Z.

Generation Z is acutely aware of the environmental, socio-economic, and political challenges facing the world. They’re passionate about making positive change and they vote with their wallets when it comes to choosing brands aligned with their values.

That’s why 55% of Gen Z choose brands that are socially responsible and environmentally friendly. Fail to tick those boxes and you’ll lose 1 out of every 2 possible customers in the blink of an eye. 

❝ Gen Z is acutely aware of what’s real and what’s #fakenews. If your brand puts on a facade in an attempt to forge a connection, you’ll be found out.

Remember, Gen Z is made up of experts at spotting inauthentic brands. It’s not enough to slap a coat of paint on your branding and claim to uphold the same values as your audience. Gen Z will quickly switch to a competitor if they think you’re putting on a facade.

So, what can you do as a brand? 

Identify your brand’s values and clearly communicate them throughout your marketing messages. Whether it’s supporting a cause you’re passionate about on social media, partnering with a charity, or highlighting your commitment to sustainability on your website, you’ll help build relationships when you show your brand isn’t just about the money, but something bigger.

#2 - Use influencers (smartly)

Paid advertising on Facebook and Google still has a place in an omnichannel marketing approach, but don’t underestimate the power of real people when marketing to Gen Z.

Gen Z looks to influencers to provide authentic reviews and endorsements of brands. 56% of this generation are more likely to try a product or experience if their favourite influencer endorses it. But there’s a catch - they’re hyper-aware of fake or forced messaging and they reject one-size-fits-all marketing. That means you can’t hire 100 influencers and expect 100x the results.

The best influencer partnerships are authentic and built on shared values (like we outlined above). Partnerships should be fostered with influencers who genuinely appreciate and love your brand. This will lead to content that’s real and genuine, and that’s what Gen Z craves.

#gifted tip: Bigger isn’t always better. Micro-influencers (with follower counts between 10,000 and 50,000) have built loyal audiences of Gen Z followers looking for ideas, inspiration, and recommendations. 

Micro-influencers are seen as peers and virtual friends in a way celebrity influencers are not (Kendell Jenner may be popular, but her followers probably don’t consider her a friend). The more trusted an influencer is, the more likely their followers are to buy the products they love, so don’t overlook the trust factor that micro-influencers bring.

Two influencers in fashionable ensembles

#3 - Get Gen Z involved

Generation Z wants to be part of something BIGGER than themselves. That means you can cultivate brand loyalty by including Gen Z in your marketing efforts - not throwing advertisements at them. 

Gen Z isn’t as forgiving as previous generations when it comes to blatant ads and tired sales tactics, so you’ll need to create content that is authentic and engaging. This could be as simple as a branded hashtag or a CTA to enter a competition or UGC campaign

Growing up alongside the internet and “fake news” means you can’t speak at this demographic. Instead, speak to them - and encourage input along the way. Think competitions, games, events, and viral challenges. Finding ways to create interactive content have a dual effect of capturing attention and encouraging action.

Tap. Swipe. Click. Comment. Share. Retweet. 

Remember, most of this generation has had a form of social media for at least half their lives and they’re eager to do more than scroll. Gen Z wants to interact with brands beyond a shop front. Whether that means creating videos to share your brand’s personality or using interactive content to create a connection, when you make Gen Z feel like you’ve created content specifically for them, you’ll help develop brand loyalty and drive purchasing decisions.

#4 - Sell experiences, not products

Gen Z is entering adulthood on the back of a pandemic with growing buying power, but with spending habits shaped by recessions and lockdowns. They’ve got money to burn, but that doesn’t mean they’re willing to throw it at anyone.

On top of the economic uncertainty that comes with a global pandemic, growing up with the internet means Generation Z is immune to the hard sell. They can deflect obvious marketing campaigns and sales tactics with ease. 

What does this mean? 

That they don’t care about your product as much as they care about what it can do for them. 

According to Mention, just 25% of what you sell is your product. The remaining 75% is that intangible feeling that comes with it. The buzz, the high, the excitement of how a product makes you “feel”. That feeling needs to be at the heart of your marketing to Gen Z. 

Here’s an example…

Let’s say you make seriously impressive shoes with no technical stone left unturned. Gen Z doesn’t care about the thickness of the sole or whether the shoes are heat-sealed and sewn as much as they want to know whether they can wear your shoes at their favourite music festival and stomp through the mud singing along with their best friends without getting their socks wet.

When you sell an experience over your product’s features, you’ll connect with your customers and be more than just another sale.

Does that mean you should ignore your product's specs or details? No. But don’t forget to sell the experience that your product brings alongside any relevant product details.

Three Gen Zs in colorful streetwear

#5 - Create bite-sized content (especially video)

Facebook is no longer the King of social media. 

The average Gen Z internet user bounces between 5 screens at a time and uses multiple social media platforms (as a reference, TikTok has over 1 billion monthly users), so you’ll need to create snackable content that matches their fleeting attention spans. Oh, and YouTube is the first platform Gen Z turns to when looking for entertainment. 

What’s the takeaway here?

That video content is a winning marketing strategy for Gen Z because it’s easy to consume and reflects their preferred medium. But don’t limit yourself to YouTube. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok offer built-in video features for you to use, so get creative.

#gifted tip: Gen Z live online, which means access to news and events 24/7. You can use this to your advantage by leveraging the Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO). Time-sensitive marketing can attract Gen Z who want to remain connected and avoid missing out on new brands, releases, or experiences. 

Ephemeral content (e.g. Instagram Stories or Snapchat) can generate buzz from social media users who don’t want to be out of the loop. Diversify your video marketing to see what works.

So, what are you doing to market to Generation Z?

There’s no shortcut, secret, or silver bullet to help you market to Gen Z. 

This demographic, making up 30% of the global population and the largest generation ever, can’t be fooled. Instead, you’ll need to take the time to listen to your Gen Z audience, understand what makes them tick, and build genuine relationships.

Gen Z might conjure up images of TikTok loving, smartphone-using, mobile shopping consumers - when they’re really just people looking for brands to connect with. You’ll still need to play by their rules to win them over, but with these tips, that’s exactly what you can do.

Because everyone wants to market to Gen Z, and now you can.

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