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How to Market to Gen Z in 2021

A group of Gen Z using their cell phones in 2021.

Gen Z, the cohort born between 1996 and 2010, are the first generation to grow up immersed in technology, and so they are remarkably tech-savvy, connected, and informed. And now, Gen Z is joining the workforce, which means that they are gaining spending power. Gen Z is unique because they are the first generation to grow up hyperconnected.

As a result, they have distinct values, attitudes, and lifestyle habits. Because of their adept internet usage, they are highly aware of what is happening in their own communities as well as globally. Gen Z already makes up 40% of consumers in the USA, so it's time to start thinking about how to market to this up and coming demographic of consumers.

Understanding the differences between Millennials and Gen Z.

Before considering how to market to Gen Z, it’s important to understand how Gen Z differs from the previous generation, Millennials (born between 1980 and 1995).

  • Millennials are idealistic whereas Gen Z is practical. 

Millennials were raised during an economic boom, whereas Gen Z was raised during the recession – and this impacted their consumer habits. Because Gen Z grew up witnessing their parents and peers struggle with economic pressures, employment, and finances, they are pragmatic in the way that they shop. Their focus is on smart investments that offer long-term value. 

  • Millennials are swayed by experiences whereas Gen Z look for value.

Having grown up in economic turmoil, Gen Z are mindful of their money running out. Like Millennials, Gen Z shoppers like experiences. But, they need to be more definitively convinced of value for money due to their relatively frugal tendencies.

  • Millennials shop online whereas Gen Z prefers an omnichannel experience.

Millennials grew up with the internet, and as a result became avid online shoppers. While Gen Z is also comfortable with ecommerce, they value in store shopping. This adds an element of “experience” by allowing them to see and feel items before making a purchase.

  • Millennials are attracted to brand ethos, whereas Gen Z are attracted to brand values.

Millennials love trend-setting and identity-building brands. They’re known for building their identities around brands and a brands ethos. Gen Z, however are more attracted to brand values over brand ethos.They gravitate towards brands that express the values they relate to. 

It’s clear that Gen Z are very distinct from Millennials, and these distinctions are all key to understanding how best to market to Gen Z. So with the above in mind, here are our top 4 strategies for marketing to this new demographic of shoppers.

1. Make your website and brand mobile-friendly. 

Because Gen Z grew up with mobile phones, they are highly mobile-oriented. On average, Gen Zers use their smartphones 15.4 hours per week—more than any other type of device. They use applications like Snapchat and Instagram to build their personal identities and to communicate, and to stream their media via platforms like Netflix. With most of Gen Z’s screen time attributed to mobile phones, marketers should leverage mobile technology for their marketing campaigns. 

How to get started:

  • Design your site and web pages with mobile users in mind. For example, your pages shouldn’t be overloaded with content and you’ll want to ensure that the site navigation is clear and concise. To learn more about mobile friendly design, you can read our 3 eureka moments in mobile design usability testing.

  • Use social media to benefit your business. Platforms like Instagram have become important tools for extending your business’s messaging and establishing consumer trust. While it is possible to advertise directly through Instagram, the initial goal is to create a social media presence, because Gen Z will look for it. 

2. Create edgy, story-driven campaigns. 

In 2021 marketing campaigns targeting Gen Z will need to stand out. With their hyper connectedness and high rates of mobile phone usage, Gen Z is constantly exposed to content. Edgy and story-driven campaigns have been proven to do the trick in capturing their attention while they sift through unending content. The #PraiseUp campaign launched by AXE in 2017 is one example of a story-driven campaign that appealed to Gen Z and resulted in widespread success. 

The campaign, launched via Twitter, encouraging the audience to record a video of themselves giving praise to a friend, and share it to social media. The campaign aimed to challenge outdated and harmful male stereotypes, creating a platform for men specifically to open up and praise each other.

This notion resonated with Gen Z, who are known to be far more inclusive and gender-progressive than previous generations. The campaign was successful because it was untraditional. It was story-driven, encouraged engagement, reflected shifting attitudes, and it promoted individuality. 

How to get started:

  • Tap into video. Gen Z has been proven to love visual platforms like YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat, with a study by The Manifest reporting that 89% of Gen Zers use Youtube every week. The #PraiseUp campaign took advantage of this by making user-generated videos the call to action of their campaign. Including a video element of your marketing campaign so that it can be activated on social platforms like Snapchat, Youtube and Instagram is key to reaching Gen Z. 

  • Work with influencers that reflect your brand. Gen Z looks to online influencers to inspire them, encourage their individuality, and feel that they are part of a community. And when it comes to marketing, they trust the peers and influencers that they relate to. Influencer marketing speaks to the values of Gen Z: it is raw and honest. Your starting point is to connect with influencers that represent the demographic that you are targeting. For example, if your company sells makeup, work with an influencer that is known for their makeup tutorials. 

3. Focus on positive experiences. 

Gen Z spends a lot of time using their mobile phones, but when it comes to shopping, they prefer to visit a brick-and-mortar store. For Gen Z, shopping in-store ensures that the products they are purchasing have good value.

Therefore, it's important to optimize the online experience of your business so that Gen Z shoppers are motivated to visit your physical location. You can use a variety of experiences to build consumer trust and encourage your audience to visit your store.

Here are two examples of positive experiences that can drive conversion with Gen Z: 

How to get started:

  • Offer in-store activities for free. The athleisure brand Lululemon has mastered this activation for in-store visits by offering free yoga classes as an incentive. The yoga classes fit the store’s branding given that they sell several lines of yoga apparel and accessories, and the classes further add an element of community to the brand, which builds consumer trust and emphasizes brand authenticity. 

  • You’ll need to build trust with Gen Z before they’ll visit your store front. A great place to start is with your online communications. Responding to direct messages and comments on social media, and answering emails quickly are surefire ways to keep your Gen Z shoppers engaged. If consumers have a positive experience while communicating with you in the online space, they’ll be more likely to visit your physical space. 

4. Keep your campaigns short and authentic. 

Gen Z is sometimes stereotyped as having a low attention span, but this stereotype is misinterpreted. Because Gen Z has engaged with online content since childhood, they are pros at sifting through information and quickly deciding whether or not they’d like to engage with it further.

Some studies have concluded that your average Gen Zer will dedicate 8 seconds of attention to a piece of media before deciding if they’ll watch, read, or swipe more. Much of a Gen Zers decision to engage will depend on how authentic they find the content they are viewing. In the previous three points we’ve touched on how Gen Z is attracted to stories – traditional advertising doesn’t land with them. So to keep Gen Z interested it's important to keep all messaging brief, authentic, and narrative. 

How to get started:

  • Platforms like Instagram and Snapchat offer the perfect forum for brevity. Using a 10 second Instagram story, for example, a brand or business can share with their audience a video clip or ad which will seamlessly integrate into a user’s social media experience as they scroll or swipe through the app. Be sure to make your content engaging though, because the user will swipe or scroll onwards if the content doesn’t capture their interest. 

  • Seize the opportunity for authenticity. Influencer marketing isn’t the only way you can personalize your brand and convey authenticity. Snapchat and Instagram have features that allow businesses and brands to share polls and for users to ask questions. These features promote conversation, engagement, and demonstrate a brand’s interest in their shopper’s feedback. Other features like geotagging and hashtagging are added bonuses which make your content discoverable, and further convey the authenticity and accessibility of a brand or business.

It’s time to tap into Gen Z. 

Gen Zers currently have a spending power of over $140 billion, and in the coming years this number is expected to grow as the tail end of this generation begins joining the workforce.

Now is the time to ensure your business doesn’t miss out on the buying power of this demographic by pivoting your marketing strategies to fit the communication habits, shopping preferences, and values of Gen Z. Your marketing strategies should speak to the characteristics that make Gen Z unique: their preference of mobile over desktop, their attraction to authenticity, and their love of brick and mortar shopping experiences. 

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Special thanks to our friends at Diff Agency for their insights on this topic.
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