Generation Z includes everyone born between 1997 to present: they don’t remember a time before the internet, and reordering shampoo by talking to Alexa is perfectly natural. They aren’t going to get hooked on TV or magazines, but 70% visit YouTube daily, and social media is written into their DNA. Although many of them have yet to enter their prime spending years, they already represent $44 billion in spending power. By 2020, they will represent 40% of all US consumers.
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Generation Z cannot be targeted using the same strategies that work with Millennials. According to VisionCritical, Gen Z values financial stability more than Millennials do because they were raised by Gen X parents, many of whom were affected by the 2008 crisis. This mindset plays into their purchasing decisions – they look for quality and are budget-conscious. Also, because Gen Z grew up in a more diverse, inclusive era, they expect to see this represented in advertising. They are socially conscious, and like Millennials, they want to change the world. One difference is that they are demanding a tangible contribution from the brands with which they engage.
Formulating a marketing strategy for Generation Z is a daunting task. The following are five strategies marketers can use to reach this budding demographic.
Embrace a Social-First Strategy
Simply maintaining a social media presence is not enough to attract Generation Z. Brands need to take a social-first approach and actively engage with consumers in the space. Some even partner with influencers who emulate the brand’s values.
One brand that has cultivated an exceptional social presence with Gen Z is S’Well, a water bottle manufacturer. They leverage Instagram to promote their products as eco-conscious fashion items. These hand-dipped bottles add a dash of boldness to an otherwise ‘unsexy’ industry. S’Well also partners with high-profile fitness influencers, further helping them earn the trust of Gen Z consumers.
Create Share-Worthy Content
According to Source Furniture’s Jennifer Bello, brands reach Generation Z by offering advice, virtual community, or even moral guidance to their customers. For a generation that is constantly sifting through a sea of digital information, finding a trusted source is invaluable.
Sephora exemplifies this strategy. The brand partnered with digital media outlet Well+Good to promote products in the context of wellness and lifestyle articles. They offer helpful quizzes to determine “*Exactly* What Retinol Product You Need, Based on Your Skin Goals”, and more. This type of content makes them a valuable resource to Gen Z consumers and keeps the brand top of mind.
Craft A Personalized Experience
Generation Z loves the personal approach. Tactics such as micro-segmenting can help perfect targeting, but beyond the technical, Gen Z likes when brands deliver a personalized experience. And if that experience is shareable, all the better.
Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke,” campaign, for which they printed first names on millions of coke bottles, demonstrates the power of a personalized experience. Part of the campaign’s success derived from the fact that consumers created social content in response. In this way, the brand opened a reciprocal dialogue with its customers.
Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
According to Inc.com, Generation Z values human equality, family, individuality, personal success, financial security, and authenticity. Nicolas Machion of Upfluence Inc. would add sustainability, rebellion and humor to the list. If a brand can demonstrate that it shares these values, it will find success marketing to Gen Z. Translating those values into a real-world contribution will make a brand even more impactful.
Domino’s “Paving for Pizza” campaign did this successfully. Armed with the message “Bad Roads Shouldn’t Ruin Good Pizza,” Domino’s vowed to fix potholes in over 20 locations across the United States. They’ve already made good on the promise in seven cities across the country — in each location, their logo, along with the phrase “Oh yes we did,” is emblazoned on the pavement. In doing this, they demonstrated that they share Gen Z’s penchant for humor and rebellion. The campaign also made a directly positive impact on communities.
Emphasize Authenticity & Transparency
Generation Z is primed to identify classic marketing ploys. They prefer ads that reflect a more realistic portrayal of life, and that they would rather hear from “real people” than celebrities. This may sound counterintuitive given the success of celebrity influencers, but social media has humanized them. Kendall Jenner sharing her morning routine will resonate more with Gen Z than Jennifer Anniston selling Smart Water.
Brands need to read as authentic and prove that they are not trying to manipulate consumers. Tide’s campaign for the 2018 Super Bowl nailed this tactic. Each ad would begin by showing a stereotypical marketing narrative for some other product. Then the narrator would drop the pretense, admitting that it was really just a Tide ad. He claimed that in fact “Every Ad is a Tide Ad,” because the people in ads wear clothing. Tide opened a humorous and transparent dialogue with consumers about the nature of advertising, thereby earning their trust.
Not Your Parents’ Marketing Strategy
Generation Z won’t be swept up by idealistic narratives that neglect social realities. They won’t be swayed by price alone or buy in to generic testimonials. They support brands who share their socially conscious, sustainable vision for the future. Above all, Generation Z is attracted to brands who make real-world contributions — whether in the form of relevant content, community building, or even paving potholes. Generation Z may be perceived of as “screen-junkies,” but there’s more to the story. They may be ushering in a more thoughtful, individualized, and ethical era of marketing.