This article is co-authored by Mollie Kehoe. Sometime in early 2019, it became clear that Generation Z was the next burgeoning focus for marketers. Despite its $200 billion in spending power Gen Z is a tough target for marketers, who are confused by this new generation. In truth, Gen Z is distinct from its forerunners. Most conspicuously is their immersion in digital from their earliest days. They are the first true digital natives.
With that in mind, here is a guide for marketers who are addled by Gen Z, a moving target. Here’s what we know, as of now:
Gen Z is the first group to grow up under the constant gaze of the Internet. One unexpected result of this circumstance is that Gen Zers are apt to be influenced by friends and family more than any other generation. There are other surprises. Gen Z prizes uniqueness and will only support a brand if they perceive that the brand is authentic. This means that those trying to reach Gen Z should avoid at all costs any attempts to fudge their credentials.
Gen Z appreciates legitimate cultural movements, as evidenced by their support of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who chose to take a knee during the national anthem to protest racial injustice. To reach this audience, marketers need to take a stand for a genuine cause and have a clear mission and represent that consistently both through Marketing and through Action.
“Taking a Stand” in an inauthentic way has backfired on brands, and even greater caution is recommended when it comes to this demographic. Marketers need to think hard and do their research to see if their spokesperson has ever taken a stand because if they don’t, someone else will call them out on it.
Ownership as a burden. A recent BBMG study offered a deep dive into how Gen Zers see themselves. Gen Zers are more likely to see ownership as a burden and prize experiences over things. This generation is apter than others to see brand purpose as a priority. For marketers, this means that they seem to want brands to morph into something new and different. Since Gen Z reveres authenticity, this can be a tough ask.
They are still being defined. The demographic descendants of Millennials, while Gen Z is the first generation to be named by a USA Today poll, this generation is marked by unclear beginnings. Unlike Baby Boomers, there was no hallmark event (like the end of World War II) that kicked off this generation. This lack of a defining moment sets this generation apart from others and it may be what makes Gen Z so elusive for marketers. The very fact that there is no one cultural journey that these individuals have followed means that they are shaped (and continue to be shaped) by their individual experiences and preferences. Brands must tap into these experiences and preferences in order to connect with Gen Z.
They are digital natives, global and have big dreams. One hallmark of Gen Z is they are the first generation to grow up with the Internet. Thanks to that exposure, they are also the first global generation. They are also entrepreneurial; 76 percent of Gen Zers say they want to be a founder. Twenty-four percent are online “almost constantly,” and are defined by their tech use and a desire to stand out. This generation also prefers to spend money on experiences over products, and the products they do choose must be “unique” – becoming an experience in and of themselves.
They are global and see religion as an individual choice. Another hallmark is Gen Z’s global outlook. That could be because of the nature of the Internet, which has made news about other regions accessible to all. Another common thread is resistance to labels. For instance, though 76 percent consider themselves religious and 36 percent call themselves evangelical, this generation has a higher proportion that calls themselves atheist and is more accepting of same-sex marriages and decriminalizing marijuana.
That label-resistance extends to sexuality. Some 20 percent of Gen Zers don’t consider themselves exclusively heterosexual, which is twice the rate of previous generations.
In such a fractured media environment, Gen Zers also stand out for their mindset as “dialoguers”—individuals who do not let personal opinions bar them from participating with institutions in which they disagree. Just 49 percent of Gen Zers think that they need to break with the system to change the world, versus 57 percent of Millennials.
In this milieu, Gen Zers must make their own rules. That goes for their media choices. The No. 1 brand that Gen Zers adore, according to Business Insider, is YouTube. That makes sense since YouTube is an individualized form of media, about as far from “mass” media as you can imagine.
They’re OK not owning stuff—some stuff and open to new experiences. Gen Z refuses to be pinned down. One example of how this manifests itself can be seen in the rise of Uber, which challenges the notion of owning a car versus renting one.
They crave authenticity. Despite such resistance to labels, when it comes to brands, Gen Zers crave authenticity from the brands they buy from. The rise of Gen Z may also be tough for brick and mortar stores since most would rather buy clothes, books, and electronics online. Gen Z also prefers to see real people in ads rather than models.
Their resistance to being pinned down notwithstanding, Gen Z exhibits its fluidity in its drive to be both individualistic and yet community-focused. This split is seen in the rise of online communities and the tendency to socialize less than previous generations, at least in the traditional way.
This generation’s contradictions make it particularly challenging for those marketers who think they are just an extension of Millennials, but they also extend a huge opportunity to those who understand them and take the time to genuinely connect with and think through their outreach to them.
Summing it up
It’s not easy to market to Gen Z. Their thirst for unique experiences, authenticity, and purpose means that brands cannot take any shortcuts. Instead, brands must:
– Dedicate long-term commitment and significant effort behind any attempt to connect to Gen Z through a mission or cultural movement.
– Create meaningful experiences that break through the digital clutter that Gen Z has been exposed to since birth.
– Offer a unique product that sets itself apart, whether that be through differentiation in quality, price, purpose, or design.
This list, while not exhaustive, is a solid starting point to get brands on the right track when tapping into this $200B market opportunity