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At first glance, marketing to Gen Z might not seem like that much work, right? Craft some cheeky copy, drop in some memes, stay active on social, and America's most populous generation will come running (and bring their friends).
But in reality, it's not that easy. Many brands—including some of the world's biggest—stumble when trying to target Gen Z. Here are four of the most common ways that your business may be missing the mark with Zs:
As the most diverse generation in history, Gen Z celebrates individual expression above all else— and they expect the companies they do business with to recognize this. Brands that have found ways to meet Gen Zers' need to express themselves as unique and complex individuals are earning their respect AND share of wallet.
Retail brands like Tommy Hilfiger and Aerie are a hit with Gen Z, in part because they recognize—and cater to—the diversity of their consumer base. Both brands’ have made an effort to design clothes that fit a variety of heights, frames, abilities and genders. This level of inclusivity is no longer an option, but an essential part of marketing in the modern era.
Standards of beauty are constantly in evolution. Gen Zers reject the mass media stereotypes of previous generations because they don't map to the true spectrum of people of all colors, shapes, and sizes that they see every day. Their advertising preferences reflect this—they crave real people (not models) that reflect realistic scenarios (not idealized ones). More than six in 10 appreciate ads with diverse families, as seen in brands like Dove and Milk Makeup.
Smartphone screens might be an essential part of Gen Zers' daily lives, but when it comes to shopping, they actually prefer real life interactions over online stores. In fact, a whopping 98 percent would take a brick-and-mortar shopping experience over online browsing any day. Retailers that originated as online-only operations, like eyeglass empire Warby Parker and shaving start-up phenom Harry’s, have opened actual stores to give Gen Z the tactile adventures they truly crave.
For many direct-to-consumer brands, Gen Z’s influence has encouraged them to expand their brick-and-mortar presence. And it shows promising results. In 2018, Warby Parker’s 65 stores in the U.S. and Canada reeled in sales of approximately $3,000 per square foot of retail space, and the company hit a valuation of $1.2 billion. When online mattress upstart Casper opened their first physical store, it were so successful that they made plans to open 200 more.
While your social media presence is certainly an important way to engage Gen Z, it’s only part of the picture. Compelling offline experiences also have a major impact on Gen Z's shopping habits, which are even more relevant now that a significant percentage of Gen Zs have recently dropped out of social media entirely (at least for now).
A 200-year old British brand recently gave Gen Z a reason to ‘go offline’ with a limited shelf-life experience when Harrods, the iconic London-based department store, revealed its pop-up store called Fashion Re-told. Hosted in support of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), the pop-up store offered pre-worn designer clothes at reasonable prices. Harrods added to the experience with panel discussions and a styling session in tandem with British Vogue. Harrods’ pop-up store was so successful because it tapped into a variety of Gen Z’s passions all at once: curated experiences, meaningful charity, and sustainability.
Speaking of charity, if you’re going to appeal to Gen Z, your brand needs to stand for something bigger than profit. This generation will hold your actions and words to a very high standard. You can capture their attention with memes or catchy ad copy, but with nothing to back it up, they will drop you in a heartbeat.
In fact, six in 10 Zs will support brands that advocate in favor of race, human rights, poverty, and sexual orientation. They also expect companies to practice what they preach internally, with diverse hiring practices and fair employee policies. They’ll sniff it out if you don’t, not hesitating to march their loyalty elsewhere.
A 2017 study by IBM makes it clear: Gen Z insists that companies put words into action, have something greater than sales at stake, and follow through consistently over time. Doing otherwise risks losing something very difficult to regain: trust and authenticity.
What story does your brand tell? What larger purpose does it serve? How does it positively contribute to society? Answer these questions proactively, and you’ll have an Gen Z audience that’s willing to listen. Answer them consistently, and you’ll build a reliable and loyal customer base.
Download our free report, The Gen Z Marketing Playbook, and you’ll get a primer on how to guide your brand to win over this exciting new audience.
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