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Millennials and Gen Zs differ in more ways than you might expect, but some of the most important differences, especially for brands, come from how they behave as buyers.
If you’re a marketer who's been in the biz for a while, you probably remember the days when Millennials were the ‘it’ group to market to. Suddenly, Gen Z came to town and turned Millennial marketing on its head.
Marketing to Millennials typically focused on making them feel special and creating unique experiences—like building your own burrito at Chipotle or finding your name on a bottle of Coca Cola—but Gen Z is different. Now, us marketers have been so focused on capturing the buying power of Millennials that we risk ignoring the next generation all together.
Just as there are differences between Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, Gen Z is not the same as their slightly-older counterparts. The oldest Millennials are now ~40 years old, with families, high-level jobs, and a ton of responsibility, whereas Zers are still mostly teens and young adults. They don’t identify as Millennials, and they don’t behave in the same ways Millennials did when they were younger. In fact, Jason Dorsey, a researcher and Gen Z expert, says that “they don’t want to end up like Millennials.”
So how, exactly, are Gen Z and Millennial shopping and buying habits different? Let’s break it down. Marketers, take note:
Gen Z grew up in a different world than their predecessors. Not to be mistaken with A Whole New World—most Gen Zs probably never watched the original Aladdin—but one that kicked off with a recession and has always had lightning-fast internet. Mostly raised by Gen X parents, Zers have surprisingly different attitudes than Millennials, who were mostly brought up by Boomers. For example, Gen Z is more pragmatic about money and they become more financially literate at a younger age.
Marketer pro-tip: Highlight the value of your products and services in order to attract a more frugal buyer group.
Gen Z kids were raised to be independent, much like many of their latchkey-kid parents. They like to figure things out for themselves and are less open to obvious advertising, which is one of the many reasons they religiously use ad blockers. Self-discovery of brands is far more important to them.
Marketer pro-tip: Present products in ways that make Gen Z buyers feel like they found them on their own. Instagram ads are a great way to start. Sneaky, but highly effective.
Haley Pham, Fiona Frills, and Teala Dunn might not ring any bells for you, but they are some of Gen Z’s hottest and most trusted influencers. While Millennials ogled over Britney and Leo, Zers grew up watching influencers on YouTube instead. According to Google, 70 percent of teenage YouTube subscribers say that they relate to YouTube creators more than traditional celebrities. And when we say relate, we really, truly mean that.
Forty percent of YouTube subscribers believe that their favorite influencer understands them better than their friends. Re-read that sentence if you need to, because it's huge, and it proves just how deeply influencers are woven into the lives and psyches of Gen Z.
This means that Zs also listen to YouTuber recommendations—60 percent would follow advice on what to buy from an influencer over their favorite TV or movie star.
Gen Z is also into authenticity. Most Gen Zers (63 percent) prefer to see real people in ads, but only 37 percent of Millennials feel the same way. While Kate Moss is a Millennial icon, Gen Z is more interested in seeing people who aren’t totally perfect, but real and relatable instead.
For Millennials, staying on-trend once meant sporting the latest Abercrombie and Hollister tees. Gen Z is far less brand-conscious, but they’re definitely still into following trends. Unfortunately, for some brands, this means they’re spending less money on products that were a hit with Millennials.
That doesn’t mean Gen Z doesn’t have buying power ($143 billion is nothing to scoff at). It just means they’re spending it differently, and that attracting them to your brand requires a different approach. If you want to catch the eye of a Gen Zer, give them something they can show off on social media, like galaxy makeup or the latest trending hashtag.
Gen Z is the first truly digital native generation, and this is a major factor in how they respond—or don’t respond—to ads. Business Insider says that 71 percent of Millennials had been exposed to an ad before making a purchase, but only 59 percent of Gen Zers could say the same.
They use ad blockers, they don’t shop online as frequently, or they might not have even noticed (or want to admit) that they saw the ad. Does this mean that digital advertising is dead? Of course not. In fact, fifty-nine percent of Zs have reported paying attention to an ad because it was from a brand they trust, and 60 percent of Gen Zs say the main factor in effective ads is a special offer or discount.
If you want to capture Gen Z buyers, you can’t just lather, rinse, and repeat. The differences between Millennials and Gen Z mean you need to rethink your marketing game—and soon. How can you get better at adapting to this generational shift? Start by identifying the specific aspects of your brand that will resonate with Gen Z. Consider partnering with influencers. Reconsider digital ad spend. Chances are, you already have the bones of a solid marketing strategy in place—it just needs some fine tuning.
Find out more in our free report, the Gen Z Marketing Playbook.
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