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It's time to re-think your Gen Z marketing strategy

by Christina Germano
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    How to approach Gen Z marketing in the midst of a crisis

    Is your brand grappling with how to connect with Gen Z in light of how serious COVID-19 has become? If so, you’re not alone.

    Millennials and Gen Z’s differ in a surprising number of ways, but some of the most important differences for brands come from how they behave as buyers.

    If you’re a marketer who has been in the biz for a while, you probably remember the days when Millennials were the ‘it’ group to market to.  And suddenly, Gen Z  came to town and turned Millennial marketing on its head. Whereas Marketing to Millennials has 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—Gen Z is different. As marketers, we have been so focused on capturing the buying power of Millennials  that we risk ignoring the next generation.

    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 38 years old, with families, high-level jobs, and a ton of responsibility, whereas Zers are 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:

    Catch up, the world has changed

    Gen Z has grown up in a different world than their predecessors. Not to be mistaken with A Different World—Gen Z barely knows who Denise Huxtable is—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 more financially literate at a younger age. For marketers, this means highlighting the value of 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 reason they use ad blockers. Self-discovery is super important to them. For marketers, this means focusing on ways to present products that make Gen Z buyers feel like they found them on their own. Sneaky, but effective. 

    Celebrities are so Millennial

    Haley Pham, Fiona Frills, and Teala Dunn might not ring any bells for you, but they are some of Gen Z’s hottest influencers. Millennials were all about Britney and Leo, but Gen Z grew up watching YouTube videos. 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 truly mean that. Forty percent of YouTube subscribers believe that their favorite influencer understands them better than their friends. They 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 100 percent perfect. 

    Brands are so basic

    For Millennials, staying on-trend once meant having the latest fashions from Abercrombie and Hollister. Gen Z is much 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 sneeze 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.   

    Digital natives don’t want your ads

    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 reported that 71 percent of Millennials said they had been exposed to an ad before making a purchase, but only 59 percent of Gen Zers said 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. 

    Want to reach Gen Z? Don’t be a copycat

    If you want to capture Gen Z buyers, you can’t just lather, rinse, and repeat. The major differences between  Millennials and Gen Z mean that you need to create new strategies, products, and experiences. How can you get better at adapting to this generational shift? It starts with identifying the specific aspects of your brand that will resonate with Gen Z. Find out in our free webinar, Five Signs that Your Brand is Treating Gen Z like Millennials.

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