marketing to Gen Z | young guy sitting on couch with laptop

Marketing to Gen Z Requires a Slightly Altered Playbook

As the mom of two Gen Zers (my daughter is 20 and my son is 16), any article that mentions marketing to Gen Z catches my attention. Much has been written about how this generation is so different – but the same is said about every new generation. Once you get to know them, I don’t think you need to throw out your entire marketing playbook to reach them.

 

The idea for this topic comes from a blog post by one of my favorite thought leaders, Mark Schaefer. In a recent blog post of his own, he mentioned a couple of statistics about how Gen Z consume media:

 

Ofcom found that 15-24-year-olds spend 57 minutes a day on TikTok (more than Facebook and Instagram combined at 45 minutes). That same cohort is down to 51 minutes of broadcast TV a day, a drop of 66 percent in a decade.

 

I guarantee you that both of my kids spend more than 57 minutes a day on TikTok. My son makes an appearance on Facebook once in a blue moon to see what the old people are doing, while my daughter uses it daily (I guess she likes old people more). They both use Instagram daily.

 

Broadcast TV, though? That had me laughing. My husband and I (old people!) don’t even watch broadcast TV – unless you count “Abbott Elementary” which we stream through Hulu. But I don’t think that counts. 

 

Anywho, the oldest Gen Zers are 22 or 24 (depending on your source), and though B2B businesses may not be marketing and selling to them en masse yet, we will be and soon.

 

Before we talk about how to market to them, we need to understand who they are.  

 

A portrait of Gen Z as individuals and consumers

 

According to a report published by Stanford University, a typical Gen Zer:

 

  • Is a self-driver – they are used to turning to the internet to find information they need on their own
  • Cares deeply about others – both of my kids are empathetic and compassionate, and I think it’s partly because mental health, diversity, inclusion, and equity are so openly discussed 
  • Strives for a diverse community – they grew up with a Black president and saw gay marriage become a reality
  • Is highly collaborative and social – they prefer to communicate with others in person, NOT on social media
  • Values flexibility, relevance, authenticity, and non-hierarchical leadership – they would rather work together to solve a problem quickly and efficiently
  • Is dismayed about inherited issues like climate change but has a pragmatic attitude about the work that has to be done to address those issues

 

The Anne E. Casey Foundation expanded on who they are as consumers:

 

Their pragmatism leads them to explore and evaluate a range of options before settling on a product. In addition, they are more likely to be swayed by the recommendations of real-life users than by celebrity endorsements.

In much the same way that Gen Z-ers use social media as a means to curate their own personal brand, they also look at their purchasing decisions as an expression of their values and identity. As an example, they are drawn to sustainable products and brands — and are often willing to pay more for them. They value personalized products, and they are drawn to brands who share their point of view on political issues.

 

This tracks with the traits listed above. They do their research (self-driver) and rely on the opinions and advice of real people rather than celebrities (relevance and authenticity).

 

And finally, CMSWire had this to say about how brands can attract Gen Z:

 

Brands must highlight their commitment to societal challenges such as diversity, environmentalism, sustainability, climate change and world hunger. A brand’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) statement must be something that the brand lives, rather than just espouses.

Gen Z wants to know that the brands they do business with are aligned with their values, both internally and externally…. Diversity and inclusion should be a core value for a brand if they want to attract Gen Z as customers or employees. 

 

Here we see three traits pop up – diversity, authenticity, and concern about major societal challenges.  

 

What this means for marketing to Gen Z

 

And now for the million – and eventually billion – dollar question: How do we market to Gen Z? By tweaking what you’re already doing.

 

Formalize your brand values

 

You might have brand values floating around in your head – put them down on paper. 

 

(If you’re not sure where to start, look up the brands you admire. What do they say about their own values?)

 

Gen Z tends to look for brands that have a “commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, reducing environmental impact, increasing community outreach, promoting sustainability and eliminating prejudice and corporate bias,” according to the CMSWire article I cited above.

 

Here at Jansen Communications, we list four brand values on our about web page:

  • Respect
  • Reliability
  • Collaboration
  • Trust

 

Already I see room for improvement for my own values. You probably do, too, so set aside time to look at your brand values and consider what you value that Gen Z does too. Pull in some statements that authentically reflect your brand. This is not the place to fake it!

 

Show – don’t tell – that you care about others

 

Gen Z doesn’t take kindly to brands that don’t walk the walk. How do you take care of others? 

 

Maybe it’s the workplace benefits you offer that promote balance and self-care, like the flexibility to work remotely from anywhere. Maybe you are actively involved as a volunteer with community nonprofits, plant a tree for every new client you land, or, like me, mentor others. 

 

You need to show how your brand lives your values. 

 

(Again, I see room for improvement for my own agency. On my website and on social media, I don’t once mention that I mentor company founders through the social-impact accelerator, Conscious Venture Lab, or young businesspeople I meet via my network. Oops.)

 

Arm them with information to make a purchase decision

 

Gen Zers like to do their research before making a purchase decision, and they listen to regular users over celebrities.

 

So that means you need to ramp up your content marketing. Make sure you have:

 

  • An active blog that includes rich information, like best practices, customer stories and your experiences
  • Reviews and recommendations easily accessible on your website and social channels
  • A presence on the social media channels they use* – that’s where they consume information

 

Meet up in person

 

Though my kids are voracious consumers of social media, they both spend plenty of time with their friends in person.

 

When possible, attend or host events that take place in person (meetups, conferences, one-to-one coffee meetings, etc.). Getting a feel for a brand and what it stands for happens faster in a 15-minute conversation than by interacting with a Reel on Instagram.

 

Listen to them

 

Gen Z are young, and they are often dismissed by older adults “who know better.” Gen Z might not have years of experience or the wisdom that comes with it, but the young adults among their cohort are smart, capable, passionate, and know themselves. 

 

Invite them into your brand. They might have an idea for a new service that can solve a problem faster or thoughts on how to make an existing service more efficient.

 

You don’t know until you ask.

 

Create content and experiences that are relevant and authentic

 

I often preach to just be you when it comes to marketing and branding, and this is even more important when engaging with Gen Z. The content and experiences you create must be an accurate reflection of your brand and brand values. 

 

And as you get older, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you are always right and always know best. Strive to be open-minded and flexible like the Gen Zers in your life. Our world could certainly use more of both!

 

What are your experiences with Gen Z?

 

None of my clients are in this generation yet, but if your clients or employees are, I’d love to hear about your experiences with them so far. 

 

I’ll end this blog post by adding that we have much more to learn about them as they continue to grow up and enter the workforce. And I can’t wait to see what else this generation has in store for us.

 

*It’s ok not to use TikTok, which you can read about more in this blog post.

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