Every generation gets its time in the spotlight. While millennials are still in their prime and the darlings of many retail marketers, Generation Z is not simply waiting in the wings, but beginning to actively demand our attention.
Defined by the Pew Research Center as anyone born from 1997 to 2012, Gen Zers are age 7 to 22, meaning this is a group we’ll need to factor into our marketing plans for decades to come. By next year, they’ll account for 40% of the U.S. population,1 or about 61 million Americans.2 And even though a large chunk of this generation is still in school, Gen Z buying power already exceeds $143 billion by some estimates,2 making this group well worth figuring out.
Here, we provide an overview of traits that could impact Generation Z buying behavior, along with tips to develop Generation Z marketing strategies.
Know Their Channel Preferences
Many Gen Z behaviors — and corresponding Generation Z marketing strategies — derive from the fact that these consumers are digital natives. They’ve never known a world without easy access to the internet, social media, mobile apps and other hallmarks of the digital age. No wonder they spend more time online than other generations, with nearly 90% of teen Zs saying they’re online anywhere from several times a day to nearly always.3 In addition, they may check their social media accounts up to 100 times every day.4
When asked to rank how they prefer to connect with brands, Gen Zers placed social media first, followed by email, in person, advertising, chat and company blog.5 (Bear in mind that it’s possible for one person to be active with all six.)
Likewise, within social media, it’s common for individuals to use multiple platforms — with YouTube the hot spot (used by 85% of Gen Zers), followed by Instagram (72%) and Snapchat (69%).5 Yet each platform has a different purpose in these users’ lives. For instance, Instagram trends on aspirational and motivational themes, Snapchat is for the real here-and-now, Twitter is viewed as a news feed and Facebook provides other information.
On YouTube, the big buzz surrounds incorporating ASMR — autonomous sensory meridian response — into videos. These are sounds that trigger a feel-good sensation. Think the fizzing sound of carbonation as a beverage is poured.
When it comes to email, Gen Z behavior includes not checking in as often as their elders — but they also aren’t experiencing the inbox floods of older generations. So when they do view their emails, they’re more likely to spot yours.
Gen Z Email Use5
17% check one to two times per week
Almost 25% check email at least once per day
About 66% receive 20 or fewer emails per day
Be cautious, though. Most people in this demographic don’t want to hear from brands (even the ones they love) more than once per day. Some prefer only a couple of times each week, while 18% would rather hear from you just once a month.5
Interestingly, both social media and email impact Generation Z buying behavior, and it’s a pretty tight race to which one wins as the most effective channel.
Email versus Social Media
NEVER purchased due to email
DID purchase due to email
NEVER purchased due to social media
DID purchase due to social media
Generation Z Marketing Tips & Takeaways
Create an online preference center that lets customers choose their preferred channels to receive communications from you, how often they want to hear from you and what they want you to tell them about (such as special offers, new products, store announcements, events, etc.) You can also ask them to share lifestyle-related insights (hobbies, other interests and activities) that can help you improve your message relevance. Gen Z grew up in the age of data collection and are accustomed to sharing — as long as you use the information to provide content that’s truly directed at them.
Use the right approach for each channel you use to reach Gen Z. But make sure your messaging stays consistent across them all, and make sure the conversion process is user friendly for all channels.
Take the Direct Content Approach
Anyone working in marketing or advertising knows you have mere seconds to capture a consumer’s attention. That truth is even more profoundly demonstrated by Generation Z behavior. They are more likely than previous generations to apply ad-blocking technology and much quicker to skip online ads.
Even if you capture their first glance, you may only have eight seconds to get your message across before they’re gone.6 However, if you pass the test and create true engagement, then Gen Zers can be devoted followers willing to spend significant time with your brand. Remember, this is a generation that hears “binge” and thinks about watching episode after episode of their favorite shows, not over-indulging in food or drink.
To get anywhere near that point, though, your content approach needs to be direct, authentic, relevant and personalized.
- Direct. Get to the point immediately and stick to it. Be quick, be clear and avoid fluff or filler — or you’ll be automatically filtered out of the Gen Z consciousness.
- Authentic. Anything fake, artificial or “salesy” will quickly turn off Gen Z. Be honest, transparent and real.
- Relevant. Sixty percent of Gen Zers will open an email if it contains relevant content.5 Your messaging and visuals have to relate to the real world Gen Zers live in — their experiences, viewpoints, struggles and aspirations.
- Personalized. Put an emphasis on answering the fundamental question, “What’s in it for me?” Don’t just promote your product or service — show how it will benefit the individual. Leverage your data to create one-to-one interactions that show them you know them.
Generation Z Marketing Tips & Takeaways
Make it personal by inviting Gen Z individuals to collaborate in your marketing or even product development process. Example: Mosman Australia worked with UNiDAYS to develop and promote a contest encouraging university students to design swimwear. The winner’s design was created and sold. Among other Gen Z engagement successes, the digital campaign increased entries 1,000% over a previous contest, and netted more than 7,300 Facebook views in three weeks.
Gather and share user generated content. Including reviews, images and other content from your customers in your emails, on your social channels and so on can go a long way toward grabbing attention and creating strong engagement.
Develop your Gen Z voice and understanding. One recommendation from Gen Z marketer Michael Pankowski, as noted in AdAge, is to “follow-back big fans of your product” on your social platforms. You’ll learn more about them — what they talk about, how they say it and what they care about. Plus, the follow-back could earn you some bonus positive posts.
Leverage Influencers and Peers
Continuing the theme of authenticity, Gen Z buying behavior heavily factors in peer opinions. In fact, more than half of these consumers say they primarily discover new products through social media, the ultimate peer-sharing environment.7
And those peers don’t necessarily need to be people they know personally. Influencers, and particularly micro-influencers, hold significant sway with this crowd.
(Quick reminder: Influencers are people who are paid to promote products to their large group of social media followers. They may be everyday consumers or celebrities. Micro-influencers have 100,000 or fewer followers, considered smaller and more personal in the grand scheme of influencers, and thus may be perceived as more believable.)
Generation Z Marketing Tips & Takeaways
Work with micro-influencers whose viewpoints align with your brand — your mission statement, the causes your company supports, what your brand represents. The influencer should also share the values of your audience, which should likewise align with your brand (or they wouldn’t be your audience). Influencers can also be seen as aspirational ideals — people that your audience wants to be like, which can lend additional motivation for them to follow the influencer’s lead.
Put Your Promotions Where Your Soul Is
A recent Bloomberg article notes that, “For Gen Z, it’s less about the product and more about the organization. … They’re ethnically diverse, socially tolerant, globally connected, environmentally aware. One nickname for the group: Philanthroteens.”
The concept of social activism seems to be part-and-parcel of Generation Z behavior, with even the youngest Zers taking an active role in pushing toward their ideals.
Importantly, Gen Z consumers also place high importance on whether brand and corporate values align with their own — and whether companies can show they stand behind and support those values. In fact, Bloomberg goes on to report:7
- 60% of Gen-Zers want to make a positive difference in the world through their work
- 40% would pay more for a product from a company promoting gender equality
- 42% would pay more for a product from a company supporting racial justice initiatives
As several brands have discovered in recent years, trying to show a social conscience can be trickier than it seems. Think about Pepsi’s “Live for Now” spot featuring Kendall Jenner, Dove’s misguided Facebook ad and Victoria Secret’s “Perfect Bodies” ad — all recapped in these articles from The Wrap and AdWeek that show additional examples of how not to win over Gen Z.
On the other hand, some brands are hitting the mark. Here are a few examples.
- McCormick & Co. has a marketing campaign that ties its sustainability efforts to its products. For example, see how they create positive vibes around vanilla on their website.
- Burger King has had its own “fail” moments lately, but they’re making a play for Gen Z appetites with the limited-area debut of a plant-based, meat-free Impossible Whopper. Gen Zers are reported as more likely to skip meat at meal time than previous generations.
- ULTA® Beauty has been getting good press in socially conscious media channels for offering cruelty-free and vegan brands, like Pacifica, said to be aimed at Gen Z consumers.
- Nike took a big risk and faced some controversy over its Colin Kaepernick ad. But after the initial reactions wore off, stock share prices rebounded and some reports show the ad helped boost sales.
Generation Z Marketing Tips & Takeaways
It’s important to realize that the point here is not to change your corporate values just to attract a new generation. Instead, the idea is to make sure your company has values and to understand that the Gen Z consumer tends to respect companies that take a stand on important issues of the day. Showcase the story of your brand, and then practice what you promote.
Adopt the Amazon Approach
If you didn’t see this coming, back to Marketing 101 for you! Seriously, though, it should come as absolutely no surprise that Amazon routinely pops up as a favorite Gen Z brand. These consumers have never known a time without the omni-present e-commerce mega-retailer. (Or, for that matter, a time without e-commerce.)
No wonder 72% of Gen Z women use Amazon to find new products or brands — nearly 20 percentage points higher than the industry average, based on research reported in an Agility PR Solutions article. The study also showed that 64% of Gen Z women had bought apparel from Amazon in the previous six months — more than from brand sites or other commerce channels.
Nearly half of the respondents also ranked “free and fast shipping” as their top reason for choosing Amazon — followed by convenience and, in third place, low price. Again, not so surprising. Growing up in a world where they can order practically anything online — and often have it at their door within a few days, if not a few hours — Gen Zers consider convenience and speed as shopping essentials.
Subscription services, such as StitchFix and Grove Collaborative, also fit well with Gen Z buying behavior. Such services can help meet that “need it now” desire, since the consumer knows when their next shipment is arriving and, ideally, can adjust that date. Add a layer of customization to determine what comes in the shipment, and you also address the desire for personalization.
Generation Z Marketing Tips & Takeaways
Convenience and speed are critical components of Generation Z marketing strategies. That means retailers must offer:
A frictionless shopping experience across all channels. Make it easy to find, view and purchase your products. The mobile experience is particularly crucial with this consumer.
Payment convenience. This means considering options such as Venmo and iMessage Payment that are popular with this generation
Fast delivery. Gen Z buying behavior tends toward a “just in time” mindset — placing an order when they already need what they’re purchasing. So it’s important that, if you’re selling products beyond the brick-and-mortar environment, you have a way to deliver ASAP.
Every Generation Matters
There’s no question that Generation Z is the up-and-coming demographic darling, and the insights above should help you begin to develop strong, loyal relationships with these consumers. Yet, it’s equally important to understand every generation that makes up your client base, so you can make sure that everything from inventory to messaging and offers is as relevant as possible. And so that you can keep winning over customers today while driving loyalty for years to come.
Our retail marketing experts have been helping retailers connect with customers and build profitable relationships with all generations for more than four decades. Our retail marketing services include customer research to help retailers gain accurate insights into the specific interests and needs of their customers. From there, we can help you build a strategy to strengthen your marketing initiatives and achieve your customer relationship goals. We also provide free consultations — click the button below or call us at 800.525.0313 to start a conversation today.
Sandra Gudat is president & CEO of Customer Communications Group (CCG), a full-service customer relationship marketing (CRM) agency that helps Fortune 2000 retailers and financial institutions improve their bottom line by improving their customer relationships, loyalty and retention.
1 “Marketing to Generation Z? Here’s what you need to know,” Ryan Jenkins, Inc.com, posted Aug. 27, 2018, https://www.inc.com/ryan-jenkins/marketing-to-generation-z-heres-what-you-need-to-know.html, accessed April 4, 2019
2 “Corporate American Can’t Afford to Ignore Gen Z,” Tiffany Kary, Bloomberg.com, posted March 29, 2019, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-03-29/how-gen-z-s-different-than-millennials-companies-try-asmr-memes, accessed April 23, 2019
3 “Gen Z’s Favorite Social Networks: YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat,” Michelle Pruett, Criteo.com, posted July 10, 2018, https://www.criteo.com/insights/gen-z-social-media/, accessed April 23, 2019
4 “Engaging Generation Z: Marketing to a New Brand of Consumer,” Josh Perlstein, Adweek.com, posted Nov. 27, 2017, https://www.adweek.com/digital/josh-perlstein-response-media-guest-post-generation-z/, accessed April 23, 2019
5 “The Ultimate Guide to Marketing to Gen Z in 2019,” Campaign Monitor, https://www.campaignmonitor.com/resources/guides/guide-to-gen-z-marketing-2019/, accessed April 4, 2019
6 “How to Reach Gen Z with These 5 Marketing Strategies,” Justin Dunwiddie, Revlocal.com, https://www.revlocal.com/blog/digital-marketing/how-to-reach-generation-z-with-these-5-marketing-strategies, accessed April 4, 2019
7 “Investors’ Guide to Gen Z: Weed, Social Justice and Kylie Jenner,” Craig Giammona, Carolina Wilson and Sarah Ponczek, Bloomberg.com, posted April 5, 2019, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-04-05/what-s-gen-z-and-how-can-you-invest-cannabis-influencers-key, accessed April 23, 2019