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Gen Z Marketing Strategies to Try Now

By November 4, 2021 November 11th, 2021 CCG Retail Marketing Blog

Get insights into the characteristics of Gen Z and what that means for your 2022 marketing plans.

Gen Z Retail Marketing

Article Highlights

  • Gen Z is the first generation to grow up entirely in the digital era
  • They are loyal but they have short attention spans
  • Gen Zs prefer to shop across channels, expect a friction-free omni-channel experience and want a seamless checkout experience
  • Communications aimed at Gen Z should be direct, authentic, relevant and personalized
  • More than half of Gen Zs say they trust peers and influencers for product or brand advice

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 increasingly demanding our attention.

Who is Generation Z?

Defined by the Pew Research Center as anyone born from 1997 to 2012, Gen Zs are age 9 to 24, meaning this is a group you’ll need to factor into your marketing plans for decades to come. They’re an ethnically varied group that values diversity and inclusion. They’re currently the largest generation in American history1 — and that makes this group well worth getting to know.

Here, we provide an overview of traits that could impact Gen Z buying behavior, tips for developing Gen Z marketing strategies and retailer examples of best Gen Z marketing campaigns.

What is the most effective way of marketing to Generation Z?

Many Gen Z behaviors — and corresponding Generation Z marketing strategies — stem from the fact that these consumers are digital natives. They’re the first generation who has never known a world without easy access to the internet, social media, mobile apps and other hallmarks of the digital age.

Smart Phone insights Gen Z

Below are a few other ways Gen Z differs from previous generations.

They’re social.

Gen Zs communicate primarily through texts and social media, and they spend as much time on their phones as older generations do watching television.1 According to YPulse, the top Gen Z preferred social media platforms are:

  • Instagram
  • YouTube
  • TikTok
  • Snapchat

They use email.

When it comes to email, Gen Zs don’t check their inboxes as often as their elders — but they also aren’t experiencing the high number of emails that older generations receive.

Fifty-eight percent of Gen Zs report checking their email multiple times a day, despite receiving fewer than 20 emails per day on average.2 Since the majority of marketers target Gen Z through social media, their inboxes have less competition than their Millennial or Gen X counterparts, meaning there’s a lot less competition for your brand’s attention in Gen Z inboxes. And less noise means more space for your message to grab their attention and engage your audience.

Generation Z Marketing Tips & Takeaways
  1. 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 — like hobbies, 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 their information to provide content that’s truly directed at them and relevant to them.
  2. 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.

How do marketers attract Gen Zs?

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.3 However, if you pass the test and create true engagement, then Gen Zs 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 Zs. Be honest, transparent and real.
  • Relevant. Sixty percent of Gen Zs will open an email if it contains relevant content.2 Your messaging and visuals must relate to the real world they live in — their experiences, viewpoints, struggles, values 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
  1. Make it personal by inviting Gen Z individuals to collaborate in your marketing or even in your 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.
  2. Gather and share user generated content. Include reviews, images and other content from your customers in your emails, on your social channels and so on. It can go a long way toward grabbing attention and creating strong engagement.
  3. 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.

How do you target Generation Z?

Continuing the theme of authenticity, Gen Z buying behavior heavily factors in peer opinions. In fact, more than half of Gen Zs say they primarily discover new products and are more likely to trust brands when they learn about them through social media, peers and influencers.4

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.)

Here’s how much weight peers and influencers carry with Generation Z:4

  • 54% of Gen Zs say social media influences them more than any other marketing channel
  • 52% trust social media influencers for product or brand advice
  • 85% learn about new products through social media
  • One in three follows brands on social media they are thinking of buying from
  • 76% follow an influencer on social media
  • 82% trust their family and friends for advice on products more than any other source
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.

What does Gen Z value most?  

A Bloomberg article on this key demographic 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 Zs 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.

According to research from Forbes,4 here’s what matters to Gen Z when it comes to their feelings and relationships with retail brands:

  • 68% expect brands to contribute to society
  • 61% are willing to pay more for products that are produced ethically and sustainably
  • 66% say that product quality matters most to them when making a purchase
  • 65% see value in discounts and rewards programs
  • 58% are willing to pay more for products that are targeted to their individual personalities

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. They’re all recapped in these articles from The Wrap and AdWeek that show additional examples of how not to win over Gen Z.

So, how do marketers attract Gen Z? Here are a few examples of some brands hitting the mark.

  • Claire’s launched Claire’s Project BFF, encouraging girls to design a best friend necklace on their app and share their creation for a chance to have it sold at Claire’s stores worldwide. In one month, the project website had more than 277,000 page views and the retailer gained nearly 30,000 new Facebook followers and a follower boost of 27% on Instagram. 5
  • Shoe retailer Vans literally walks the walk when it comes to providing authentic experiences with their Gen Z marketing. For instance, instead of merely sponsoring a music festival, the shoe retailer collaborates with award-winning artists as well as young designers to make their shoes.6
  • ULTA Beauty has been getting good press in socially conscious media channels for offering ethical and cruelty-free brands, aimed at Gen Z consumers.
  • Adidas focuses most of its resources on digital marketing and mobile, and has been successful at adapting its messaging to resonate with Gen Zs who are passionate about social justice and environmental issues. The shoe retailer also strives to meet consumers where they are, by optimizing campaigns for mobile and maximizing touchpoints across multiple platforms.
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.

What do Gen Z shoppers want?

If you didn’t see this Gen Z marketing strategy coming, back to Marketing 101 for you! Seriously, though, it should come as absolutely no surprise that retailer Amazon routinely pops up as a favorite Gen Z brand. Consumers in this demographic have never known a time without the omni-present e-commerce mega-retailer. (Or, for that matter, a time without e-commerce.)

No wonder 41% of Gen Z shoppers name Amazon as their top site for buying clothes online, and more than 68% shop Amazon to either browse or purchase, according to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor™ Survey.7

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 Zs consider convenience and speed as shopping essentials.

Subscription services like Ipsy and Stitch Fix 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:

  1. A frictionless shopping experience across all channels. Make it easy to find, view and purchase your products. The mobile experience is particularly crucial with Generation Z.
  2. Payment convenience. This means considering options such as Venmo and iMessage Payment that are popular with this generation.
  3. 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.

Retail Marketing: Every Generation Matters

There’s no question that engaging Generation Z early and consistently can have a big impact on your brand’s customer retention efforts and long-term loyalty. 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. That can help ensure you keep winning over customers today, while driving loyalty for years to come.

Our retail marketing experts help retail brands connect with customers from all generations by building loyal, profitable, long-lasting relationships. CCG’s retail marketing services include strategic customer initiatives, data, analytics, and research, and creative, digital and loyalty program implementation. Schedule a free consultation or call us at 303.986.3000 today to see how we can help you.

1 “Gen Z News: Latest Characteristics, Research, and Facts,” Andrew Meola, Insider Intelligence, posted July 29, 2021, https://www.insiderintelligence.com/insights/generation-z-facts/, accessed Oct. 11, 2021

2 “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 Sept. 27, 2021

3 “Marketing to Gen Z? Here are 5 things you need to know,” Bernard May, Forbes, posted Aug. 13, 2021, https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesagencycouncil/2021/08/13/marketing-to-gen-z-here-are-5-things-you-need-to-know/, accessed Sept. 27, 2021

4 “50 Stats All Marketers Must Know About Gen-Z,” Blake Morgan, Forbes, posted Feb. 28, 2020, https://www.forbes.com/sites/blakemorgan/2020/02/28/50-stats-all-marketers-must-know-about-gen-z/?sh=5f3895e76d06, accessed Oct. 1, 2021

5 “How Retailers Can Reach America’s Largest Demographic Group – Gen Z,” V12, https://v12data.com/blog/how-retailers-can-reach-americas-largest-demographic-group-gen-z/, accessed October 8, 2021

6 “3 Brands Getting Gen Z Marketing Right,” Total Retail, posted March 2, 2021, https://www.mytotalretail.com/article/3-brands-getting-gen-z-marketing-right/, accessed Oct. 7, 2021

7 “Meeting the Demands: The 2021 Gen Z Shopper,” Cotton Lifestyle Monitor, posted March 3, 2021, https://lifestylemonitor.cottoninc.com/meeting-the-demands/, accessed Oct. 18, 2021

Sandra Gudat

Author Sandra Gudat

Sandra Gudat is CCG’s president & CEO. Considered a pioneer in the field of customer marketing, she has a diverse background in consulting, database marketing, advertising, retail and business management. She is a frequent speaker on customer loyalty marketing and developing customer-centric policies

More posts by Sandra Gudat

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