How to make sure you’re marketing to Gen Z the right way

11 Nov

For many brands today, marketing to Gen Z might feel like trying to talk to aliens.

Because at a glance, the so-called “smartphone generation” is a totally new species of consumer.

The reality, though?

Figuring out how to make your marketing click with a younger crowd is easier than you think.

Listen: Gen Z’s massive spending power and dependence on social media speak for themselves.

Having a pulse on what young customers want not only opens you up to new business but also ensures that you aren’t missing out on key social media trends.

That’s why we put together this guide on marketing to Gen Z.

10 social strategies for marketing to Gen Z

Marketing to younger customers has historically been tricky.

Demographic data can be difficult to track. Marketing trends come and go.

That said, the outspoken and chronically online nature of Gen Z makes learning their buying behavior much less of a guessing game.

But treating all of Gen Z like a singular block is a surefire way to come off as out of touch. It’s also key that brands learn how to bridge the gap between Gen Z and other generations of customers, particularly millennials.

And so while this list emphasizes tactics for marketing to Gen Z, many of these tips are fair game for millennials as well.

With that, let’s dive in!

1. Emphasize eye-catching, visual content

Chalk it up to being born with smartphones in their hands, but Gen Z’s addiction to eye-popping visuals is well-documented.

Food for thought: Gen Z spends more time on YouTube versus the likes of Netflix. In lieu of long-form content, bite-sized video has been the go-to for brands targeting younger customers for a reason (think: Instagram Stories and Snapchat).

Snapchat's bite-sized content has become a cornerstone of marketing to Gen Z

Short-form video bursting with overlays, effects and music has proven to be marketing gold for influencers and brands alike.

Look no further than the recent boom of TikTok as evidence of this phenomenon. With over 500 million users and a huge chunk of Gen Z, the platform represents a new wave of social that marketers are still trying to wrap their heads around.

TikTok is a growing platform for Gen Z

The key takeaway here is that video and stylized visual content should be a top priority for catching the eyes of younger customers. In the wake of so many new apps, social features and creative filters, anything that’s considered static or “boring” doesn’t stand much of a chance to a zoomer.

2. Pick their brains with interactive content

Research suggests that much of what makes social media so compelling to Gen Z is a combination of creativity and interactivity.

Translation? Younger customers want to do something when they land on your posts.

Tap. Swipe. Click.

You can almost think of Gen Z and social media as a game of call and response.

Anything you can do to encourage interaction or pose questions via social is a plus. For example, consider interactive features such as polls that do double duty of learning about customers and winning their attention, too.

Light-hearted Twitter polls are a playful, low-hanging way to encourage engagement, for example.

Meanwhile, Instagram features such as polls, stickers and sliders provide some interactive pizzaz to your Stories.

Interactive Instagram story

Beyond social media, interactive content is becoming increasingly common to help customers make purchasing decisions.

How so? Brands like Topshop, who shares a significant Gen Z and millennial customer-base, have a comprehensive quiz to help buyers hone in on styles that speak to their personality. This combination of interactivity and personalization is key to speaking to younger customers looking to support brands that value them as individuals.

Marketing to Gen Z means giving your audience an opportunity to give a sense of who they are

Marketing to Gen Z means giving your audience an opportunity to give a sense of who they are

3. Tap in their FOMO with time-sensitive posts

Don’t forget that Snapchat is the most popular social network for Gen Z based on social media demographic data.

The concept of time-sensitive, ephemeral content that “disappears” is an element of social media that young customers have grown accustomed to.

When marketing to Gen Z, consider how you can tap into your audience’s fear of missing out (FOMO).

Stories are perhaps the best example, allowing brands to drive time-sensitive engagement and likewise become a constant fixture in their followers’ Instagram feed via Stories-based notifications. Here’s a great series of Stories from H&M for reference (note the interactive elements):

Instagram Stories are among the most popular types of social content for Gen Z

4. Encourage engagement through tagging

Piggybacking on the need to produce interactive content, much of marketing to Gen Z revolves around tagging. For example:

  • Encouraging followers to share user-generated content (think: customer photos) coupled with your branded hashtag
  • Enabling customers to tag themselves at your physical location
  • Asking customers to tag their friends to bring new potential followers into your social feed

Brands should be upfront with Gen Z about what they want, letting these sorts of actions serve as a CTA for any given post.

For example, Uniqlo promotes a dedicated Instagram Stories which shows off customers who use their #Uniqlo or #LifeWear hashtags.

Hashtags encourage interactivity which is a big deal to Gen Z

Despite popular belief, Gen Z aren’t shut-ins that can’t find time away from their phones. In fact, the majority of Gen Z prefer to shop in-store versus online.

Brands with a physical location should capitalize on younger customers’ desire to be seen “in the wild.” This speaks to the importance of not only having a hashtag for followers to promote but something on-site worthy of snapshotting. For example, Disney Springs has a constant flood of customer photos to promote to their followers thanks to their slew of hashtags.

In-person tagging is important for capturing moments "in the wild"

In-person tagging is important for capturing moments "in the wild"

And again, even something as simple as asking for a tag is enough to encourage a meaningful response from younger customers. This post from TOMS is a shining example of a simple yet effective tag-a-friend post, speaking to the brand’s heart without promoting a product outright.

5. Put your brand’s sense of humor front-and-center

This might sound like a no-brainer, but the majority of Gen Z want to support brands that they see as “fun” and “cool.”

Perhaps that’s why humor and meme-centric social presences are so popular among the younger crowd.

Much like social media marketing to millennials has heavily involved personality and brands showing their human side, the trend continues with Gen Z.

The challenge for brands here is how quickly the internet at large moves. For example, brands trying to post a months-old meme might be seen as out of touch. Similarly, not all industries have the benefit of being able to play the role of a comedian.

What matters most is for brands to have a distinct voice, showing the human side of their social presence through authentic interactions that don’t sound like something totally suit-and-tie. When interacting with customers, brands should strive to be organic and unpredictable rather than templated.

6. Respond to your followers in a timely manner

Speaking of responses, note than giving Gen Z followers your undivided attention goes hand-in-hand with boosting brand loyalty. 

Note that three-quarters of Gen Z want brands to respond to their comments and feedback, specifically “viewing responsiveness as a metric of a brand’s authenticity.” Here’s a great example of a personalized, timely response from Milk Makeup:

Responsiveness is a huge piece of successful marketing to Gen Z

Responsiveness is a huge piece of successful marketing to Gen Z

Gen Z’s loyalty appears to be rewarded to brands that go back-and-forth and do so quickly. This speaks to the need for brands to invest in social listening tools to ensure that they never miss brand or keyword mentions that could lead to meaningful customer interactions.

7. Don’t be shy about your brand’s beliefs and values

As highlighted by our Brands Get Real survey, consumers have high expectations when it comes to taking stances on social issues.

Similarly, Gen Z is noted to rally around causes and tend to support brands who do the same.

From championing diversity to raising awareness for social issues and beyond,  we’re seeing more and more brands wear their beliefs and values on their sleeves.

Brand taking bold stances is becoming more of an expectation rather than an exception to the rule. This boldness seems to correlate with Gen Z’s desire to be heard and express their beliefs.

Of course, brands should always be mindful of how they present their stances on social issues and do so in good taste.

8. Make your advertising more authentic via influencers

Although influencer campaigns mostly began as an avenue for marketing to millennials, consider that Gen Z is totally on board with being sold to be influencers.

YouTubers. Instagram ambassadors. Twitch streamers. The list goes on and on.

In fact, key stats on Gen Z consumer behavior highlight that influencers are the best way to reach younger customers versus any other marketing channels. Consider the following:

Oh, and research from Kantar notes that over half of Gen Z won’t click on online ads at all. The same study notes that 36% of Gen Z will “do something else” while a digital ad is playing.

So much of marketing to Gen Z is about authenticity and overcoming a well-established aversion to ads. Influencer campaigns seem to represent most brands’ best bet for reaching a younger audience.

9. Provide a seamless experience for mobile customers

To say that mobile optimization is essential to marketing to Gen Z would be an understatement.

As highlighted by ClickZ, smartphone usage is almost universal among Gen Z. Meanwhile, most younger consumers spending at least four hours a day online.

Capitalizing on impulse buyers and social shoppers mean offering a seamless mobile experience. From copy and clear calls-to-action to striking visuals and beyond, make sure your site is optimized for visitors with short attention spans.

Scroll-friendly and easy to understand at a glance, ASOS’ mobile product pages are an awesome example of what we’re talking about.

Mobile optimization

10. Emphasize discounts and value in your marketing

Finally, consider that Gen Z refuse to pay full price for just about anything.

Although some Gen Z characteristics might be hard to dissect, this one makes perfect sense.

Think about it.

Cheap and near-instant access to nearly all forms of entertainment (YouTube, Spotify, Netflix). Couple that with steep discounts and speedy shipping (think: Amazon).

The end result is a consumer-base that might have indeed cash, but are mindful of how they spend it due to how accustomed they are to convenience and low price points.

Frequent discounts have become increasingly common across all corners of e-commerce, but especially brands targeting teens and young adults. A consistent rotation of time-sensitive offers (remember FOMO?) works like a charm with younger shoppers, especially bargain-hunters who shy away from bigger price tags.

Steep discounts are crucial for winning over Gen Z buyers

Steep discounts are crucial for winning over Gen Z buyers

And with that, we wrap up our guide to marketing to Gen Z!

How are you reaching Gen Z customers?

Marketing to younger customers might require a bit of finessing, but doing so definitely isn’t reserved for “hip” brands on social media.

More visual content? Emphasis on authenticity? More back-and-forth with customers? 

Hey, those all sound good to us.

Today’s Gen Z marketing trends aren’t completely different from what we’re seeing for consumers across all demographics. Even if you aren’t worried about marketing to Gen Z now, these sorts of behaviors will have a long-term impact on consumers to come.

We want to hear from you, though. What’s your experience marketing to Gen Z been like? Challenges? Success stories? Let us know in the comments below!

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