How to Attract and Market to Generation Z Customers
The youngest consumers provide insight on what the NOW Customer seeks from brands: speed, trust, and authenticity.
It’s time we opened our arms to welcome this new generation. They’ll be our best and biggest customers in just a few years.
It’s 2021 and Generation Z already makes up 40% of the consumers in North America. That’s right, the “kids” born after 1996 are a monster demographic with $44 billion of direct buying power and influence over another $600 billion they hope their parents will lavish on them.
Baby boomers, Gen Xers, and millennials might dismiss Gen Z as a screen-addicted, social media-obsessed, zero-attention-span generation who are going to destroy traditional markets and ignore all the wonderful products and services businesses can offer them.
Do they even want to be a customer base?
But the first thing we need to do is get over these stereotypes and fears and learn how to attract and market to Generation Z customers. If we look at the NOW customer— the consumer who is interactive and “always on”– it’s not just the younger generations demanding instant gratification. All consumers, including Gen-Zers, live in an increasingly on-demand world.
Gen Z is not a fad. They are the audience who are going to make or break marketing strategies, digital and social media marketing campaigns, new customer acquisition plans, and customer service.
It’s not business as usual and marketers need to pay attention, because they are already picking winners and losers. So let’s start learning in this guide what makes the extraordinary people tick, before it’s too late.
Who is the Gen Z customer?
Obviously, like Boomers, Gen Xers, and millennials, our target is not a generation of clones. However, there are commonalities for generation z customers:
- Born between 1996 and the 2010s
- Mostly raised by Generation X
- Grew up during a recession
- Tend to be pragmatic
- Focused on saving money
- Mobile natives
- Prefer SnapChat and Instagram
- They love video
- Expect email for important communication
Is it true about the screens?
There is something to the “screen-obsessed” stereotype. Gen Z grew up with the smartphone. It’s not even “technology” to them, it’s just the way it is. They were the first generation to have video at their fingertips at all times. They have never had to schedule, bargain, or ration their access to flickering images on a screen.
A Google Survey revealed that YouTube is the first platform Generation Z turn to for video content. They used it to take a break from life’s stresses and deepen real-life connections. They also use it for self-improvement:
- 80% do so to expand their knowledge
- 68% to improve or gain new skills
Other platforms are also highly popular for attracting Gen Z customers. According to the Pew Research Center, the media breakdown looks like this:
- 85% use the YouTube app or website with 32% rating it their top destination
- 69% use SnapChat with 35% rating it their top destination
- 72% use Instagram with 15% rating it their top destination
Social media as entertainment
Unlike baby boomers, Gen X or millennials, who use social media platforms primarily to stay up to date with friends, communicate their daily lives, and share opinions, Gen Z users are more likely to use social media for entertainment. You’ll see from the data below that Facebook, which fosters more traditional social media users like sharing and communicating, doesn’t even break the Gen Zers top five:
Respondents to a recent Gen Z survey indicated their favorite social media networks/platforms to be:
Obviously, video is the go-to media for reaching Gen Z. But there is huge issue you need to be aware of when planning out your marketing:
Are you still paying attention? Because Gen Z isn’t.
A lot has been written about the attention span, or lack thereof, of Gen Z customers. The hard numbers say it has dropped from the 12-second average for millennials down to 8 seconds for Gen Z consumers. That would seem to be proof this new generation of people are easily-distracted and almost impossible to pin down.
But there are nuances this statistic hides. Gen Zers have an almost limitless supply of stimuli, but an extremely limited amount of time.
They cope with this information deluge by filtering extremely effectively. Being born with 24/7 access to smartphones and iPad tablets has taught them to instantly dismiss content, messages, brands, and people they find inauthentic, uninteresting, or not apparently targeted to them. It’s not that they can’t focus on what a business, a marketer, or a brand is telling them, they are actively ignoring things that don’t hit home for them. Effective storytelling has never been more important for a marketer!
Getting past the filter
Obviously, brands need to break the first line of defense. What sets a social media message apart from all the others? What marketing strategy piques their curiosity? How much digital marketing genius will it take to earn that screen tap and enter the consciousness of Gen Z customers?
Authenticity is the key to reaching the Gen Z audience. Think about it, over the last 60 or 70 years we’ve gone from a handful of trusted sources for content and marketing (TV and print media) to an explosion of influencers (the internet). This marketing approach has served all generations right up to millennials. Most of us have become accustomed to being broadcasted to and we feel comfortable with that relationship, even if we don’t believe what we’re being told. But Gen Z are not. They seek authentic relationships that cannot be established by someone with 5 million followers. They value the one-on-one conversation. As customers, they want some form of actual engagement and not just being talked to.
How do marketers create this authenticity without damaging their brand?
Generation Z is the first demographic to fully embrace the concept of the personal brand. While older generations (including millennials) have grappled with the idea of inventing a personality online and struggle to create identities that span the digital and the physical worlds, Gen Zers have grown up knowing this digital footprint will be with them for life. When they have brand experiences and interact with you, they more or less see it as a meeting of equals. Two brands talking to each other.
So, in order to be granted access and become an authentic part of their life, you have to meet them brand-to-brand:
- Generation Z knows they can’t hide from what their personal online “brand” says about them and they know real brands are the same way. So don’t say things that don’t align with your company and that you can’t deliver on.
- Live in their world, not a utopian marketing world of unrealistic aspirations
- Gen Z may want to to co-create with your brand and have experiences on a mutual basis, so never assume you have the higher ground
Trust in customer service is gained or lost in an instant
So, you’ve started to engage Gen Zers on their terms and have established some common ground. Your marketing strategy is working, your website content is on-point, and your retail stores are relevant to most of their behaviors and interests. You are talking to each other as peers. But there is still an easy mistake you can make that will undo most of that hard work and possibly lose a valuable new customer.
The Generation Z community craves experiences that offer instant gratification. This is not something bad or a flaw in their make-up. They have simply never experienced anything else. Quick loading software and apps, movies that instantly stream on-demand, the list goes on and on. Unfortunately this applies to your relationship with them as well. They expect instant responses to questions. If the relationship has actually developed to the point you are providing customer service, it’d better be available 24/7 and provide solutions that don’t require lead times. Regardless of the channel, you need to be able to provide an instant recognition of the customer’s response and some form of positive feedback to validate their action. Like a tweet, upvote a comment, respond with a reply that directly addresses what they said. Gen Z will interact with your brand, but you’d better respond before they’ve moved on to other things.
- 76% of Gen Zers have stated they want brands to respond to feedback and view this responsiveness as key to determining the authenticity of a brand
Privacy as a marketing strategy
Privacy isn’t a concern for Gen Z, it’s a way of life. As I mentioned earlier, Gen Zers are extremely conscious of building an online brand for themselves they will carry through life. A huge part of this brand building is dedicated to protecting themselves from unwanted and unscrupulous use of their personal data.
A survey by IBM found that less than a third of teens are comfortable with sharing their personal details online, aside from contact information and purchase history. Yet, that same study found that 61% said they’d feel better sharing this personal information, if they trusted the brand would securely protect it.
When you’re targeting a Gen Z audience, take note of this. When you ask to collect information, do so with transparency, and openly highlight your commitment to ensuring their data remains safe and secure.
Gen Z seeks validation of their decisions
As digital natives, it’s not surprising Generation Z gather information on a product or event they’re interested in buying, especially when using their own money. In an April 2018 survey conducted by The Center for Generational Kinetics, roughly two-thirds of US Gen Z respondents said they will read at least three product reviews from multiple resources prior to making a first-time purchase.
- 52% use Google for reviews
- 44% use Amazon
- 33% use reviews found on all social media
Aside from considering product reviews from ordinary people, Gen Z also indirectly looks to the opinions and recommendations of social media influencers. Nearly half (46%) of Gen Z polled follow ten or more influencers, and 10% of respondents follow more than 50 influencer accounts. New innovations, anything cool and anything worth buying makes an early appearance with influencers, is the logic.
The Gen Z relationship with Dollars and cents
Even when you’ve broken through the Gen Z attention filter, built a relationship with a Gen Z personal brand, sent timely responses to their questions, and scored highly with peer reviews and influencers, you still have to turn Gen Z into new customers and get them to part with their money and get started on brand loyalty. This is not going to be easy for a number of reasons.
Born between 1996 and the two thousand and teens, Gen Zers are only now becoming an economic force in the market. In the next few years a large percentage of them will be leaving high school and the first group will be graduating college and entering the workforce. Although by weight of numbers, Gen Z is a huge demographic group, they do have a conservative attitude to money.
The effect of Gen X
Remember, Gen Z were predominantly born of Gen X parents. This generation has not known the economic freedom of their parents’culture, the Baby Boom generation. Many Gen X parents have raised their children with high levels of personal debt, stagnant wages, recessions, and reduced employment opportunities. This has not gone unnoticed by their Gen Z children who have been brought up to save money, be careful with credit, and not expect lifetime employment.
Gen Zers are painfully aware of the cost of education, housing, and that earning a high salary requires specialized knowledge and skills. They are cautious with money, wary of debt, and seek value in every purchasing decision they make.
As marketers, you will have to take all this into consideration when you start selling to Gen Z. Most are not looking for escapist indulgences and are not particularly attracted to conspicuous consumption. However brand equity (the social value of a brand) is very important to Gen Z and they will splurge on products and services that they perceive as superior.
A changing society
As we move to a different age, Gen Z are also witnessing huge changes in the structure of many different industries and traditional target markets. When it comes to sales, they may never make large purchases like automobiles as there will be subscription services that let them pay-as-they-go. They may never buy a physical book, or own a copy of film or TV series. They may put off home ownership until much later in life because they can’t afford to get into the market.
Many may never commute long distances to work, or have a traditional vacation schedule. Some may see college and healthcare become more affordable. Others will be put off by the expense and stigma surrounding higher education and seek vocational training or pursue entrepreneurship. They will be concerned more than any other generation about the state of the planet.
These large societal changes have yet to become fully realized, so we cannot say for certain what a typical Gen Z consumer will look like in ten or twenty years. But they have been shaped by economic uncertainty and this will probably follow them through life.
Welcome to your new audience
Gen Z are not going to be easy to capture and keep as customers. Like every new generational shift, the old customer service tricks will not work and new strategies will need to be invented, tested, and refined.
I hope this article has given you some tips to help you learn how you can best approach these new consumers.
- Quality and Value: Generation Z wants to know they are getting the most for their money
- Identity: Generation Z considers if the brand fits their unique identity and if the product reflects their own values
- Peers: Generation Z crowdsources their purchasing decisions and seeks the opinion of their peers before and after buying
- Accessibility: Brands must make their products or services available in a mobile-friendly and mobile-first fashion
- Hyper-Convenience: Generation Z wants just-in-time products and services that can be consumed instantly
Simplr’s hyper-flexible customer service solution was built entirely with the NOW Customer (including, of course, Generation Z) in mind. Want to see how it works? Get in touch!