For a huge chunk of the decade, it made the most sense for marketers to center their efforts on catering to millennials. But a significant part of that demographic is closing in on their late 20s now, which means a new generation will take their place when it comes to economic significance.
The uninitiated may find it easy to confuse millennials with Generation Z, but marketers understand that what appeals to a 30-year-old may not resonate as well with a 15-year-old. This article intends to aid marketers in further understanding the subtle, but significant, differences between the two generations – and help them reconfigure their strategies to better cater to this younger, increasingly powerful generation.
Gen Z members (those born between 1998 and 2016) are set to take over marketers’ center stage, with its oldest members about to enter college, and eventually, the workforce. They make up about a quarter (25.9%) of the US population, contributing $44 billion to the American economy. Perhaps more importantly, in 2020, this generation is expected to make up 40% of all consumers.
Older generations may look at millennials and Gen Z—the screen dependence, short attention spans, seeming addiction to social media—and dismiss them as one and the same. But millennials and Gen Z are different generations for a reason.
Here are some of the basic differences between the two:
While millennials witnessed the evolution of technology and the different platforms that mark today’s digital world (internet speeds, social media, instant messaging, and video calls), Gen Z were born into it.
And because they never had to wait for a TV program to come on nor experience dial-up internet, naturally, they favor streaming content. They are not responsive to live programming with advertising, and have no patience for slow buffering speeds.
Millennials’ average attention span was pegged at 12 seconds, and a generation later, that number has fallen to a mere eight seconds. But that translates not to an inability to process information, but to a difference in how and where Gen Z does so.
Apart from having a preference for snackable content, Gen Z has been found to juggle an average of five screens at a time (compared to three for millennials). This comes back to them being digital natives, which has enabled them to develop an ability to sort through and process massive amounts of content.
Millennials pioneered communicating thru instant messaging. But while they did so mainly through text, Gen Z prefers to communicate with the use of images (emojis, gifs, stickers, video).
This also translated into how visuals, especially video, became the dominant type of content for digital marketing.
Streaming services like YouTube and Netflix soared at the peak of millennials’ powers. But, Gen Z has a proclivity to co-create, live stream, and help make up an activity as they participate.
Gen Z is the first generation to spend all their lives with the internet, surrounded by all kinds of mobile devices. In fact, according to an IBM study entitled “Uniquely Gen Z”, on average, Gen Z members spend 74% of their free time online.
Below are some tips on how to market to this increasingly powerful generation:
Soon after its launch Gen Z quickly gravitated to the founding father of ephemeral content, Snapchat, mainly because it’s a platform that the older generation (read: parents) didn’t fully understand. That fact allowed them to share more personal content with their peers.
Naturally, when Instagram came up with its own very similar version of Stories, Gen Z were quick to pick up on it, making the platform (with its established millennial following) even more popular than Snapchat, overall.
According to a study cited by The Drum, 88% of high school and college students use Instagram and Snapchat. Meanwhile, it’s been found that Gen Z watch an average of 2-4 hours of YouTube videos per day compared to around 30 minutes of cable TV each day.
And while Gen Z members said that Snapchat is essential for them to connect with their peers, according to SCG EVP Michael Cherenson, interest in behind-the-scenes, day-in-the-life, and how-to videos is also increasing.
“Brands would be wise to use the platform for storytelling, providing new and interesting perspectives, and for engaging in a thoughtful, interesting and meaningful way with students,” Cherenson was quoted in The Drum.
To reach Gen Z, brands must not just be present on their most used social media sites like Instagram, Snapchat, and Youtube. If businesses want to efficiently reach Gen Z, they need to study how they can use these social media platforms to position their brands and products effectively. As Shopify suggests, it is essential for brands and marketers to come up with well-thought strategies for each focus channel, just like what they have in their product pages.
Gen Z-focused content may soon take over social media, but influencers aren’t going anywhere soon especially since YouTube stars make up eight of the top 10 most known personalities to US teens.
The simple reason for this is that these personalities (often in the same age range as their fans) are seen as more authentic, relatable, and accessible. Not only do Gen Z members feel closer to YouTube stars (73%say so), 40% feel that their favorite YouTuber understands them better than their friends.
And the numbers keep backing up the significant power of influencer marketing, with users spending an average of 2 minutes and 8 seconds on influencer content, as opposed to just nine seconds on traditional ad content. Additionally, a recent Nielsen study showed that influencer marketing had 11 times the ROI of traditional ads, while a Tomson survey found that more than half of marketers feel they get “better quality” customers with influencer marketing.
Much like for millennials, Gen Z value authenticity and relatability. The rise of influencers, whether it be on Instagram or Youtube, is still not at its peak. So if your brand worked with influencers for the past year, you may as well continue to do so. If not, check out guides on influencer marketing to know how to get started.
Though Gen Z members tend to juggle through more screens than ever, they predominantly live most of their online lives through smartphones. For marketers, this means a focus on producing content optimized for smartphone screens. A great mobile experience has become so crucial that content should be created for mobile first, and later optimized for everything else.
If you’re looking to drive Gen Z to your website, you need to ensure that your site works perfectly on mobile, as the platforms they are most comfortable with (Instagram and Snapchat) only work on mobile.
Making your content mobile-friendly will reap benefits in the years to come — maybe even decades. Smartphones are now considered as a commodity and Gen Z won’t be the last to realize that. More than just making your content fit in the mobile screens, it is also better to optimize your website to work across all devices.
Speaking of mobile consumers, this is exactly why marketers need to increasingly serve snackable content — or easy to access, easy to understand, engaging content. Additionally, snackable content is typically designed to grab a user’s attention, is predominantly visual, and tugs at their emotions.
This becomes more and more important as attention spans decrease. Gen Z needs something to keep their attention when they’re passing the time.
And the fact that Gen Z are already well-versed in the world of Stories is ideal for marketers, as they can find inspiration from content that their customers are producing. By looking at what types of content they’re sharing, you can get an idea of what could resonate with them, and create similar, even more appealing content.
Master the art of visual content. With how easy it is to swipe through social media content, gone are the days when long blog posts or Facebook updates even get noticed. The most noticed posts are those with the right balance of the message wrapped in eye-catching design. It is best to invest in an in-house graphic artist or outsource to a design company that has a grasp on digital marketing.
Because Gen Z were born during the recession, they generally place higher value on social responsibility. As noted by the Huffington Post, 60% of Gen Z members want their jobs to have an impact in the world, while 80% say they’re more likely to buy a product that has a social impact.
But it’s not just any cause. As pointed out in Fuse’s study of 13-18-year-olds, 57% say it’s more important that they personally care about the cause a brand is supporting, than it is for a company to just support a cause. The same study found that after learning that a brand is socially responsible, 85% said they are likely to trust the brand more, purchase the brand’s products (84%), recommend that brand to friends/family (82%).
Fuse found that Ben and Jerry’s, which has tackled a breadth of issues from climate change to mandatory GMO labeling, is a brand whose cause marketing resonates with Gen Z. Other brands on top of the list include Chili’s Grill & Bar (which has raised over $54 million for St. Jude kids), and the NFL (with its “A Crucial Catch” – a partnership with the American Cancer Society highlighting the importance of breast cancer screening).
Gen Z generally loves to be involved with social causes and making your brand align to one puts your company on a higher pedestal in their eyes. To put this into action, take time to research and discuss with the heads of your company to come up with a focus social cause to align your brand to. Remember that what your brand supports should be supported by the people behind it.
Gen Z has been known to place increased importance on managing their public and private personalities on social media. This has led not only to their preference for ephemeral content, and fragmented use of social media platforms, but they’ve also been found to use aliases to keep from being searchable online.
As noted by Hootsuite, teens have been found to have “real” (friends only) and “fake” (public profiles where they share things such as memes) accounts. Because of this, brands need to find other ways to find out more about this demographic. Hootsuite suggests using messenger apps (like with Adidas’ “squads”), where interactions are private, to connect with Gen Z and learn more about them.
Authenticity is big with Gen Z, and as such, less than 25% have a positive perception of online ads. Instead of typical, invasive pre-rolls and pop-ups, marketers should look to connect with influencers and other trusted community members to relay their messages as these are the personalities that this generation trusts.
We’ve already discussed how Gen Z’s attention spans have shrunk compared to their millennial counterparts, and how they’re more inclined to jump between multiple screens to sort through and process content. This means that marketers face the challenge of coming up with fresh, new ideas that catch Gen Z’s attention right away, and make sure that they keep responding to your social media content.
Just like how they would rather co-create and make up part of an activity rather than just watch content, Gen Z members are inclined to be part of communities where ideas are easily exchanged. As noted by Hootsuite, this means that they are more open to engaging in conversations with businesses.
This means that by using tactics like social media polls, and social listening, brands can gather invaluable insights from Gen Z – information they can then use to market to them more effectively.
If you haven’t shifted from millennial-centered marketing yet, you should start doing so ASAP. As Gen Z consultant Jonah Stillman said, “People refer to us as if we’re millennials, but if we’re treated as millennials, there will be big problems.”
Understanding the generational differences is key to identifying what clicks with this new, powerful demographic. Once you establish the key differences between Gen Z and the older generation, you can tap into a powerful market that will soon take over the marketing landscape.