Gen Z: How brands can attract the new generation of consumers

Gen Z: How brands can attract the new generation of consumers
Aug 29, 2019

Gen Z are radically different from past groups of consumers, and important for us as marketers to understand. They demand a whole new way of ‘wooing’ if brands want to engage with them meaningfully and effectively.

Generation Z, or Gen Z, or iGeneration’ers are important. They’re vibrant, multi-faceted and defined by their refusal to be defined. But they’re also lining up to save the planet. It’s a lot of pressure to put on one generation, even if they’re putting it on themselves

Indeed, politically, socially, digitally, and culturally they are putting their mark on the world, and as consumers with evermore increasing spending power, it’s time brands understand what makes them tick. And crucially, how we as marketers can talk to them in a way that is meaningful and authentic.

Who is Gen Z?

Born between 1995 and 2010, Gen Z is the most diverse generation ever seen, according to The Pew Research Centre. Forty-eight percent in the US are from non-white minorities. That’s a big change from Generation X, for example, which was at around just 18 percent.

They’re better educated than previous generations, too. Again, Pew reveals that 43 percent of Gen Z’ers in the US have a college-educated parent versus 23 percent of Gen X’ers.

They've grown up with smartphones. When the iPhone launched, the eldest Gen Z’er was 12, and by 2010, countless Gen Z toddlers were literally left to their own devices, as it were. They’re the Jedi Masters of the holy trinity of internet, smartphones, and social media. They share, research, and critique what they consume like no other generation has before. And for them, it’s part of their (digitally) natural world.

As a result, they’re less bothered about “channels.” For them, it’s all about consuming and interacting with targeted and relatable content. And they’re less concerned about privacy, too, if it means a more personalized service and experience.

According to Target Marketing, 60 percent of Gen Z shoppers actually prefer to go into a brick and mortar store, over solely ordering online. This is a big difference between Gen Z’ers and Millennials, and should be taken into account when marketing towards the younger demographic. That being said, while they prefer to be in-store, 75 percent of this group will check a store’s app while shopping. When marketing to Gen Z, it’s clear that real-life interactions and integration of tech with brick and-mortar are the ways to go.

Why are Gen Z so important?

As marketers, we’ll soon be dealing with the largest consumer market ever. Gen Z will peak in size in the early 2040s, according to IIASA. And as Courier highlights has predicted, “By 2020, Gen Z will have an estimated spending power of $143 billion—over double that of Millennials”.

As alluded to above, they’ll also face some of the planet’s most pressing problems, from antibiotic annihilation to climate collapse. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “We are the first generation that can end poverty, the last that can end climate change.”

These are the issues that matter to Gen Z. And as brands, we need to consider how they impact everything from their purchasing decisions to brand loyalty.

Gen Z represents a different set of challenges for marketers.

Here’s how that’s playing out: Gen Z see what they consume as an extension of their own personal brand, and so their choices are significant. They have the digital tools and cultural clout to demand transparency from brands on the big social and environmental issues we are facing today. This impacts how they invest their loyalty, as GreenMatch highlighted:

  • 90 percent are willing to switch to brands associated with a cause.
  • 72 percent are willing to spend more on sustainable goods and services.
  • 40 percent have boycotted a brand because they stand for something that is against their values.

According to GreenMatch, Gen Z’s consumer choices are now increasingly a form of activism.

How can marketers engage Gen Z?

What does this mean for us as marketers? Well, for Gen Z, finding a business that aligns with their values is more important than anything else. Traditional loyalty programs have had their day, with Forbes showing that only 30 percent of Gen Z think positively about them.

As marketers, we must think differently about engaging Gen Z. No more functional or aspirational messaging, hard sell, or trading on insecurity.

If we’re looking to build Gen Z loyalty, there are three key questions we can ask ourselves:

  • What is our brand’s real, inspiring and demonstrable purpose to connect with Gen Z’ers?
  • What stories and experiences can we share to support this narrative?
  • What are we doing (not just saying) that demonstrates we’re accessible, authentic and sustainable?

There are some great examples of brands doing this already:

  • Accessibility – SPKTRM Beauty use un-retouched photos of their products on a gender-inclusive cast of models. It reveals how well their products work while promoting authentic, un-manipulated beauty in society.
  • Authenticity – Scottish beer company BrewDog followed research that 75 percent of the public don’t trust ads, and in response created the ‘The Most Honest Ad You’ll Ever See’. It aired during an episode of Game of Thrones to 17.4 million viewers.
  • Sustainability – Mud Jeans make quality, ethical jeans and lease them. Every pair is recycled, and customers can keep the jeans for as long as they want (or swap them after they’re done renting them).

In short, these new consumers value the importance of brand experiences and are more sensitive to a lack of authenticity—the gap between what we say and what we do—than any that have gone before.

As marketers, are we putting our money where our mouth is like these sought-after consumers? If we accept their call to action, then key to that is ensuring our efforts ring true, and that the actual experiences we create for Gen Z consumers are consistent throughout all aspects of our marketing.

ICF’s global marketing services agency focuses on helping your organization find opportunity in disruption.
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