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Gen Z won’t be fooled by traditional marketing

How to reach Generation Z with your marketing campaign

Every generational group is defined by the major world events that shape their worldview, leading to how they think and act in society regarding everything from impacting the workforce to consumerism. Baby Boomers watched every piece of coverage of space exploration as it unfolded, saw the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on TV and lived through the tumultuous violence of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement. There is not one Gen X-er who will forget watching the Challenger explode or the Berlin Wall fall while enjoying the rise of MTV. Millennials were students when Columbine and 9/11 created a feeling of uncertainty and unease, and grew up in a time of technological disruption when the internet explosion, especially Google and social media, shifted nearly every aspect of society.

Through no fault of their own, every generation causes a shift in the workforce, the housing market, consumerism and so much more. And there is a pattern of older generations resisting new ways of thinking, wholeheartedly believing that they know what is best because that has been their lived experience. To be an effective marketer, it’s imperative to know your audience and what generation they belong to so that you can speak to them and relate to their worldview. Now that Generation Z, or Gen Z for short, makes up about one-third of the workforce and 40 percent of consumers, not to mention majorly influencing family buying decisions, it is an audience that marketers also need to understand.

Who is Generation Z?

Gen Z is marked as those born between 1997-2010. They have grown up with a polarized political landscape (having lived through two different political leadership landscapes and historical nominees), active shooter drills being just as commonplace as fire drills, strong discussions on equality, inclusion and the importance of human rights, and the COVID-19 pandemic instilling a permanent impact on how they experience school, work and social networking. But what is probably the main characteristic separating this generation from those who came before, is the fact that technology has always been at their fingertips.

Millennials are the face of the digital age, but Gen Z has never lived without it. So, while Millennials may have created social media and know it like the back of their hands, it flows through the veins of Gen Z. This goes for the entire digital landscape. This younger generation is connected more than ever before, effortlessly moving through the digital world. They favor streaming services over traditional cable TV and absorb breaking news from online sources over traditional media. In fact, 50 percent of Gen Z get their daily news from social media. While this may be shocking to older generations who do not find social media to be a reputable source, what Gen Z knows to be true is that traditional media networks have an online presence where the same information is relayed to social users more quickly, and these users can freely and conveniently digest breaking news from multiple sources and witnesses in a matter of minutes by scrolling online.

How can you market to Generation Z?

Gen Z is an influential group that won’t be fooled by traditional marketing strategies. So how do you reach them? While not an exhaustive list, below are some major things to consider when trying to reach this younger generation.

1.    Have a consistent digital presence

As we mentioned above, Gen Z moves around the digital landscape quickly and seamlessly, and they expect brands to as well. They want a consistent and smooth consumer experience between in-person, digital and social media, so you have to make sure all your channels work together and work together well.

When it comes to social media, you also must think differently. Gen Z does not use social media the same way as older generations, including Millennials. While they very likely have an account established on nearly all platforms, they tend to favor those that have eye-catching visual content like Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok and YouTube, specifically short and effective videos catch their interest the most. For example, while Instagram is a visual platform at its core, brands should be putting more of a focus on Instagram stories and reels. Can you tell a story of why your products or services provide value in under 8 seconds? Because that is the reality of how this side of social media functions.

2.    Humanize your brand

Have you ever wonderedwhy influencer marketing came to be? It’s because younger generations don’t want a faceless company. They want to see your personality, get to know your people and understand how they are actively engaging with your brand or product. Frankly, they don’t really care how long you’ve been in business or what services you provide unless they get to know YOU first. They don’t need or necessarily want to see a perfectly curated brand. They expect a human connection that is authentic, transparent and accountable. You are making them your friend first, then your customer.

3.    Create a personalized experience

Admittedly, we absolutely admit that we are making generalizations about all of Gen Z, but we also want to be clear that you would be making a major misstep in your marketing campaign if you group this entire generation into one TikTok-loving, Tide Pod-eating group of teenagers who are trying to cancel side hair parts. First-off, that generalization is grossly untrue to begin with. But second, this younger generation is incredibly individualistic. It is the most diverse generation to date, inclusive of all backgrounds and identities. They like what they like, and they know how to expertly train their social media algorithms to feed them more of the content they want to see. What does this mean for companies trying to market to them?

While older adults, typically those over 65 have concerns around data privacy, Gen Z knows you can access their social media activity and they want you to use their data to give them a more personalized experience.

4.    Stand for something, and we mean actively stand for something

Trust is difficult to earn, but it’s easy to lose. For Gen Z, trust in larger institutions is on the decline. They will look at your company through a scrutinizing lens, especially if they’re not familiar with you. But what exactly are they looking for?

More than any other generation, Gen-Z values ethical business practices as they relate to sustainable environmental progress, racial equity, LGBTQ+ inclusive language and supportive health care that includes mental health resources (EY, 2021). They will support companies whose values align with their own. So, you have to make your values known, but you also have to have a history of tangible action to show for it.

In 2020, the marketing world saw just how much intent does not matter unless it has action connected to it. After the murder of George Floyd, we saw brands of all sizes putting out vague statements of solidarity in support of racial equity. And younger generations wasted no time using the hashtags #PullUpOrShutUp and #OpenYourPurse to call out companies doing nothing more than performative action. Users wanted proof of what percentage of people of color held executive positions in these companies and how companies have allocated their money to helping progress racial equity. Once again, Gen Z knows how to travel the digital landscape, and they know how to find and verify the information they’re looking for in a matter of minutes. Whether a company decides to be openly transparent doesn’t matter because this generation will do the research themselves. And it’s your trust to lose.

As a reminder, these strategies apply to marketing towards Gen Z specifically. Older generations expect different things from companies. This is why it’s important to know your goals and what audiences you want to reach. Because it is very true that if you try to market to everyone, you will be marketing to no one. No matter what, you must stand for something even if it will alienate some.

Gen Z is a critical target market for many companies, especially as they continue to make up a significant portion of the workforce and consumers. They are an incredibly diverse and individualistic group, so it’s important to tailor your marketing strategy if you’re trying to reach them. You must have a consistent digital presence and be proficient in the various social platforms. This includes humanizing your brand and personalizing each user experience by strategically using available data. And finally, you must be ready to stand up for your values, even if it means alienating some customers. Essentially, Gen Z is online, they are engaged, they know what they want, and they move fast. It’s imperative as marketers that we keep up.

Do you need help identifying your goals and target audience? Contact Red Shoes Inc. at 920-574-3253.

A version of this article was originally published in The Business News.
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