There’s little question that businesses around the world have turned their attention to Generation Z, a group that is turning out to be far different than millennials and baby boomers.  As such, internal marketing and communications departments as well as outside firms are trying to first understand this audience and then put in place campaigns that will most effectively reach and influence this group. Based on what we know about this audience, it requires a new way of thinking.

For starters, let us first look at exactly who comprises Gen-Z.

Generation-Z generally includes those born in the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s. More specifically, Gen-Z is today’s teenagers and those in their 20s. This means the oldest members are in college or recent graduates. For businesses, this is critically important as Gen-Zers are entering the work force (or at least will be post-Covid) and thus increasing their buying power.

From a marketing perspective, marketers need to understand the characteristics to drive Gen-Zers and their purchasing decision.

  • Gen-Z is Digital, Social and Mobile and Shops Differently. For starters, they are financially savvy and make purchase decisions based primarily on brand relationships, online reviews and references.Most importantly, it is all about their mobile phone as it is what they use the most in their life and it is where they get much of their information. For this reason, brands must ensure that their website is mobile-optimized and that brands create content with mobile in mind. This includes making the checkout process easy and simple and the use of vertical videos which are easier to view on mobile.
  • They are Purpose-Driven. They prefer companies with a purpose and brands that invest in making the world a better place. Given their purpose driven culture, messaging should center around consistency, spontaneity, giving and empathy. They increasingly turn to brands that stand out and make a real difference, with the understanding they are tracking what companies do, and not just say.
  • Authenticity is Important. More so than any other generation they insist on messaging that is straightforward and authentic. For brands this means you must focus on communicating and engaging in a personal and reliable manner. They are very savvy with “fake news”, having grown up with the Internet and online news. They want to see real, relatable people in marketing campaigns, individuals they can personally relate to. Real influencers, for example, have more influence than celebrities. They relate much better to YouTubers than movie or sports stars, and often make purchasing decisions based on recommendations from these influencers.
  • They Care about Privacy. They cherish privacy and thus require total transparency and an understanding that brands respect this need for complete privacy. They avoid brands and platforms that do not respect their need by sharing their information for marketing purposes. They prefer direct messaging apps like Snapchat versus open networks like Facebook.
  • Not as Brand Loyal As Their Parents. All research shows that this generation does not have the same level of loyalty to brands as baby boomers and millennials. This means they are less likely to respond favorably to loyalty programs, so a brand needs to work hard to maintain their loyalty once they win it. This translates into developing meaningful, authentic online campaigns, using real people, or consisting of contests and events that appeal to this audience.
  • Going Negative Does not Work. Attacking competitive brands does not work with this audience. Brands must focus on the positives and interests of the consumer rather than focusing on what is wrong with competitive brands.
  • They Have a Short Attention Span. The average attention span of Generation-Z is eight seconds (as compared to 12 for Millennials). This makes it imperative that you capture their attention quickly and in a meaningful manner. Brands need to avoid long ads and videos and need to create what many call “snackable content” that captures their attention and interest within the first few seconds.
  • They Easily Move Among Different Social Platforms. Interestingly, Gen-Zers use social platforms differently and move among these platforms with different goals. Typically, they use Instagram to showcase their “aspirational” self, whereas they use Snapchat to share real-life experiences. Many leverage Twitter for news and TikTok to express themselves. With Facebook, most believe it is for “older people” and is generally not viewed as an effective platform to engage with this audience.

Marketing During the Pandemic

Lastly, let us take a quick look at how brands can market to Gen-Z during this coronavirus pandemic.

While the pandemic is negatively affecting everyone in every country, it does impact Gen-Z in a unique way. For many, in-person classes have ceased, internships put on hold and important social events such as prom and graduations cancelled. The impact has been immediate and dramatic.

It is essential that brands understand how the pandemic has specifically impacted Gen-Z and embrace short-form communications with messaging that is meaningful, authentic and takes an empathetic approach. Brands should acknowledge how Covid-19 has specifically impacted this audience and use the platforms to communicate with Gen-Zers. Importantly, understand the role of each and how Gen-Zers consume information and most importantly embrace a tone of empathy, understanding and hope.

Depending on your business, provide information that is relevant – for example, fitness and nutrition tips for brands marketing these products, tips on how to find a job or ready yourself to find a job during and after the epidemic. Above all else, make it relevant to your brand and authentic and do not try to overtly sell products and services as they will see right through this.

Most importantly given both Covid-19 and the recent worldwide protests, showcase how you are supporting our healthcare and frontline workers and supporting those that have been the subject of bias. Brands need to be smart and focused on how they communicate and engage with Gen-Zers during these recent crises and truly show an understanding of this consumer. By doing so, they will be poised to succeed both during the pandemic as well as when things ultimately return to some sense of normalcy.

Bill Southard
Bill Southard
Founder and CEO, Southard Communications
Bill Southard is founder and CEO of Southard Communications, a firm he launched in 1994 and has since grown to become one of the fastest growing communications firms in the country. Since its founding, the agency has experienced consistent and considerable growth and today represents a broad range of clients across a myriad of industries. In his day-to-day role at the agency, Bill drives the creative process, provides ongoing strategic counsel and manages all crisis communications on behalf of agency clients. With more than 35 years of communications experience, Bill has counseled some of the country's leading Fortune 500 firms and prior to founding Southard has was president of Earle Palmer Brown Public Relations and previous to that General Manager with Dorf & Stanton Communications.

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