More Than Millennials: How To Prepare for Generation Z

Liz Hartley

Feb 21, 20174 min read
More Than Millennials: How To Prepare for Generation Z

In just three years, Generation Z will make up  40 percent of consumers — and that means it’s not just about reaching Millennials anymore. We’re looking at a whole new a group of consumers being pegged as 100 percent mobile first, more resourceful, and more wired to tune out traditional advertising and marketing.

They grew up inundated with more information than any other generation to date, but they’ve adapted and know how to cut through that noise (aka keep scrolling). While people love to talk about how “kids these days just can’t pay attention,” that’s not exactly the case. Yes, Gen Zers have short attention spans, but if you can intrigue them in just a couple of seconds and give them a reason to keep engaging, they can — and they will.

So how exactly do you do that?

1. Down With Brand-Centric Thinking, Up With Empathy

Even more than previous generations, kids today can smell an advertisement a mile away. Doing away with traditional in-your-face advertising — and replacing it with a more personal, empathic approach — is the only way to ensure a marketing message actually sinks in.

Not convinced? Let’s do a side-by-side comparison.

Both Coach and Lands’ End launched Instagram partnerships with “Scream Queens” star Emma Roberts, but each brand uses Roberts in very different ways. Her Lands’ End posts look like traditional magazine ads, while her Coach posts look like they belong within Roberts’ feed — as well as within Instagram itself. Not surprisingly, the Coach-sponsored posts received about twice the engagement as the Lands’ End posts and equal that of Roberts’ nonsponsored posts.

New beauty brand Glossier used a similar method to Coach, building its customer base almost entirely by word of mouth, using large and small scale influencers.

In one scenario, it leveraged “The Vampire Diaries” actress Phoebe Tonkin to host a  Snapchat takeover on her morning routine. It worked because it was authentic, featuring very human elements such as drinking coffee, singing, donning a makeup-free face, and even showcasing other brands. As a result of smart social plays like this, Glossier has created a feeling of friendship with its customers.

2. Down With Facebook, Up With Snapchat — Sort Of

To reach Gen Zers, you also have to look in new places. Hint: Facebook and Instagram aren’t the first places you’ll find them.

Instead, cue social networks like Snapchat, Secret, and Whisper. In fact, if you’re serious about reaching Generation Z, Snapchat is no longer seen as an experiment, but a requirement.

According to research firm Piper Jaffray,  Snapchat outpaced Instagram by 50 percent as teens’ preferred platform in just six months. And while Facebook has remained relatively steady, my team routinely hears Gen Zers say things like “Facebook is for old people.” (Ouch!)

Still, considering the targeting capabilities of Facebook and Instagram, brands shouldn’t miss an opportunity to surround sound a potential future customer. At RAPP, our qualitative research suggests that younger generations recognize and appreciate the increased relevance of Facebook and Instagram ads compared to traditional online banners or commercials.

Although Snapchat and Instagram are priority channels today, it’s important to keep in mind that other platforms will continue to emerge and find their place with this new generation.

3. Down With Complacency, Up With Diversity and Experimentation

We can see that access to celebrities, making use of influencers, and posting behind-the-scenes content on Snapchat and Instagram resonate with Gen Z, but there’s still a lot to learn as this consumer group emerges.

When you’re weighing the success of your campaigns, keep in mind that marketing on platforms you don’t own, like Snapchat and Instagram, means there are limits to the data you can see. Instead of measuring only short-term results, account for testing how entering a new space impacts business results over a longer period of time. On some level, you just have to trust that the continued presence and big investment from big brands serve as indicators of a platform’s success.

Finally, despite the digital frenzy, don’t count physical marketing out.

According to Marketing Week, traditional  physical and tactile marketing is making a bit of comeback. While older generations are likely to appreciate this more because it reminds them of “what once was,” merging tactile and digital marketing could open up new doors for younger customers by creating a more genuine and holistic experience that Gen Zers crave. Considering they’re inundated with brands trying to reach them online, tactile marketing may also give you a leg up on competitors by occupying a space they’ve abandoned.

4. Down With Guessing, Up With Listening

A trap we risk falling into is to take the latest insights into Gen Z and make sweeping assumptions about how their behavior in their teens will dictate how they will behave 10 years from now. They are, after all, still in their teens.

Too often in this industry, we find ourselves in an echo chamber. When it comes to understanding Gen Z, a multitude of articles and infographics exist that, when you investigate, are oftentimes sourcing the same report. Beyond that, many claims are based on survey findings that compare teenagers to people who are two or three decades older — that’s like comparing apples to oranges.

But that doesn’t mean you need to wait until they’re 22 to start understanding them.

Perhaps one of the most important factors in engaging with the next generation is to hire them. Better yet, before they graduate, hire them as interns. Ideas can come from anyone, no matter the age, so create an environment where expertise is shared across generations as well as ethnic backgrounds.

At the end of the day, you prove your brand’s worth to customers by learning the content and services that make their lives easier and more enjoyable. There is so much room for experimentation — put these things out there and see what works. Together, we must keep discovering.

Dr. Maya Shapiro  put it best in her Mic article: “Equally misguided are attempts to compare two generations at different points in their processes — a misstep that amounts to comparing apples to apple trees.”

So, take in today’s research, but don’t stop paying attention. Commission your own research, and keep moving forward.

Author Photo
Liz HartleyLiz Hartley is the director of experience planning at RAPP, a company that focuses on critical, direct, and high-value relationships that link people and brands across the fast-changing digital landscape. Liz develops holistic views of clients’ business and consumer contexts to inform results-focused communications solutions. She has an MBA from Providence College and has worked across healthcare, telecom, CPG, financial services, fashion, and non-profit, and has expertise in digital and CRM.
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