Engaging Generation Z: Marketing to a New Brand of Consumer

Opinion: Gen-Zers fragment and focus their social media time

Companies will benefit for years from keeping up with Gen Z’s social media behaviors nadia_bormotova/iStock

Generation Z is widely recognized as the next consumer powerhouse. Now all 22 or younger, Gen-Zers are expected to account for about 40 percent of all consumers by 2020.

That’s a lot of emerging shoppers. It won’t be long before understanding the Gen-Z perspective will be a key to marketing success.

Research already points to some fundamental differences between Gen-Zers and their generational predecessors, the millennials. Influenced by their awareness of terrorism and the Great Recession, Gen-Zers are more interested in participating in social activism and working for their success.

Another significant difference is Gen Z’s multifaceted approach to social media. Gen Z uses different platforms for different activities. On Instagram, they showcase their aspirational selves; on Snapchat, they share real-life moments; on Twitter, they get the news; and on Facebook, they glean information, according to a study recently conducted by Response Media, the Atlanta-based digital customer-relationship-management agency I lead.

In other words, Gen-Zers fragment and focus their social media time—they share certain types of content on particular social channels. All of this is done in quick touches, or micro-interactions, that might last only a few seconds. They’re also frequent, with some Gen-Zers checking their social media accounts as often as 100 times per day.

Gen-Zers are clearly engaged with social media. It’s time for marketers to learn how to reach them.

Connecting with Generation Z

While there’s no question that Gen Z can be reached on social media platforms, the group’s social media behavior creates some pitfalls for marketers. Brands that don’t adapt to the way Gen Z consumes messages will lose market share. For example, marketing emails to Gen-Z consumers that don’t tell a quick story with relevant value might be ignored by consumers who are eager to check out the next message.

Brands also might be misunderstood if their messages don’t communicate with Gen-Zers in the right way. Companies’ marketing messages need to be clear about what they stand for so that their brands are not interpreted as uninvolved in or opposed to social causes important to Gen-Zers.

When it comes to communicating with these consumers, it’s all about the fit. Marketing posts must be tailored to each social media platform while keeping the overall message the same across the web.

Social media managers and marketers must know which platforms are used for what and ensure that their brands’ messaging is succinct across all of them. You might have only a few seconds to grab a Gen-Zer’s attention, after all: While a millennial or Gen-Xer might stop for a moment to read a longer post, Gen-Zers want to get straight to the point and move along to the next post.

If you’re unsure where to start or how to improve your social media marketing, consider the following approaches that tap into Gen Zers’ core characteristics and encourage engagement:

  • Involving Gen-Zers in the message catches their attention: If Gen-Z consumers help produce or create the message, they’ll be more responsive to it. Hollister implemented this approach successfully: Its Snapchat geofilters provide a real-life take on the brand that both relies and focuses on the Gen-Z shopper, rather than just throwing an ad in front of the Gen-Z consumer. Snapchat geofilters are participatory in the way consumers share the experience with the brand, thus connecting with Gen Z.
  • Highlighting real people is another promising approach: Not models—real teens. Like teenagers throughout the generations, Gen-Zers are looking for authenticity and people who reflect their own lives. Consider the Dove campaign for Real Beauty: It moved away from idealized female beauty standards and instead celebrated women’s beauty through videos, activities, tool kits and products. While that campaign didn’t initially target Gen Z, it shows the power that authenticity can wield in the marketplace.
  • Expect Gen-Zers to look for social responsibility, as well: That said, Gen Z considers providing good value for a fair price a socially responsible behavior that delivers a greater good. Beyond that, studies have shown that Gen Z is interested in racial, gender and income equality, as well as environmental issues. Standing up for these values is becoming a differentiator for brands. For example, DanoneWave—parent organization of brands such as Silk, Dannon yogurt and Horizon Organic—is raising its profile by pursuing a “B-Corp” certification that requires it to meet stiff social and environmental performance standards.

As Gen Z comes of age, marketing teams will have to adapt and learn to communicate in new ways on social media. Messages will need to be customized, snappy and socially meaningful to successfully engage an audience that’s already starting to dominate the market.

Today’s social media trends are bound to change, but companies will benefit for years from keeping up with Gen Z’s social media behaviors.

Josh Perlstein is CEO of digital and direct CRM agency Response Media.