Gen Z, the rising generation of digital natives born between the years of 1996-2015, has been on the minds of marketers for years — but now is the time to step up the strategy. Today, the hyperconnected cohort has an estimated buying power nearing $150 billion as well as a household spending influence that amounts to a whopping $665 billion.
The best way to reach them? Social media, of course. More than half the age group say they can’t be without internet access for more than four hours before becoming uncomfortable. And forget about Facebook and Twitter; this crowd favors TikTok — where 20% spend a reported five hours or more per day — Snapchat, Instagram, and YouTube, their most trusted channel according to Edelman’s new Trust & The Future Consumer report.
“This generation of consumers is unparalleled when it comes to verifying information they see online…70% will always fact check what brands say, and will unfollow you if you’re not truthful.” – Edelman
Gen Z craves a steady stream of content that’s honest, conscious, original, entertaining, community-focused, and relevant to their everyday lives. And with loud voices and strong opinions, they’re ready to put their money where their mouth is — online and in person.
First, however, you’ll have to find ways to make genuine connections and authentically engage members of this generation. Here’s how to begin:
Stand for What’s Right
To resonate with Gen Z, you need to show you care and make it count. “When we think about taking actual stands, it’s not enough to just sell your product,” says Meredith Ferguson, Managing Director at DoSomething Strategic. “It’s about using your power, influence and platform to work to solve the world’s most pressing problems today.”
These young people have grown up amongst a backdrop of progressive social change and conversation about all kinds of inclusivity. From body positivity and gender fluidity to climate change, gun violence, and equal rights and representation, Gen Z cares about current events and champions causes that are close to their hearts. 56% agree that social activism is the most important issue and, these days, they expect more than eco-friendly labels, diverse models, and sustainable practices that are becoming standard across brands and businesses.
Gen Zs suggest “Be Yourself” as their slogan, along with “Save the Planet,” “We Want Change,” or “We are the Future.” – JWT Intelligence
In Action: Build trust with meaningful values, authentic actions, and mission-driven content marketing — and “don’t think that the cause platform that you support has to be in lockstep with what your brand sells,” Ferguson says; “it has to be in lockstep with what your brand is about, from inside out.”
This year, leverage corporate social responsibility as one of your marketing principles and content pillars. And remember: “Consistently talking about what you stand for is wildly different from constantly talking about what you’ve done,” according to Ferguson. “When you put it out there in a way that’s smart, strategic and helpful, it’s not boastful; it’s important…It’s about using your platform for good.”
Be Open to Creativity
With unprecedented access to a vast variety of tools and tech as well as a voracious “creative appetite,” Adobe has dubbed the group “Generation Create” and even launched a new digital space dedicated to offering them inspiration, resources, and a like-minded community. Likewise, studies at Wunderman Thompson have led to the moniker of “Super Creatives.”
“Content creation is more accessible to this group than ever,” says Forbes, “and as such, encouraging your audience to engage and interact with your marketing can kick-start a domino effect of brand awareness.” But it has to feel special to be worthy of their time and social clout if they’re going to engage and re-share.
In Action: Personality is everything when it comes to branding that resonates with these young consumers — and the best way for companies to express who they are is with content that takes creativity to new heights. Nowadays, it’s vital to create and share unexpected stories, images, memes, videos, and experiences that wow and entertain as much in their craft and visual appeal as they do in their concept and core substance.
With 150 million active monthly creators editing photos and videos online — 80% of which are under the age of 35 — Picsart knows what appeals to Gen Z creators and consumers. For 2022, they’ve identified six design trends making waves among this generation: Modern Nostalgia, The Metaverse, Time for Teal, Gender Inclusivity, Organic Digital, and Gothic Fonts. Which might work with your brand’s look and feel, content plan, and what you have to offer?
[Related Reading: 12 Graphic Design Trends to Watch in 2022]
Build Community Through Relatability
According to Spotify, 54% of Gen Z believe brands have the power to create communities based on common interests and passions. And that’s exactly what they want: “a tribe in which they belong.” Research shows that the most connected generation also reports to be the loneliest, especially amidst the ongoing pandemic. That’s one reason why feeling seen and heard is so important to them, and we’re seeing companies that provide genuine relatability reaping the greatest rewards.
These standout players have been able to build brand loyalty and a strong sense of community via messaging that feels personal, real, and relevant to Gen Z lives. Bloomberg’s Ben Schott identifies the popular trend as the Adorkables: “a growing gang of disruptive brands that deftly target Gen Z with a jarring visual aesthetic and an authentic emotional appeal.”
The greatest value differentiator is the direction of the gaze. Whereas traditional brands strive to provide means of public self-validation…Adorkables offer commercial opportunities for personal self-expression. – Bloomberg
In Action: In the beauty market, Schott says brands like Starface, Topicals, and Bubble have emerged to counter the status-quo with unique designs and true-to-life imagery that celebrates skin — acne, in-grown hairs, and all — free of makeup and airbrushing. Meanwhile, industry giants are launching sub-brands to target Gen Z specifically, like Vodafone’s new mobile network Voxi, which offers endless social media and video viewing.
But to really create a community around Gen Z, marketers would be wise to “move beyond viewing them as mere consumers…and instead tap into their potential to help shape your brand. Participation is the new expectation, and it fuels a true sense of belonging” as well as an inviting vehicle for their creative self-expression.
[Related Reading: How Brands Are Using TikTok to Find Super-Fan Content Creators]
Leverage UGC + Influencer Marketing
Building on the power of content that’s creative, purpose-driven, authentic, and participatory, user-generated content (UGC) and influencer marketing can take your brand even further. In fact, according to Forbes, “given their desire for authenticity, the most successful digital ads targeting Gen Z are user-generated content.”
“It’s no accident that Adorkable Instagram accounts — in addition to jokes, memes and political statements — are studded with real photos of real consumers using their brands in real life,” Schott continues. “Especially when, according to a 2019 Morning Consult survey, 11% of American Gen Z’s consider themselves to be social media influencers.”
“Consider influencer marketing as an entire strategy rather than a distribution channel. Focus on integrating your brand with theirs. If you’re working with a comedy account, do they have characters who would fit well into your brand’s narrative?” – Forbes
In Action: Depending on your brand, audience and offering, micro-influencers (accounts with fewer than 50,000 followers) can be just as beneficial to work with as a paid celebrity — or even more. And with an owned challenge or hashtag, the free exposure you can potentially get from UGC is indispensable.
“The full value of using influencers is the connection that can be formed with their community,” Forbes reminds marketers. “By coordinating your efforts and saturating the platform with your brand over a short period of time, you’re able to stay front of mind and create an active conversation” focused on what you and your audience both care about.
Resonating with a generation that challenges the status quo and rejects more traditional marketing messaging will require some novel approaches. But if you dedicate yourself to meeting Gen Z at the intersection of social responsibility, authenticity, and creativity — and invite them to help shape your narrative — you’ll win the hearts of a cohort that has the power to champion your brand like no generation before.