Beyond Millennials: How to Market to Generation Z

As a marketer, you’re probably familiar with Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, their common traits and how to reach them. And, it’s difficult to go anywhere without hearing about Millennials and their effect on the marketing industry.

But what about the generation after Millennials, Gen Z – people born from the mid-1990s to 2012? Who are they? What makes them tick? How should brands market to them?

Although it’s difficult to generalize about an entire generation, let’s explore some of the characteristics of this maturing group and how they’re shaping the advertising industry.

First, a look at Millennials

To compare Gen Z to the Millennial generation, let’s first look at some of the significant characteristics of Millennials, or Gen Y. Born from 1980 through 1995-ish, they’ve been all the rage for years now – described as entitled, narcissistic and lazy, but also optimistic, open-minded and empowered. They have grown up with the internet, prefer texting to talking and have been accused of killing industries like cable TV, department stores, diamonds, napkins and breakfast cereal.

Millennials are the ‘participation trophy’ generation and self-admittedly have grown up seeking constant approval and reassurance from others, which eventually leads to unrealistic career expectations and low job satisfaction.

“All that self-esteem leads them to be disappointed when the world refuses to affirm how great they know they are,” according to a Time article, which goes on to suggest that Millennials could instead be “the new greatest generation of optimistic entrepreneurs.” Perhaps their history of reassurance has even spurred the entrepreneurial spirit, giving them the confidence to take chances and create something of their own.

The Millennial segment has undoubtedly influenced advertisers’ strategy by demanding authenticity and content-driven experiences. No longer can a brand use mass marketing to get these consumers’ attention; messages must be customer-driven and personalized, as Millennials want to feel connected to and understood by brands. And with 80 million of them in the U.S., making up nearly one-fourth of the total population, they represent $200 billion in annual buying power, according to Forbes.

Generational composition

Composition of generations

What makes Gen Z different?

While Gen Zs, also known as iGens, have a lot in common with their Gen Y predecessors, there are also notable differences. This group makes up a quarter of the U.S. population and by 2020 will account for 40 percent of all consumers. They are acutely aware of the bad rap Millennials have gotten and are determined to distinguish themselves.


Members of Gen Z are career minded

Members of Gen Z overcompensate with hard work and prioritize communicating effectively in person, specifically with older adults, according to Fast Company. And, while they have more entrepreneurial spirit than Millennials, they’re also more cautious and responsible, focusing on career and financial stability rather than “Silicon Valley home runs.”

Socially responsible and diverse

Gen Z also takes social responsibility to a new level, using their power to effect political change and support causes and the environment.

“After the school shooting [in Parkland, FL], these kids organized, and they have demanded action, so much so that a largely gun-friendly Florida legislature and governor recently passed and signed into law a gun-control bill that no one thought possible,” according to an Ontraport article. They are also the most diverse group in history, being “far less concerned with race, gender identity and cultural differences and care more about fairness and equality.”

Increasingly impatient

They don’t know a world without the internet and have little patience for slow-loading sites, too much text and irrelevant content. Referred to by many sources as having an “8-second attention span,” they are accustomed to constant updates, switching between tasks and quickly filtering through and scanning copious amounts of information.

Gen Zers are visually-inclined and prefer images, memes, GIFs and video over text-heavy content. It’s important to note also, that this shortened attention span doesn’t solely refer to Gen Z. According to a Microsoft study, since the year 2000 (when the mobile revolution began), the average attention span overall has dropped from 12 seconds down to eight seconds.

Likely to visit brick-and-mortar locations

On the other hand, while this group is considered digitally native, a recent study found that 67 percent of Gen Z shop in a physical store most of the time, and another 31 percent shop in-store sometimes. That’s 98 percent who shop in-store overall, even if 58 percent check online product reviews and 59 percent compare prices online before going in-storeAlthough technology has transformed the online shopping experience, brick-and-mortar retail still plays an important role. And now retailers are constantly pressured to innovate and provide unique, seamless customer experiences across channels to stay relevant.

Among members of Gen Z

In-store shopping habits of Gen Z


Other surprising statistics about Gen Z lean traditional as well. An Ad Age report calls Gen Z “part cutting-edge and part traditionalist” with:

  • 77 percent reading printed books
  • 84 percent paying attention to out-of-home ads in trains, malls, airports and taxis

Gen Z traditional media habitsAlthough Gen Z shows more traditional tendencies than Gen Y, it’s still difficult for advertisers to engage with them using traditional marketing channels. Gen Z relies heavily on social media and firsthand recommendations and reviews from others to help them decide on new products or experiences. In the same way, they post regularly about brands and products as a form of self-expression, often engaging a brand directly to share their own experiences, whether positive or negative. They also pay close attention to a brand’s response, or lack thereof, and act accordingly. They want to participate in the brand story and know they are being heard, or they’re moving on.

Bringing it all together: Marketing to Gen Z

Marketing to Gen Z

Advertising has always been about disruption – i.e., finding ways to cut through the clutter and stand out. But Gen Z views this disruption as not only an invasion of privacy but also a waste of time. They prefer a less intrusive advertising experience (or no ads at all), with 82 percent skipping ads as fast as they can and more than half using ad blockers.

Although there are many unique characteristics that define Gen Z, it’s safe to say that they share one commonality – they are challenging advertisers more than ever before. Technology has created new channels and changed the way people communicate, not only with brands but with each other.

Key takeaways to keep in mind when marketing to Gen Z

  • Be transparent. If you have something to hide – anything from company culture to corporate responsibility to a not-so-sparkling restroom – they will find it and share it with the world. Transparency also relates to customer data – they want to know what personal information is being collected, how it’s being used and what measures are in place to protect it.
  • Be authentic. Gen Zers know that your website and advertising depict a perfect, edited, ideal representation or your brand. They will put in the extra work to find actual photos, reviews and sentiment from others to get a more holistic view of your brand before deciding to interact with you.
  • Be inclusive. Ask them to participate and give them a reason to by engaging them with contests and custom content. Encourage collaboration for a social cause or opportunity to influence or earn recognition from their peers. Also, Gen Z will market for you. Provide a fantastic customer experience and they are more likely to broadcast it to their network. Alternatively, if you provide bad service, be prepared for the internet to know about it.
  • Be personable. Make it a conversation, rather than one-way communication from your brand to them. Talk with them instead of at them. Be available via the many channels and platforms they are using and respond when they engage you. Tell your brand story and include personal touches like employee photos and community involvement. Remember that they don’t want to be marketed “to.”
  • Be engaging. Don’t disrupt their lives. Be entertaining, polite and considerate instead of pushy and intrusive. Visually engaging content marketing efforts can work wonders. Keep in mind their short attention span and use video, infographics and images to reach them.
  • Be unique. Personalize the experience. Consumers want something unique to them rather than a solution for the masses. Tailor your messaging based on the consumer’s purchase history or give them a photo op to express their creativity. 

As brands continue to evolve their marketing to adjust for technology advances and media channel shifts, considering the inherent generational differences is a basic rule, but it’s best to focus your strategy on targeting individuals, rather than generations.

Want to AMPLIFY your marketing efforts to reach younger generations? Contact Mindstream Media to learn how we can help you reach targeted audiences across media channels.