Gen Z, the generation born between 1997-2012, is on every brand’s radar; they’re not easy to please, they hold brands to higher standards compared to previous generations, and they crave authenticity. Not only is this generation changing the retail and eCommerce world, but Gen Z-ers continue to push brands to innovate, take more risks, and stay true to themselves and their customers.
But getting it right isn’t always easy — brands that don’t understand what interests and motivates this younger generation can risk alienating them instead. During some recent Yotpo events, we spoke with experts in the industry to find out what works and what doesn’t to help strike the right balance with this influential demographic.
So, how do you market to a generation redefining the value of shopping?
Marketing to Gen Z vs. millennials
To market to Gen Z, you first have to understand Gen Z; this younger generation stands out because they are unique, digital natives. They are the first generation to have grown up entirely in the digital era, so they’re tech-savvy and mobile-first. But, more importantly, Gen Z values the brands they shop from and expects brands to align with their values in return.
By contrast, millennials, the generation closest to Gen Z and born between 1981-1996, grew up in a world of technological disruption and adapted to what is known as the internet explosion. But, when it comes to millennials, they can clearly remember a time before the internet and after. So, when brands market to millennials, they can play into their nostalgia, leveraging a time before technology took over to capture their attention and foster connections.
However, when brands market to Gen Z, authenticity gets better results; brands need to be transparent and consistent with their messaging while remaining true to their values. Take American Eagle Outfitters, the global clothing brand that launched their #AerieReal campaign in 2014. AE promised to stop digitally altering their models and use real models to promote body positivity and inclusivity. Launching this campaign proved to American Eagle consumers that the brand stands by their values of inclusivity and positivity. It wasn’t a one-time message — the brand continues to show unedited models on their website and in marketing campaigns today.
Along with being authentic, brands need to consider this younger generation’s buying power. According to Bloomberg, companies are obsessed with Gen Z’s buying power. Usually, this tends to fluctuate with inflation as prices rise, limiting the consumer’s ability to make frequent purchases. However, even with the current inflation rate, Gen Z already has $360 billion to spend, compared to millennials buying power of $2.5 trillion. As Gen Z grows older, this number will only continue to grow and surpass millennials.
So, how do you market to Gen Z?
Now that you understand what makes this influential generation unique, you can start refining your strategies that cater to them. And with Gen Z, it’s all about authenticity, appealing to their FOMO (fear of missing out), and speaking their language to catch their attention and win them over.
Always be authentic
One thing Gen Z will always value is authenticity. Why might you ask? Because this generation is all about being true to themselves. Brand authenticity is a high factor in Gen Z’s purchasing decisions as they gravitate towards trustworthy, reliable brands that share their same values, such as diversity, sustainability, self-expression, and activism.
While “being authentic” might seem vague, there are many small ways brands can make this a reality in their marketing. Some key pillars to doing so include opening a direct communication line, building community, and generating engagement through the channels that resonate best with this demographic, specifically social and SMS. Instead of using traditional marketing strategies, like staging celebrities in stale/flat advertising images, brands can use these channels to build a community where you can engage with Gen-Z shoppers directly.
For example, brands like Bubble and Princess Polly connect with their audiences using user-generated content (UGC) from real, trusted customers who also happen to be happy and satisfied with the brand. This works because, according to Business Wire, 61% of social media users are more likely to trust a brand recommended by a friend or influencer they follow on social media, compared to only 38% from ads generated by brands themselves.
Use the right lingo
Communicating to Gen Z can prove tricky when trying to find the right words, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of using slang while trying to stay relevant in marketing campaigns. So before using “slay” or “yassss,” think about whether or not it will come off as cringy to your target audience. When brands try to speak this younger generation’s language and fail, it’s known as “the cringe factor,” generating feelings of second-hand embarrassment. But when used correctly, your marketing campaign can be highly successful.
Duolingo, the language-learning app, has mastered how they communicate with Gen Z through their TikTok of 4.6 million followers. They know how to communicate with their audience by embracing memes, and according to Duolingo’s social media coordinator, Zaria Parvez, just have fun.
“A big part of Duolingo is that we make language learning fun, and I think that quality specifically was such an awesome opportunity to link to TikTok,” Parvez said. “Because TikTok is meant for entertainment, it’s meant for people to have fun, brands are there to entertain, they’re not just there to sell — brands that try selling things don’t really tend to resonate, but if they entertain, people love it.”
In this case, Duolingo was successful because they tapped into and understood the culture of the platform, and they resisted the urge to “sell” rather than “entertain”, so their content came across as genuine rather than cringy.
The benefit of micro-influencers
Micro-influencers, the small yet mighty version of the influencer, are the new celebrities on social media. Their smaller following allows them to be more relatable and their content to be more trustworthy and reliable to the average Gen Z consumer. For example, Jalyn Baiden on TikTok is a micro-influencer with a relatively modest 19,000 followers and 220,000 likes, and she has worked with top brands like Youth To The People, Dove, and OLEHENRIKSEN. Her followers, who are primarily Gen Z, value her opinion and continue returning to her page for brand advice and aspiring influencer tips.
Even though Jayln has a smaller following compared to influencers with hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers, there is a unique power in posting like an average person on social media. When brands choose a relatable influencer like this, one who has built a close relationship with their audience, they can benefit from higher engagement without the hefty price tag that influencers with more significant followings may require.
In fact, micro-influencers see higher engagement rates on average — 3.86% on Instagram compared to celebrity influencers’ engagement rate of just 1.64%. So if you’re considering leveraging influencers in your marketing initiatives, choose someone who matches your brand to create relatable and authentic content that will engage your target audience, no matter the number of followers.
Use a mobile-first approach
Gen Z is the first generation to have complete access to the internet since they were born, and many received their smartphones much earlier than previous generations. As mentioned in a Forrester webinar with Yotpo, the combination of daily internet access and mobile usage means that 84% of Gen Z will use their smartphones before any other form of technology in order to shop, search the internet, make payments, and access social media apps — making them truly a mobile-first generation.
Brands should thus communicate with Gen Z through the mobile medium, and SMS marketing in particular is an effective way to reach these consumers. It’s mobile-first, and the short messages are better suited to inviting an immediate response that can win this younger audience over.
It’s also important to ensure that the mobile experience is consistent and cohesive across all touchpoints — as Alyssa Thomas, eCommerce Manager at Aje, explained at a recent AWIE Online event.
“As an eComm Manager, my biggest focus is really ensuring that our mobile site is seamless,” Thomas said. “And the Gen Z customer is known to be shopping from device to device and from platform to platform. Just make sure that the customer feels like they’re getting that same on-brand journey from Instagram to the website to TikTok.”
Create interactive experiences
Interactive content allows brands to engage with Gen Z in a way that feels personalized. According to a survey conducted by Marketing Dive, Gen Z doesn’t mind advertisements if they feature relevant recommendations and information, and because of their familiarity with social media, they expect a certain level of interaction with brands as well.
This might seem overwhelming, but brands have many platforms and tools at their disposal to meet these expectations. The most obvious example for many D2C brands is shoppable social media like Instagram that helps customers discover new products that either they’ve already expressed interest in or are likely to enjoy based on their profile. And they can go directly from platform to cart in a few taps.
But brands aren’t just limited to these shoppable social ads. Many brands have turned to other interactions, like quizzes and SMS marketing, to create an engaging experience for Gen Z.
For example, when Maybelline released their new cult favorite, Superstay Vinyl lipsticks, they promoted the product on their Instagram stories. Their promotion included polls and quizzes that helped customers identify which option was right for them, like a personal shopper making a selection for their needs. The combination of social and quiz helped build a relationship between the brand and the shopper.
Alternatively, we already know that Gen Z loves their phones — they spend an average of 8 hours a day on them! — and SMS offers an easy way to get conversational with this audience in a mobile-first way.
Take Princess Polly for example. They’re a fashion-forward clothing brand using SMS and customer data to create personalized conversations that connect and build relationships. They accomplished this by pairing SMS with loyalty data.
“SMS helped us in having a personalized touch at a time we needed it most, especially in the area of brand loyalty,” said Kim Zorn, Global Performance Director at Princess Polly, during a recent Yotpo event. “Being able to send personalized text messages throughout the loyalty customer lifecycle by pulling in points balances and VIP tier names has helped us retain our customers and build up our SMS community.”
Creating this connection feels like a two-way conversation between brand and consumer, and delivering messages in this way makes Gen Z feel seen and heard as a consumer.
Appeal to their FOMO
Because Gen Z shoppers are digital natives, they don’t want to miss out on a deal or an experience, so urgent marketing is an effective way to get their attention.
One of the most popular strategies that Gen Z-focused brands use to create this emotion is the product drop. Consider the wearable blanket brand, The Oodie, which created an airtight FOMO marketing strategy with these drops.
“They really look at capturing holidays and trends with new product drops, and they don’t just do new product drops — they do limited edition product drops too,” says Kate Massey, Head of APAC at Searchspring, a search and merchandising platform. “So they create that scarcity piece as well, and that FOMO, that fear of missing out if they don’t take action before it sells out.”
Brands can also use social media to create FOMO with their products. Not only with limited drops but also exclusive giveaways, using a personalized hashtag created by the brand. For example, Kiara Sky, the world’s fastest-growing nail brand, loves leveraging exclusive giveaways that feature limited edition colors for some of their nail tools or the latest nail polish colors that have yet to release. To enter these giveaways, you have to follow the brand, use a featured hashtag, and tag friends on the post for your entry to count — all of which are high-value behaviors for the brand.
What can you do to win?
Gen Z may be more demanding than the generations that came before them, but what they’re demanding — authenticity and a better customer experience — are all things that brands should strive for.
Remember the key takeaways:
- Create interactive content
- Use influencers to grab this generation’s attention
- Appeal to their FOMO
- Remember to always be authentic
When thinking about your marketing strategy, consider your Gen Z consumer whose attention you’re trying to grab. This generation is unique, one-of-a-kind, and they want an authentic experience. If you can master that and become this generation’s favorite like Princess Polly and Maybelline, you’re doing things right.