What Marketers Need to Know About Targeting Generation Z

First things first: They’re not millennials. Here are five strategies to employ to reach this diverse, dynamic audience

Born between 1996 and 2012, Generation Z — set to be the most populous generation (32 percent of the population) in 2019, surpassing millennials — often gets a bad rap. They’re the “digital natives,” having never known a pre-digital world, and we older folk tend to write them off as screen-obsessed and short of attention, flitting between devices and shying away from “real” communication.

That’s not the case, though. Members of Generation Z have grown up in a tumultuous world marked by recession and conflict. They’re cautious and careful, practical and pragmatic. Having witnessed the backlash to more-is-more millennials, they understand the value of hard work, individual responsibility, authenticity and connection. They’re easily misunderstood, and they know that. What they want is to be heard, and to know they’re wanted — and here’s how savvy marketers can begin to do just that.

Treat them like individuals. Netflix knows what they want to watch next. Amazon anticipates their orders. In short: There’s nothing one-size-fits-all about Generation Z. Your audience, then, must be highly segmented, receiving messaging that feels uniquely tailored to them: the do-gooders (those who are philanthropy-minded), the go-getters (budding entrepreneurs) and the like. And that doesn’t stop at display ads and email campaigns. Wherever you’re sending them — a landing page on a recruitment site if you’re a higher-ed institution, or an itinerary on your city’s best street-art installations if you’re a destination-marketing organization — should reinforce the message that they’re unique, and that your institution recognizes (and prioritizes) this.

Acknowledge their diversity. Generation Z is the U.S.’s most racially and ethnically diverse generation, with 48 percent coming from communities of color (as compared to 39 percent of millennials and 30 percent of Gen Xers). Diversity, then, is the new norm, and any marketing strategy should reflect this. But it doesn’t stop there. Imagery targeting this audience must also acknowledge the seismic shifts that have occurred in terms of gender and sexual norms, as well as gains in body positivity and natural appearances.

Employ a mobile-minded strategy. Forget mobile-first when it comes to Generation Z — for this group, it’s almost mobile-only. According to Pew Research Center, 95 percent of teens report having access to a smartphone, and 45 percent say they’re online “almost constantly.” Smart marketers, then, will know to reach iGens where they are: on their phones. Prioritize geo-targeted ads on the platforms they use most — highly visual spots like Instagram and Snapchat — and make sure that any site you’re driving to is optimized for a compelling mobile-user experience.

Make your message real and relatable. As a result of this nearly constant tapping and Snapping, iGens have a reported 8-second filter, meaning that if you fail to immediately pique their interest with something relevant and engaging, they’re already on to the next thing vying for their attention. The strategy, at its most basic, is good storytelling: A Gen-Zer can sniff out inauthenticity a mile away. Whether your message is relayed via blog post, video or visuals, make sure its creative is top-notch and its approach is one that will rise above the fray.

Help them make a difference. From the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas to activists like Yara Shahidi, it’s clear that Generation Z cares — deeply — about social injustice and isn’t afraid to speak up. This influences Gen Zers on every level, right down to what they do with their (immense) purchasing power. They want to support brands that reflect their values. Be sure your marketing strategy includes messaging related to your organization’s commitment to causes your prospective students care about. Show them how you’re changing the world — and how they can, too.

 

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