Over the past decade, Millennials have come to command obsessive attention from cultural critics and marketers alike. But with the oldest members of the “selfie generation” now entering their late 30s, the spotlight is once again shifting to a younger generation of economic disruptors: Generation Z.
Members of Gen Z — newly defined by Pew Research as those born after 1996 — already command nearly $830 billion in consumer spending and comprise more than 2 billion people around the world, according to a study by IBM and the National Retail Federation. Even though the first Gen Z members are only just entering adulthood, younger members have already shown a deftness for making their own money and for influencing their families’ buying habits.
Their time is quickly approaching. Brands should start setting their Gen Z strategies now.
It won’t be enough to simply recycle the tactics you’ve used to reach Millennials. Even though Gen Zers and Millennials seem similar enough, the groups differ in a few critical ways. To tap into Gen Z’s massive buying power, you first must understand the world in which this generation has grown up, paying particular attention to how it uses technology.
How Gen Z Spends Its Time Online
Sometimes called the “iGeneration” or “internet generation,” it’s clear that Generation Z, like its older Millennial siblings, will be spending record amounts of time (and money) online. That said, Gen Zers will have different preferences for how and where they spend that time. Let’s break down their habits on a few key platforms:
- YouTube: YouTube has quickly become the network of choice for Gen Z viewers — due, in large part, to its mobile-friendly platform. More than 96 percent of Gen Zers said they own a smartphone and use it to watch video, according to ad tech firm Awlogy. YouTube’s short-form content and on-demand platform also fits in well with Gen Z’s demand for convenient, fast experiences online.
- Snapchat:Despite a recent redesign snafu, an enormous amount of Gen Zers still spend time on Snapchat. In fact, more than 78 percent of Gen Zers are active users of the platform. And despite some disgruntled tweets (even from a Gen Z icon like Kylie Jenner), it’s unlikely many of the 300 million-plus monthly active users will delete the app from their devices anytime soon.
- Instagram:In 2016, the photo-centric social network updated its platform to more directly compete with its main rival, Snapchat. The tweak seems to be working. Instagram Stories boasted 250 million daily active users in the six months following its launch (compared to Snapchat’s 166 million daily active users during the same time frame). Gen Z is particularly drawn to the platform as a creative outlet for compelling photography and engaging video.
Putting the Pieces Together
Finding the right platform is only half the battle: The next step is implementing a strategy to make authentic connections with Gen Z. These three tips can help you build an audience among this soon-to-be dominant consumer group.
- Get on their level.
As we can see from their favorite mediums — Snapchat, YouTube, and Instagram — Gen Zers prefer content that’s short and democratized. Gen Z consumers are much more likely to respond to content produced by their peers than an advertisement that interrupts their online experience. It’s why influencer marketing works so well with this group. Snapchat geofilters are a great example of a participatory way consumers and brands can authentically engage with each other. Additionally, consider collaborating with microinfluencers to create engaging content that speaks directly to your audience.
- Appeal to their strong value system.
Every generation wants to engage with brands that understand its values, but what worked for previous generations won’t necessarily work with Gen Z. As a marketer, you should immerse yourself in Gen Z culture. Gen Z consumers are looking for socially responsible brands that share their worldview, especially on issues of racial, gender, and income inequality. Above all, members of this generation are looking for real people telling real stories that resonate with their own lives and values.
- Go mobile or go home.
If you’re going to connect with Gen Z, you’re going to have to go mobile. According to the National Retail Federation, a whopping 74 percent of Gen Zers spend free time online, and around the same proportion prefer navigating the web on their mobile device. But be careful; a bad mobile experience can instantly sour a potential customer. Almost 25 percent of users abandon mobile apps after just one visit, according to research from Localytics, which tells us that users have high standards for their mobile experience.
Gen Z already makes up a quarter of the U.S. population, and by 2020, Gen Zers will make up 40 percent of all consumers. Brands can’t afford to focus all their marketing efforts on Millennials anymore. If you ignore Gen Z consumers now — if you fail to understand their motivations and behaviors — you risk losing them for good.