4 Ways to Connect With Gen Z

If you're still trying to figure out what makes millennials tick, it's time to move on

Written by Wayne S. Roberts

Has the subject of marketing to millennial’s caused your eyes to glaze over as you try to decipher their purchasing habits and online behaviour in social media? Move on. The market you should be focusing on is Gen Z.

There are key characteristics to keep in mind about this emerging consumer group, essentially youngsters and teenagers born later after 1996, all of whom are currently 19 or younger. They are estimated to make up about 25% of the North American population, so this is not an insignificant segment like, for example, one-armed circus jugglers.

Gen Z has grown up with full access to the Internet and mobile technology, as well as social media. They’re online natives who, even now, are likely peering endlessly into their phone screens as they roll around in their strollers, on their skateboards or in mom’s minivan. You may not be reaching out to this group of consumers today, but you will be soon enough. And when you do, there are several things you’ll want to keep in mind.

Keep Your Messaging Short and Sweet

Getting Gen Z’s attention and keeping it will be tough. They have the attention span of a gnat. If your mobile platform and supporting social media efforts are currently lame, you will remain invisible to these kids. That’s because Gen Z is already the most socially active group marketers have yet to encounter:

  • 81% of them are active on social media
  • 93% say they visit YouTube at least once a week
  • 54%  visit the site multiple times throughout the day
  • 26% use Twitter and Google+ daily.
  • One in six use Instagram (17%) on a weekly basis

In this kind of “real time” brand communication landscape, you’ll want to focus on creating shorter forms of content—text, image or video—that is created and tailored to work well on each social platform. And designed to generate reaction, right NOW!

You won’t find them on Facebook (try Snapchat)

Instead focus your efforts on YouTube (they like moving pictures) and Snapchat, the easy to use photo messaging platform that allows users to distribute ephemeral, self-destructing photos and videos to a controlled list of recipients). It’s sort of Facebook but far more geared to mobile. Again, your interactions are short, sweet and easy to keep handy.

A recent iMedia Connection case study showed how Supreme Clothing has leveraged the habits of Gen Z to enhance its market appeal. The retailer promotes one-day, limited edition events—”snap sales”— through Snapchat, that often result in line-ups around the block at its stores in New York, Los Angeles and Tokyo.

The powerful concept at work could be called “insiders first,” which means the most connected and motivated members of Supremes’s brand community get breaking news they want (and can act on) before those not so well-connected.

From our own experience at Blade, we know the power of mastering social media channels to grow brand communities among Gen Zers. We re-built the Benzagel acne medication brand exclusively using social media. When we took over the brand several years ago, it was on the verge of being de-listed by the major pharma retailers. Today, it is a growing, multimillion-dollar brand in an otherwise flat category. It thrives on Facebook where we deploy contests, enlist celebrity bloggers and provide on-going support and dialogue opportunities for teens who are struggling with acne.

Empower Gen Z to Do It Themselves

These kids want help to do things themselves with relevant, actionable information that doesn’t just hype your brand. According to New York ad agency Sparks & Honey, 76% of Gen Zeers even want to turn their hobbies into a business.

From how-tos and educational videos (a third of them regularly watch online programming), to creating customized online communities that help users accomplish goals collaboratively—the concept of DIY takes on a whole new urgency for Gen Z.

A good current example is Nike’s athletic communities, where users can download a mobile app that helps them improve their workout and compare their performance with friends. Okay, long distance running may not be the best career choice, but it does reflect a commitment from Nike to provide a value-added service that helps young people do more on their own. By comparison Cladwell is an online service that asks users to complete a brief survey and then offers a personalized platform that helps young men dress better. (The site connects users to online retailers; if a user buys something, Cladwell takes a commission on the purchase.)

Don’t Overspend, Invest in Good Content

One other thing to keep in mind is that engaging and motivating Gen Z doesn’t need to be costly. In fact, by balancing traditional media platforms with online campaigns, programs and community building efforts, you can reach these kids, enlist them with quality content and give them reasons to be your brand ambassador.

The key is to keep your messaging and imagery fresh, energized and real. As Marketwired points out, Gen Z is more than twice as likely to respond to advertising that features “real people” as opposed to celebrities; which supports the fact that YouTube is Gen Z’s favourite website. That’s where celebrities are often real people who share experiences with viewers and introduce them to new products. By comparison, Gen Y’s favourite website is Amazon.

So keep it real, keep it relevant and turn down the self-hype when reaching out to Gen Z. The more you hype about you, the less Gen Z will care. Find out what these young buyers care about and how your brand can make a difference to their busy and changing lifestyle.

When you get the mix right, they’ll enlist, engage and stay in your brand community, eagerly looking for your next instalment of relevant, empowering and actionable content. What could be easier, right?

Wayne S. Roberts is principal and chief creative officer of Blade Creative Branding, a firm specializing in strategic branding, creative advertising and innovative online solutions.


Are you ready for Generation Z? Share your strategies and thoughts using the comments section below.

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