You’ve heard of millennials, but there’s a new generational cohort rapidly coming of age: Generation Z.
Most define Gen Z as those born after 1995, but some draw the line as early as 1993 or as late as 2000. We make up about a quarter of the United States population, and by 2020 that fraction will rise to a third. Already, Gen Z contributes $44 billion to the US economy. To put it plainly, you can’t afford to ignore us in your marketing efforts. You also can’t lump Gen Z with millennials and expect to succeed. I sit right at the border between millennial and Gen Z, so I can provide some insight into the ways these groups are similar―and the ways we really aren’t.
So, what are the most important ways to reach Generation Z?
1. Be authentic.
Gen Z recognizes advertising a mile away, even more efficiently than our millennial predecessors. We regularly filter out content that registers as an ad, so traditional advertising copy is wasted on us. We all know it’s an ad―why appear disingenuous by pretending otherwise?
The deeper issue at work here is one of authenticity―to Gen Z, most advertising reads like wild claims with little basis in reality. Stock phrases like “best value,” “preferred over competitors,” and the old standby “new and improved” mean nothing to Gen Z (an actual conversation I’ve had with more than one friend: How can something be both “new” and “improved”? Doesn’t it have to be old to have been improved upon?). We are a generation of realists and pragmatists who prefer the truth over an image of perfection. After all, we can and do fact-check online.
This fact-checking urge comes from one of Gen Z’s biggest differences from millennials: our aversion to risk. Where millennials are searching for the next thing, Gen Z-ers grew up during turbulent times and want stability. Reach us by emphasizing the concrete benefits you offer and the ways that you mitigate costs or risks.
2. Engage immediately.
Researchers love to talk about Gen Z’s “8-second attention span,” but I’d phrase it differently―eight seconds is how much time you have to show me that your content is worth paying attention to. With just a quick scan, I need to know why I should care. After all, my phone (or tablet, or computer) is always right at hand, with the limitless possibilities of the Internet to contend with.
Studies have shown that Gen Z is coded to respond to images, so make sure that you include them and that they’re polished, unique, and relevant to your message. Mock Instagram all you want, but it’s given my generation a discerning eye for graphics. Highlight the most important information in a sidebar or call-out with eye-catching fonts and colors. Your goal is to tell the story of your product succinctly and compellingly, and generations long before Z have said an image is worth a thousand words.
3. Make connections.
Authenticity and focused messaging is all well and good, but you also need to meet Gen Z where we live: online. Gen Z spends more time on social media than even millennials do, making an active online presence essential. And “active” doesn’t only mean posting frequently―it means updating your pages’ style and content to stay current. Gen Z grew up curating our own social media profiles to exacting standards, and harshly judge brands that fail to do the same.
Your online presence needs to be more than a 140-character ad-generator to impress Gen Z (and really, look into Instagram and Snapchat—Gen Z prefers them over Twitter and Facebook). We want to make a difference in the world, and seek out brands that are similarly engaged. Rather than simply talking about your products, highlight the values behind your brand and how you work to live up to them.
Keeping these ideas in mind will help you craft the kind of genuine message that resonates with Gen Z. And lest you think direct mail has no place in advertising to Gen Z, think again―a physical letter can provide the authenticity we crave and a carefully designed mailpiece delivers a focused message. Recognizing a brand name from a letter might be the hook that catches your potential Gen Z customer’s attention in a sea of online ads and emails.
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