The following article was the last assignment for our Summer 2018 marketing intern, Erin McGinnis, before she finished her internship to continue her studies at UW-Madison.
After writing September’s millennial/Gen Z blog, I went online to find a definitive answer about which generation I belong to (as someone born in 1996, I’m usually in the gray area between millennials and Generation Z). My first search told me a millennial is a person who reached young adulthood around the year 2000, so I am Gen Z (1995 or later). Business Insider disagreed; millennials are 1981–1996… I’m a millennial? Then I checked the Telegraph… which told me I am a millennial (1980–2000), but then described Malala, who was born in 1997, as the quintessential Gen Z.
After a couple more frustrating attempts to figure it out, I realized this could be a sign. Like seniors and incoming freshmen in school, older generations usually don’t welcome the inevitable rise of young people and the new societal trends they bring. Today’s younger generations are labeled with headlines like “Millennials: The Me Me Me Generation” or “Millennials Are Over. It’s Gen Z’s Turn to Ruin Everything” (you can see why I love being identified as both), but is the gap between the millennials and Gen Z even significant?
Does the Distinction Matter?
As we grow up, marketers can’t help but try to predict what our consumer inclinations will be at each step of our lives. However, they need to be careful not to just haphazardly pull together new technology, decreasing attention spans, and a growing number of social media platforms to define emerging trends, because both generations expect personalized content and will be alienated if the messaging they receive is too generic. In discussions on how to market to these generations, the differences between millennials and Gen Z are usually emphasized—age, habits, and demographics tend to dominate both millennial and Gen Z marketing strategies. Brands are told they can either focus on appealing to millennials, or give up and focus on Gen Z (they’ll be 40% of all consumers by 2020, anyway).
As someone who’s already bridging the gap between millennials and Gen Z, I can personally tell you developing a direct marketing strategy that focuses on the differences between the two is no longer significant. The distinction between those who grew up with an iPhone and who didn’t is no longer significant because we all have them now. We’re all watching technology develop and we’re all experimenting with new innovations and platforms together. Instead of obsessing over specific trends, the ways we market to these incoming generations should focus on how their members view themselves. Ultimately, marketers are going to be selling to how the consumers perceive themselves. Want to know what makes us tick? It’s as easy as asking us.
With so many platforms and so many voices, the solution to any marketing problem is to listen. Consumers can share their thoughts and feelings about a brand with companies and other consumers more easily than ever before. There are so many places to collect responses and information from users, especially with social media and other online posting sites, so use them to your advantage.
Advertise in a classic sense, but with an innovative twist. Do what consumers tell you they want you to do. Think about how your brand makes these generations feel about themselves. Get consumers involved in both your millennial and Gen Z marketing strategies—take advantage of their input and come up with cool, new things that they can share on every platform with friends, family, and others.
Bridge the Gap Between Millennial and Generation Z Marketing Strategies
Our most consistent trend might be that there is actually no trend, only the continued search for convenience and access instead of ownership. Younger generations are renting homes, cars, and services more than ever before. Marketers need to understand that millennials and Gen Z aren’t always looking for permanent solutions—instead, flexibility is key. Digital and social media platforms give us the ability to communicate with brands and organizations, blending the line between producer and consumer. An example is the recent war on plastic straws. With social media giving people a louder voice, the desires of the consumer become harder to ignore.
In a world that continues to group and categorize us by age, income, education, or career, maybe it’s time to focus on what makes us similar instead of what makes us different.
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