The Marketers' Nightmare: How to Sell to Gen Z
Updated: Aug 29
In an increasingly digital world, how can brands stay relevant with a generation that's continuously resistant to traditional marketing? What is the secret to Gen Z marketing?
To say we live in a digital age seems rather obvious. The internet and social media have come a long way: from the early days of online chat forums, to 3.2 billion people around the world now owning a social media account. Nobody can deny the importance and influence it has on society.
As a result, it’s no surprise that businesses are utilising the internet for marketing purposes. The digital marketing world has exploded since first emerging in the 1990s, with clickable banners (that by today’s visual standards, would make you cringe) used on search pages. The internet has allowed us access to an amount of data and information never before imaginable. Because of this, in order to stand out, you can’t continue using the boring and bland designs traditionally found in print-based mediums.
Today, the ‘digital’ in digital marketing is essentially pointless. Digital marketing is integral to modern marketing as a whole. Truth be told, marketers who aren’t digitally competent in today’s world are… well, they don’t exist. In order to be successful, marketers have to be tech-savvy and familiar with the internet and its various social media channels.
So, why is appealing and selling to those most experienced with technology and the internet proving to be marketers’ greatest challenge? Why can’t marketers get through to Gen Z?
For those unfamiliar, Generation Z are the youths of the world, here to take the place previously owned by Millennials. There are disputes about what constitutes a member of Gen Z, but it is generally considered to be those born between 1995 and 2010.
The oldest of Gen Z are now graduating from higher education and finding themselves beginning their journey on the career ladder. While the youngest are still a few years off from high school. Regardless of age, what unites Gen Z is their shared experience of growing up in an ever advancing technological and digital world.
For most of Gen Z, their entire life has been surrounded by technology: they’ve watched it grow, and grown with it. Constituting 33% of the world’s population, Gen Z have outnumbered their older siblings, the Millennials, in 2019. While large, it is easy to say that such a young demographic isn’t yet a necessary point of focus for businesses. However, Generation Z has an annual purchasing power of $44 billion.
Couple that with the generation’s love for the internet, they should surely make the ideal consumer for marketers? There is only one problem - Gen Z despise traditional marketing tactics. They don’t wish to be persuaded through outdated selling techniques; they want to act on their own accord because it is what they decided to do.
So, stop trying to use the same marketing methods that you’ve idly used your entire career. Marketers have to change and adapt in order to survive. A new generation of consumers requires a new generation of marketing. It’s time for you to learn who Gen Z are, and what they really want. And who better to teach you than an actual Gen Z-er?
Stop Selling a Product. Start Selling a Lifestyle
First of all, Gen Z doesn't really care about how good your product is. They don’t care about it’s amazing, state of the art features. All of that means nothing to them. What they care about is the experience you offer - what does your product do for them? Gen Z are the perfect embodiment of ‘what’s in it for me?’ (WIIFM) customers. They aren’t interested in the product itself. They’re interested in the distinguishable lifestyle your product offers them.
Practically raised on social media, coming into contact with millions of users on a daily basis, Gen Z are desperate to stand out and express their individuality. If you want to appeal to these consumers, you have to market to them as an individual, not a collective audience. They have to feel like your product is tailored just for them. Promote products to them based on what they have already purchased or saved from your website and emphasise that these products have been curated uniquely for them, making them feel valued by your business.
Gen Z don’t want to hear about all the fancy features your product boasts - that doesn't mean anything to them. You have to tell them what your product offers them, why should they buy it? How are you any different from your competitors, that offer the same features with their product? Well, that’s easy - you offer your customers an experience that is unique to your brand and your brand only. A lifestyle.
And while the notion of marketing a brand and product as a lifestyle isn't necessarily new, it has become crucial in order to reach Gen Z.
Stop selling the same old products consumers have seen time and time again. Instead, start selling what your product means to people and the feelings it’s meant to invoke. Identify and portray the kind of person your product is for in your marketing campaigns. Use words and images tactically to say more with less. Paint a picture for your consumers that creates the lifestyle they aspire to and identify with.
It doesn’t matter what you are selling, you can always market an experience from it. The focus isn’t on your product, it’s on the experience and lifestyle you can offer your consumers.
In an Age of Filters and Fakery, Be Authentic
It’s hardly a secret that social media is embedded into Gen Z. But, the movement towards a society that’s increasingly active on social media perhaps poses the greatest challenge for marketers, as it forces them to rethink their entire process of creating content.
Gen Z, a generation that’s grown and evolved alongside technology and social media, are far more aware of when they are subject to manipulative marketing than previous generations give them credit for. Traditional methods and target advertisements aren’t going to cut it for Gen Z. In fact, only 32% of the tech-savvy youth say they trust the targeted ads they see on social media.
Spending 10+ hours a day online, in some cases, Gen Z are exposed to an unprecedented amount of digitised content every day. And with social media being Gen Z’s preferred channel for engaging with brands, it’s no wonder that the businesses marketing successfully on platforms are seeing great results.
But it’s not just businesses that are appealing to Gen Z and growing online. Social media ‘influencers’ have begun emerging on platforms like Instagram and TikTok.
These are everyday people who’ve amassed huge followings on social media and Gen Z LOVE them! 63% of Gen Z consumers say that they prefer to see ‘real people’, such as influencers, in advertisements. Almost twice as much as Millennials (so if you can get an influencer on board with your brand, DO NOT underestimate their… well, influence).
Growing up on the internet, they have become impervious to blatant advertisements and campaigns. Gen Z prefer seeing these influencers in ads because they love the authenticity - it is a breath of fresh air to the marketing methods that have been forced in their face for years.
While Instagram is widely known, TikTok is still a relatively new, but increasingly popular, platform. TikTok, for those who don’t know, is a video sharing platform where users record videos of themselves to popular music or audio clips created by other users or themselves. Because of this, traditional hard sales marketing techniques fail to get the likes and engagement necessary to become popular and trending. Instead, businesses who want to succeed have to generate content that users actually want (crazy, I know).
And nowhere is Gen Z’s love for authenticity more prevalent than on TikTok. The kind of visual content produced on the platform is extremely effective with Gen Z as, in order to attract them, you have to grab their attention - and visuals are the best way to do that. But, this method also means brands are able to show their human side that’s not often seen, offering a level of authenticity to consumers never witnessed before.
What’s more, brands that create light-hearted and funny content, which is popular on TikTok, are received extremely positively by Gen Z. The formalities are left at the door. We don’t want to see a business that takes themselves so seriously; we want to see brands we can relate to.
The Washington Post is an excellent example of effective TikTok marketing. Their content is a mixture of recreating popular trends, casual news updates and funny behind the scenes (BTS) clips from their offices. And with a following of over 570,000 and a total of 24.6 million likes, they are clearly doing something right.
Don’t be afraid to drop the serious and formal face of your brand on social media. You don’t even have to talk about your product. You just need to make your audience laugh and encourage them to engage through commenting and sharing your content, not because you told them to, but because they genuinely want to.
Gen Z are increasingly involved in various social activism; over two thirds say that “doing their part to make the world a better place is important to them”. As a result, the values brands hold are incredibly influential on their spending behaviours and deciding who they will purchase from.
When it comes to values, sustainability is undoubtedly one of the most important. Gen Z tend to be much more environmentally conscious than previous generations, with 62% saying they’d prefer to buy from a brand that practices ‘sustainable retail’. Furthermore, over half of Gen Z consumers are prepared to pay 10% more for sustainable products. While it is easy to just say all of this in a survey, the success of sustainable oriented brands with Gen Z consumers shows they are practicing what they preach.
Understanding the values of Gen Z is great for helping your business with the earlier point made about selling a lifestyle - to many of this generation, things like sustainability are a lifestyle that they subscribe to. Consider fashion, for example: successful brands are actively pursuing greener and more efficient materials and methods for manufacturing their products because they know the younger generation are drawn to this.
If your brand is operating ethically or sustainably, then capitalising on that can attract huge numbers of Gen Z consumers to your business. Many brands partner with charities and agree that for every purchase made to them, a certain percent goes to that charity, or they will do something that helps that charity’s goal, such as plant a tree. Don’t be afraid to promote your brand and the good that it’s doing. It not only helps you gain customers, but also supports sustainable projects and causes.
Gen Z poses great challenges to the traditional marketing strategies of businesses. However, they also offer exciting new possibilities and avenues for brands to pursue.
The growing popularity and importance of social media allows small businesses and startups, who know exactly what Gen Z wants, an ability to flourish never before available to them. If you want your business to appeal to Gen Z, you need to understand that you are marketing towards a very different generation.
Gen Z wants to engage with brands that sell them more than a product. They need that product (and brand) to convey certain emotions and a specific lifestyle that they want to espouse. Take a moment to stop and reflect on what you want your product to mean to consumers.
If you want your business to appeal to Gen Z you need to be transparent and authentic with them. Show your funny side online and prove to them that you’re not just another faceless company here to take their money.
And lastly, promote your values to Gen Z. If they share your values they’re far more likely to trust and engage with your business.
Brands that understand Gen Z know that they can’t just continue using the same old techniques with the hopes that consumer behaviours revert back to how they used to be. Gen Z are the future, don’t fight them, embrace them. What are you waiting for?
Pssst… Looking for some good examples of promising new sustainable businesses? Check out our blog for weekly updates and features of brands we think are promoting values that really matter.