Generation Z are youths born between the mid-90s and the early 2010s, and are not, despite your brain desperately trying to make the connection, a horde of zombies.
They do, however, know the internet far better than most of the marketers out there who are using it to sell things.
As a result, many attempts to get the attention of Gen Z have fallen flat and been mocked by the young customers who see through the facade.
But since they will make up the largest block of consumers as early as 2026, you need to find a way to reach them.
So, what should a savvy non-Gen Z marketer know if they want to hook these young consumers? Luckily, like every generation, some trends epitomize what Gen Z is looking for.
They want authenticity before all else
They can smell insincerity, and they will destroy it.
The younger generations know how to dig for information and when a brand tells even the smallest of fibs they will find out and shame you faster than you can Google “barefoot running shoes”.
Because of this, your brand should focus on developing good intentions from the get-go, treating employees (and freelancers) fairly, and doing right by your community.
Get this right, and Gen Z will see them as one of their own. Just a friendly company trying to do the right thing.
Authenticity can also be achieved by using less-polished marketing techniques. Invitee customers to record rough-and-ready testimonials on their smartphones and take away the gloss and filters so the audience will believe it is more “real” and thus more trustworthy.
They love social media-friendly challenges or products
Right now, it’s TikTok and Instagram, but there will always be a new social media platform that young people find first.
Give them inspiration for content they can share through interesting challenges or products that provide humorous results. The makers of Cheetos were particularly clever when they created a Cheeto dust (also known as “Cheetle”) filter for TikTok users. Those Gen Z users flocked to show followers their orange hands.
Free marketing and a sense that their brand understood the youth helped Cheeto bags fly off the shelves.
They want to feel like they are making a difference
Gen Z grew up in the shadow of a recession and a never-ending war.
They probably watched their parents, or their friend’s parents, lose everything.
They’ve seen the Earth on fire and have yet to know a year that hasn’t been called, “The hottest on record.”
They’ve had access to camera phones which gave them the power to share their lives and see the stories of others outside their circle. Social justice exists because what was once hidden has come into the light.
Now they are fighting hard to make the world a more just place. You have to show that, as a brand, you care about the good fight and are willing to stand on the right side of history.
This is not the time to be silent. History, and Gen Z, is watching. Their wallets are reflections of their hearts and they spend only on companies whose message aligns with their own.
The want companies to speak in their visual language
It’s been bemoaned that the young generation doesn’t know how to write in cursive. This might be true. But their new language is far more useful and easier to learn than beautiful handwriting.
If you go onto Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, or any other social media site you will be inundated with GIFs, memes, and creative restructuring of letters to form an image.
As rich as hieroglyphs, their image-based language conveys thousands of messages with a single cat doing an eye-roll.
There is a universality to a meme. Words can be misconstrued. This generation might freeze when typing long letters. But they know how to use the perfect image from The Office to represent their discontent with local school boards.
If you want to connect to this visual generation invest time in keeping up with what is hot in pop culture. Actively collect popular GIFs to use for your own marketing. Look to SparkNotes, who have taken on this practice far earlier than most companies.
Show you are there to help them invest in themselves
The perfectly curated image of the influencer and self-made billionaire is fading; social justice and anti-capitalist messaging is the order of the day. And yet Gen Z still has a strong desire to be in charge of themselves.
Many of them get jobs while young and are already more fiscally responsible than both Millennials (born between early 80s and early 2000s) and Gen X (born between 1965 and 1980). They saw how the financial systems run amok doomed those generations to endless debt. As a result, Gen Z wants to be self-sufficient.
These are not kids that want dead-end, soulless jobs. They might work at a bar to make ends meet for a bit, but their dream is to own a business of their own and to be their own boss.
If your marketing can convey that you will help foster that independence then you have a great chance of getting their attention.
That could mean offering something of lasting value. Or something that will benefit their minds or bodies for the better.
Show that you are invested in them and their goals, then they will invest in you.
Like every generation, this new demographic is not a monolith. But from the research, you can bet that the majority are smart, tech-savvy, entrepreneurial, socially conscious, and straightforward individuals who are looking to support companies that promise to make the world a better place.