Engaging with Generation Z in the Age of Information

Engaging with Generation Z Header

As the first digital-native generation, millennials led the way when it came to having multiple social media platforms, using more than one screen at once, and prioritizing authentic marketing. Generation Z is taking these trends to the next level. How do Gen Z-ers compare to millennials, and how can you optimize your marketing to reach them? Here’s everything you need to know.

Who Is Gen Z?

First came Gen X, then millennials, and now all marketers seem to be talking about is Generation Z. But who are they? The optics are actually a little blurry when you start looking at different sources. Most (but not all) agree they were born in 1995 or later. This makes them 23 or younger by some accounts, though in 2017, Deep Patel writing for Forbes places their age between 11 and 18 — making them roughly 19 and younger these days. What’s important to understand is they’re the first generation to be comprised entirely of digital natives. Some millennials, after all, still recall a time before every household had a personal computer. What’s more, they’re going to be extremely influential: Josh Perlstein, writing for AdWeek, reports that they will comprise 40% of all consumers by 2020.

Plummeting Attention Spans

The average human attention span was 8 seconds in 2017, down 33% from 2000. Why are attention spans dropping so fast? Because the youngest generations are multitasking more than ever. Whereas millennials earned the fame of using 3 screens at a time, that’s nothing for Gen Z, who according to Patel juggle 5 screens simultaneously on average. This makes appealing visual content, which can reach their brains 60,000 times faster than text, is all the more important for reaching this generation.

Optimize for Each Platform

If Gen Z is comfortable juggling 5 screens, they’re definitely comfortable juggling multiple platforms. While 75% say they prefer Snapchat for staying informed and feeling connected to the world, in the end, Gen Z uses different platforms for different reasons. As Lauryn Chamberlain explains in GeoMarketing, “On Instagram, they showcase their aspirational selves; on Snapchat, they share real-life moments; on Twitter, they get the news; and on Facebook, they glean information”

So if you want to reach this generation of consumers, you’ll want to create materials optimized for each platform’s preferred purpose(s). Selling a self-improvement product? Reach them on Instagram. Showing your brand’s human side? Try Snapchat. Riding the wave of a recent news story? Try Twitter. Sharing a long-form motion graphic? Facebook it is. Certainly, some of these materials can be shared across platforms with minimal changes, but most visual campaigns will incorporate multiple assets, each platform-specific. All of this effort is worth it: more than 80% of Gen Z-ers are influenced by social media in their marketing decisions, compared to 74% of millennials, according to Michael Mothner, writing for TotalRetail. Create something truly shareable, and you may have a hit on your hands.

Authenticity above All

Generation Z Youtube Statistic

The desire for authenticity in marketing began with millennials and is even stronger with Gen Z. That’s probably why younger consumers prefer influencer marketing. As Perlstein explains, Generation Z is attracted to the stories of real people, especially teens their age. “70% of teen YouTube subscribers see their favorite YouTube influencers as more relatable than traditional celebrities,” Patel points out. This could also point to why more Gen Z-ers are making purchases in person. Just 49% make online purchases compared to 74% of millennials.

In short, the traditional routes that encourage brand loyalty may not be enough. Just 30% of Gen Z-ers like loyalty programs compared to 45% of millennials, Patel reports. Gen Z-ers just don’t enjoy interacting with brands as they do with charismatic individuals. Influencer marketing, then, is the way of the future.

A Socially Conscious Generation

Perlstein characterizes Generation Z as socially conscious and ambitious. The social consciousness may derive in part from growing up during the age of terrorism, as well as witnessing and participating in such grassroots, social media–driven movements as Black Lives Matters. Their ambition, meanwhile, may come from growing up during the financial hardships of the Great Recession.

The most effective marketing campaigns, then, will appeal to Generation Z’s desire for social responsibility, Perlstein concludes. One example of such a campaign is the #LikeAGirl videos produced by Always, a feminine product company. The videos were empowering, and sought to undermine traditional gender stereotypes by challenging the idea that doing something “like a girl” is an insult. Consumers responded big-time. According to Mothner, the campaign accumulated almost 65 million YouTube views.  

Video Is a Favorite

Generation Z video statistic

Of course, the fact that the Always campaign was delivered in video form also helped. Chamberlain reports that Gen Z-ers watch an astonishing 68 videos per day. Jim Ninivaggi of Brainshark sums up their technological preferences and offers some predictions: “Gen Z never uses voicemail and prefers text to email. They also are the YouTube/Netflix/Reddit generation — consuming quick one- to three-minute videos on their phones. If you want to engage them throughout the sales process, video should be your medium of choice. Sales organizations will be adding video-building capabilities to their toolkits, arming their sellers to better engage Gen Z buyers.

Interactive Is Another Favorite

Generation Z wants to “help produce or create the message,” Perlstein explains. This is partly why individualized messaging is more effective with them. Interactive content simply keeps viewers on the page longer by engaging them in an activity. It also results in more cognitive absorption of the information on a page and a more positive assessment of that page.

Gen Z-ers are ready and willing to interact. Forbes reported in 2017 that “42 percent would participate in an online game for a campaign and 43 percent would participate in a product review.” Interactive shopping experiences such as the one employed by 1-800-Flowers.com also tend to guide viewers farther down the conversion funnel. GWYN, a type of digital personal shopper, helps people find what they need (say, a birthday gift for Grandma) based on a quick series of questions. Almost half of Gen Z-ers say that finding things quickly is their #1 shopping priority, so this kind of interactive technology may mean the difference between a sale and a bounce.

Generation Z engages with and benefits from visual communication more than any other generation before it, and that spells an opportunity for marketers willing to adapt and grow. Learning to speak Gen Z’s visual language could drive your company’s future success.

Erin McCoy

Author Erin McCoy

Erin McCoy is director of content marketing and public relations at Killer Visual Strategies. She earned her BA in Spanish with minors in French and Russian, and holds 2 master’s degrees from the University of Washington: an MFA in creative writing and an MA in Spanish literature. She has won nearly 2 dozen awards in photojournalism, and has dedicated those skills to boosting Killer’s brand recognition and thought leadership in visual communication. Since Erin took on her marketing/PR role, Killer has been named a member of the Inc. 5000 for 4 years in a row; has been featured in such publications as Inc., Forbes, Mashable, and the Huffington Post; and has been invited to present at such conferences as SXSW and SMX Advanced.

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