There’s a lot to be learned from the student response to the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. We have discovered that this generation (called “Z”) will not be placated with words and promises. They want to see action that follows those words, and they are willing to get involved to get that action. This behavior, and others specific to this generation, will have implications for businesses that intend to have wide appeal.

Until very recently, marketers have been focused almost exclusively on learning how to best reach millennials. We have spent an inordinate amount of time studying them, talking with them, learning what they value, and planning marketing strategies on all that we have come to understand about them — and for good reason: They still have $200 billion in annual buying power.

But, it’s time to move over, millennials. Gen Z is on the horizon and moving fast. While they are still mostly in their teens and below, they are already exercising their buying power. They constitute 26% of the population, and AdWeek predicts they’ll account for “about 40 percent of all consumers by 2020.” Clearly, this will be a consumer demographic to reckon with, if brands are to get a solid market share.

Who Is This New Consumer?

Gen Z behaves a lot like millennials in some respects, but there are important differences that should be considered.

  • They have an abiding concern for social responsibility, causes, and the environment, just as their predecessors, but they take it even further. They will not settle for just talk they want action and proof. After the school shooting, these kids organized, and they have demanded action, so much so that a largely gun-friendly Florida legislature and governor recently passed and signed into law a gun-control bill that no one thought possible. They understand that they have power and they are willing to use it.
  • They are far less concerned with race, gender identity, and cultural differences and care more about fairness and equality.
  • The majority want to be entrepreneurs, in charge of their own futures rather than dependent upon an employer.
  • They are not as wedded to Facebook as are older generations; they prefer YouTube, Instagram and the like instead.
  • Millennials tend to prefer experiences over products. Gen Z likes experiences, especially gaming, but they like cool products just as much and are willing to spend money on them. They also shop more offline than millennials.
  • Like millennials, they have little patience when searching online for information or products.
  • Those who intend to work for employers look to start working in their fields early. They pursue internships and volunteering in their projected niches.
  • Like millennials, they have no patience for hard sells and will avoid online places where they are likely to see a lot of ads.
  • With an eight-second attention span, they will abandon sites that do not load quickly, avoid content with walls of text to read, and they prefer video to any other visual or textual form of content.
  • Like millennials, they want relationships with companies they choose to do business with and want to know the people behind the scenes.
  • They follow and listen to micro-influencers, especially on YouTube and Instagram.

What This Means for Marketing Strategies

There is still much more to learn about Gen Z, but at this point, here are some strategies that will be important:

Don’t Go for the Hard Sell

Do not plan to advertise your products or services directly to Gen Z young people. They are far more interested in your ability to relate to them. You need to research this population. Where are they on social media? What types of posts are most popular with them? Who are they following? One way to do this is to enlist some older members of this generation to help you. Learn their language and begin to create posts that speak directly to them. You can introduce your products or services after you have their attention by showing you understand them.Focus on Humor, Visuals, Video and Even AR (Augmented Reality) and VR (Virtual Reality), If Appropriate

This is a generation that has a short attention span, just like older millennials. If you can “show” rather than “tell,” they will respond. Consider this: They can spend hours gaming, but they will not spend much time reading your walls of text that extol what you are selling. They get enough reading in school.

Let Them See You as a Person

Who are you behind the scenes of your business? Do you have a family? Do you have pets? What activities do you and your team participate in? What does your team look like? What community activities does your team participate in? Tell your stories through images, rather than words. All of these things can be posted on social media sites they frequent. As a brand, this makes you more relatable.

Enlist Micro-Influencers

You will find these “celebrities” on Instagram, YouTube and Vine. They are followed by Gen Z who do respond to their recommendations. If you can enlist micro-influencers, they can spread your brand across a wide audience.

Be Casual

Gen Z is turned off by overly produced and formal content text or visual. It seems fake to them. They want to see your company, your team, and your products/services as genuine. Gen Z wants to experience a brand through its stories, through its sustainability efforts, and through its responsibility in its operations.

Involve Gen Z in Your Business Outreach

Connect with some members of this demographic. Bring them into your business, show them around, provide them free products or services. Many are interested in connecting with a worthwhile company and can become online brand ambassadors. They like to build their own personal brands and, if they see that happening through a relationship with you, they will grab the chance.

Quality Is Important

As mentioned earlier, Gen Z is more focused on cool products as opposed to the millennial focus on experiences, but there is still a catch. This generation has grown up with the internet and multiple devices, and they know how to conduct solid research. They will conduct deep research on products and services and see what their peers have to say before they will ever place an order for purchase. A cool product that does not pass the quality test will be shunned.

Be a Little Weird

If you become familiar with the micro-influencers that Gen Z follows, especially on Instagram, YouTube and Vine, you will get a good idea of the content they prefer. Check out celebrities such as Broom Broom Girl, Chris Melberger, or Electrolemon on Vine or Jerome Jarre, Lele Pons, or Hannah Stocking on Instagram. You’ll get a good feel for Gen Z humor, and you can use what you learn as you create posts and form connections with this generation.

Here are some examples from an online writing service, Essay Assistant. They are appealing to what they know will attract a Gen Z audience. They are using a wildly popular animated series (Rick and Morty) and little-known holidays to incorporate humor rather than an annoying sales job.

The Full Story Is Not Yet Known

We do not yet have a full picture of Gen Z. We are still researching and evaluating what will connect with this demographic.

We know that they have many of the same values as millennials, especially in their demand that companies exhibit sustainability and social responsibility. But Gen Z wants the proof to a much greater extent than millennials.

We know that humor and entertainment are big factors in connecting with others and that weird humor is especially attractive.

We also know that this generation is focused on things more than experiences, is more realistic in its view of the present and future, and is fully committed to diversity, equality and fairness. This alone should inform companies that they, too, must focus on diversity in their marketing content.

But it will take a few more years to develop a deeper picture of this next generation of consumers. Companies that want to get their market share will need to keep listening and their eyes clearly focused on the behaviors of this population.

About Pat Fredshaw
Pat Fredshaw is a passionate contributing blogger and content strategist at Essay Assistant. She has long-term experience in writing articles based on blogging, marketing, SEO and education.