Express Yourself — 3 Tips For Marketing to Generation Z

For the generation that’s never known a world without the internet, terrorism, global warming, and social media, Generation-Z’s challenge isn’t one of turning things on: it’s one of turning off. They want to disconnect, disband, and be authentically themselves IRL (in real life).

This desire manifests in the clothes they wear, the brands they patronize, and the apps they use. Gen-Zers, born roughly between the years 1995 and 2012, struggle to be unique in a world where everything is seemingly unique. Brands that can help them stand out as they enter college and take the torch from millennials will earn the enduring trust of this now 60-million-strong consumer base.

Here are three ways that brands can help connect with this up-and-coming demographic.

1. Attract them with a good cause

For Gen-Zers, it’s all about who you know and follow. They choose idols who share their beliefs and are working on causes that they support. The idle rich debutante celebrities of the early 2000’s may still be popular, but according to a recent report on Gen-Z by Think with Google, they’re being replaced by actors, activists, and executives who stand for a cause.

For example, Stephen Curry, perhaps the most popular basketball player of today, is known for his underdog story and for standing for family values, according to USA Today. Emma Watson, an actress turned United Nations ambassador for women, is an outspoken advocate of equality. Brands and celebrities with a philanthropic purpose are seen as cool or “woke,” meaning socially aware.

Brands who want to attract Gen-Zers and earn their trust must find similar causes to stand behind. Microsoft, for example, champions gender equality in tech with its Girls Who Code campaign. Patagonia supports the environment with its Fundraiser for the Earth, and the Arby’s Foundation donates food to end childhood hunger.

2. Encourage customization

Gen-Z wants to customize everything. Perhaps it’s their easy familiarity with swapping out digital wallpapers and color styles on smartphones, but the mantra of the day is “you do you,” a wry nod to their celebration of individuality. Want gauge earrings? Go for it. Potbelly pig for a pet? Fine. Express yourself purely with bitmojis? Do you.

Fashion looms large among their means of expression, but so does character. In the study by Think with Google, 30% of respondents to the question “what is cool?” replied “shoes,” more than any other category. Yet teens also indicated that confidence is a beautiful thing, and that beauty is more than skin deep.

The lesson for brands? Encourage customization to allow consumers to match their fashion to their personality. Nike is leading this trend and allows consumers to customize their shoes through its portal NIKEiD which features the slogan, “by you.”

3. Earn their attention by teaching

Finally, Gen-Z thirsts for knowledge. For them, having information sets them apart. Eclectic interests such as having a side business or learning a foreign language is seen as cool. The Think with Google survey finds the newest generation has a strong affection for books and according to Fast Company, “75% say there are ways of getting a good education besides going to college.” They are largely non-discriminatory learners who value learning for its own sake.

Brands who want to engage with this generation should switch from announcing to educating. Rather than e-blasting offers and coupons, provide them with resources that deepen their knowledge. Arm them with social proof to impress their friends. Everyone likes to be the informed person with trivia to share with the group, and your brand’s message will come along for the ride.

Sephora, a beauty brand, does an impressive job of this. Rather than run traditional ads, it focuses heavily on makeup tutorials on YouTube, where it educates consumers on products in a way that’s highly shareable. They’ve amassed nearly 800,000 followers there.

As Gen-Z strives to celebrate individuality, brands that can position themselves as strategic partners in cause-based consumption, customization, and information sharing can win this consumer group. How will yours adapt to meet this challenge?

Where are college students spending their money online? Find out in this free infographic. 

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Where are college students spending their money online? Find out in this free infographic.