COVID-19’s Impact on Millennial and Gen Z Media Habits — And How Marketers Should Pivot

Within a very short period, the way Millennials and Gen Zs buy products and consume media also has changed dramatically. And while many of these shifts — such as the changes to their media habits — can be attributed to the global pandemic, some of them may be here to stay.

Depending on their age and stage of life, the nation’s two youngest generations are getting a first taste of what it’s like to be a remote worker, home-schooling parent, or web-only shopper. Within a very short period, the way Millennials and Gen Zs buy products and consume media also has changed dramatically. And while many of these shifts — such as the changes to their media habits — can be attributed to the global pandemic, some of them may be here to stay.

“When U.S. advertisers pulled back spending dramatically in March, one of the earliest noticeable effects on the display ad market was falling CPMs (the price of 1,000 advertisement impressions on a single webpage),” eMarketer reports. Concurrently, marketers were lowering their demand for ads and consumers were spending more time on social and traditional media properties, thus increasing the supply of impressions.

“Where we’re getting the demand right now is from people who are driving sort of more online conversions, direct response, so it’s not like we’re seeing a shift of reach and frequency dollars to us,” Facebook’s Dave Wehner said in an April earnings call. “I think what we’re seeing is people who are driving the kind of direct response actions taking advantage of low prices.”

Feeling the Impact

With COVID-19 affecting all facets of everyday life, it’s no surprise that marketing is also seeing the dramatic impacts of the pandemic. And while some of the changes simply solidify what was already happening in the market, COVID is definitely adding more fuel to the fire. For example, TikTok has become a household term in a world where just a few months ago the typical parent was unfamiliar with the short-form mobile video platform — a platform that  has become a viable channel for reaching younger consumers. The youngest Gen Zs are likely getting as much socialization as possible on platforms like TikTok and Snapchat, all while binging on Netflix as they wait out the COVID-19 threat and state shutdowns.

The crisis is going to change consumers across all age groups, and no one knows for certain what the total impact will be. What we do know is that the shifts are already starting to happen, as evidenced by the TikTok videos featuring parents and their children dancing together, and the fact that Instagram Stories usage is up 15% since the outbreak. These and other platforms are keeping people connected, and they’re also presenting new opportunities for marketers that need ways to reach their youngest consumers.

TikTok added over 12 million U.S. unique visitors in March, reaching 52.2 million, according to eMarketer. “TikTok has been on a growth spurt for several months, even before the pandemic,” the firm points out, adding that as of October 2019, TikTok’s app and websites had 27 million unique visitors, with the app alone accounting for 18.6 million. “But the month-to-month growth between February and March was particularly notable in comparison with previous monthly gains.”

What Are Gen Z and Millennials Up To?

In surveying Gen Z about its routines, media habits, and lives during the viral outbreak, Brainly found that most are turning to social media to pass the time and stay connected, with Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, and Facebook getting the highest marks from this generation.

Here are other important, COVID-related trends that Hawthorne Advertising has been tracking internally:

  • In terms of social media, Millennials are gravitating toward Instagram and Reddit.
  • There’s also been a big uptick in Twitch usage over the last two months, with live performers among the most active participants on that platform.
  • More Millennials are using YouTube as an information source during the pandemic.
  • Zoom has emerged as the videoconferencing platform of choice for Millennials.
  • Services like Netflix and Amazon Prime are popular “binge” targets for both Gen Zs and Millennials.
  • Fans of Instagram, TikTok, Hulu, and the Amazon Firestick, Gen Zs are receptive to pre-roll ads and other targeted advertising approaches on these platforms.
  • Gen Zs are also using GoToMeeting, Zoom, Houseparty, Facebook Messenger, and FaceTime to stay in touch with friends and family during this period.

In assessing Gen Z and Millennials’ post-quarantine media habits and content consumption, YPulse says Netflix will be their must-watch TV platform of choice, but notes that social media content could begin cannibalizing the time these younger generations spend on streaming services.

“While streaming services are reporting massive numbers of new subscribers, our data indicates that the real winner of quarantine viewing is social media,” YPulse reports, noting that a recent survey found that 48% of 13 to 39-year-olds are watching more videos on social media during quarantine, and 40% are now watching videos weekly or more on Instagram (compared to 34% in November 2019).

Get Ready to Turn on the Dime

For marketers who are trying to wrap their arms around these shifts, the best strategy is to embrace the changes and take careful note of their pace of acceleration.

Understand that when we emerge from this crisis — whenever that occurs — you’re not going to be operating in the same world that was put on pause in early-2020. Marketers also need to consider more targeted and customized messaging, as well as dynamic creative optimization, to maximize the engagement with Millennials and Gen Z audiences.

Consider this: In a recent DoSomething survey, 75% of Gen Zs said the top action they wanted to see from brands was ensuring employee and consumer safety, with 73% wanting brands to protect their employees financially. Brands that share positive messages on social media while failing to support their staff are being noticed, Vogue Business reports. “If you’re not authentic, Gen Zs will be the first to raise a red flag. If you are trying to take advantage of the moment, you will lose them so fast.”

Educate yourself on these changes, test out some new strategies, and strap yourself in. It’s going to be a rollercoaster ride filled with both challenges and opportunities, the latter of which will be most available to the companies that stay flexible and fluid enough to turn on a dime right along with their target audiences.

Tailoring Your Marketing Messages to Gen Y and Gen Z Consumers

Generation Y has been the apple of every marketer’s eye with 73 million strong, and spend a collective of $600 billion annually in the U.S. Now this group has another generation at their heels, Generation Z. And it is crucial for marketers to hone their strategy for communication with both of these generations.

Generation Y, or better known as Millennials, has been the apple of every marketer’s eye with 73 million strong, and spend a collective of $600 billion annually in the U.S. Now this group who is 24 to 39 years in age and a formidable force across all consumer markets, has another generation at their heels, Generation Z. And it is crucial for marketers to hone their strategy for communication with both Gen Y and Gen Z consumers.

As marketers continue developing and refining their Millennial-targeting strategies, they are now shifting their focus to Gen Z. This group of anyone 23 and younger is now coming to financial maturity, and consists of a massive and influential cohort made up of 65 million individuals. According to Gen Z Insights, as of 2020, this generation makes up 40% of all consumers in the U.S.

This youngest generation will soon outnumber the Millennials, and graduate from allowance-based buying power, bringing their own likes, dislikes, and opinions with them. But if there’s one thing that marketers should know about both Gen Y and Gen Z, it’s this: Don’t assume these are just huge, homogeneous groups who will respond to generic marketing messages.

The Millennial who turns 40 next year, for example, will have decidedly different media consumption and buying habits than, say, a 25-year-old who is just beginning to sort out life’s intricacies. Geography, gender, education level, income, and other individual attributes all have to be factored into the equation when targeting these broad, generational segments. Skip this step and you could find yourself wasting money, time, and energy chasing down way too large of a potential customer segment.

Apple, Xerox, and Nike have all found innovative ways to carve out specific niches within the larger context of both Gen Y and Gen Z. According to YPulse’s latest “youth brand tracker,” for example, YouTube, Nike, and Snapchat are the top three “top cool brands” for Gen Z, while Nike, Netflix, and Savage x Fenty claim the top spots for Gen Y.

Let’s dive into exploring generational segments, identifying some incorrect assumptions marketers make when tailoring their messages to Gen Y and Z, and highlighting some of the most effective platforms for getting messaging across to the nation’s two youngest generations.

Effective Platforms for Messaging Gen Y and Gen Z

Here are the main platforms that marketers use to deliver very targeted messages to Gen Y and Gen Z:

Connected TVs and Devices. This includes any TV or device that’s connected to the Internet and allows users to access content beyond what’s being shown on screen at the time. Connected advertising is an extension of the traditional TV buy that complements a brand’s existing presence on a specific platform. The connected nature of this medium allows companies to measure their reach and frequency across all devices, drill down into specific audience segments (i.e., iPhone users between a certain age range) and gain insights across the full customer journey.

Instagram. Not limited to celebrities who upload their well-posed vacation photos to the platform, Instagram’s photo-and video-sharing social network is actively used by nearly three-quarters (73%) of Gen Z adults (ages 18 to 23 years old). This presents a major opportunity for marketers who want to get their products in front of these young consumers, and who start forming bonds and creating brand awareness with these young adults early in their lives.

TikTok. A social media app where Gen Z vies for 15 seconds of fame on the small screen, TikTok is the fastest-growing social media app, with about 500 million regular users. Users post 15-second videos on the app, which is estimated to have been downloaded more than a billion times on app stores. Marketers can use TikTok to create a channel for their brands and then use it to upload relevant, engaging videos. They can also tap into the platform’s large “influencer” base and leverage it to expose their content to a broad, yet well-targeted, audience of Gen Z consumers.

YouTube. This well-established video-sharing platform has 2 billion users who log in on a monthly basis, including the 81% of American 15 to 25 years old. Among 18 to 34 year-olds, the platform is the second most-preferred platform for watching video on TV screens. With people uploading 500 hours of video every minute, the platform is pretty cluttered. Standing out and growing a YouTube channel requires a targeted approach that includes a unique channel name, a good viewing experience across all devices, calls to action (i.e., to subscribe, share videos, etc.), and incorporating the channel into emails, blog posts, and other social media posts to improve its ability to be discovered.

SnapChat. With 51% of Gen Zers viewing their generation as more creative than any of its predecessors, social apps like SnapChat give them the space they need to be creative in the digital world. They use it to create videos, share images, communicate with friends, and share moments throughout their days. Marketers can harness this platform to post their stories, push out user-generated content, and connect with influencers. For example, Taco Bell was an early SnapChat user that leveraged the platform’s storytelling capabilities to spread the word about new products.

Additional Social Media Channels. As a whole, social media has opened the doors for marketers who can creatively use platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr to connect with their audiences, build their brands, drive website traffic, and grow their sales. Because each platform has its own mission, goals, and user base, the companies experiencing the most success on social media are the ones that take the time to segment their audiences and use very specific targeting strategies for those consumers.

The Power of TV and Mail

In the rush to select platforms that they think Gen Y and Z naturally gravitate toward, marketers often overlook the power of TV, direct mail, and other mainstays. They wrongly assume that these channels don’t work with younger audiences, but they shouldn’t be overlooked.

In a world where Nielsen says U.S. consumers spend nearly 12 hours daily across TV, TV-connected devices, radio, computers, smartphones, and tablets, the opportunity to engage the younger generations from different angles definitely exists.

Americans aged 18 to 34 watch a daily average of just under two hours of traditional TV and spend an additional hour per day using apps and the web. Consumers aged 12 to 17 watch about an hour and a half of TV daily. Craving personalized, non-digital experiences, younger generations spend about 9.7 minutes reading mail daily (versus about 8 minutes for both Gen X baby boomers).

These numbers translate into real opportunities for marketers that take the time to segment their audiences versus just lumping them into different generational groups. Where you still need a presence on mass platforms like TikTok and Instagram, for example, the messaging itself must be customized, targeted, and experiential.

Not Just Another Number

Marketers who overlook traditional platforms just because they assume Gen Z or Gen Y can only be reached on pure digital platforms are setting themselves up for failure. That’s because both generations are obviously still digesting video content, movies, and TV series via cable, a connected TV device, or on a platform like YouTube.

Target your audience properly, customize it for that consumer group, sell that group an experience (not the product itself), and you’ll come out a winner.

Regardless of which platforms you’re using, remember that Gen Z and Gen Y aren’t cohesive, homogeneous groups. As you use geotargeting and other strategies to segment your audience, be sure to personalize your messages in a way that makes your customer feel like a VIP — and not just another number.

 

 

 

 

1 Year Later: Gen Z College Students Weigh in Again on Personal Data Collection

Last February, I reported on some of the things my Gen Z students wrote in response to an assignment about who gains the most from the value exchange of convenience-for-personal-data. A year later, I gave the same assignment with the same supplemental readings to students, and the results were notably different.

Last February, I reported on some of the things my Gen Z students wrote in response to an assignment about who gains the most from the value exchange of convenience-for-personal-data between consumers and marketers.

A year later, I gave the same assignment with the same supplemental readings to a similar group of 40 students from Rutgers School of Business Camden, and the results were notably different.

Last year, I wrote, in “Gen Z College Students Weigh-in on Personal Data Collection — Privacy Advocates Should Worry”:

“Some Gen Zers don’t mind giving up their personal data in exchange for the convenience of targeted ads and discounts; others are uneasy, but all are resigned to the inevitability of it. However, the language they use to describe their acquiescence to data collection should be troubling to privacy advocates.”

This year’s students are far more concerned about the collection and sale of their personal data, but they are just as resigned to the inevitability of it. At the same time, some bask in the advantages it brings them and they’re sympathetic to the needs of marketers to provide a personalized data-driven experience to consumers.

The privacy concerns of the current group are more pronounced than the previous group.

“I used to believe that the consumer benefitted from the perks of technology. But more and more, I believe that marketers benefit more. Social media, search engines, TVs, refrigerators, Alexa or Google Home, Kinsa Thermostat are all ways that marketers can reach the consumer with things we use in our everyday lives. Some people don’t even realize they’re feeding right into it just by providing some information about yourself.”

Another wrote:

“Privacy has almost become a thing of the past. Places like our kitchens, bathrooms, and bedrooms have transformed from places behind closed doors to areas that are willingly shared with thousands of others on the receiving end of the data being collected for business purposes.”

Yet, like last year’s group, they are resigned to giving up personal data for access to information and services.

“Consumers are beginning to realize how often what they do, speak, and read are all being recorded. Personally, I’ve been more aware than ever of what is being tracked. I’m more aware of every ad I look at and every website I clicked on. This lifestyle is something that can’t be avoided.”

A common complaint involves the lengthy user agreements that consumers must accept to use web-based services and Internet-connected devices:

“This type of ultimatum often means that consumers regularly grant permission on their personal devices, rather than lose their access to a particular product.”

The proliferation of the Internet of Things may be behind much of the change in attitude since last year. (Caveat: I confess that I’ve warned about small sample sizes in the past [“Beware the Small Sample”]. I’m not drawing quantitative conclusions here, but rather reporting on a trend from qualitative research done with 40 students each year).

“Some people who purchase these tech-savvy devices often don’t understand the policies of the product. Understanding the policy and happily opting-in for your information to be used is one thing, but complying because you’re unsure is another. Did you know that brands can start tracking your information at the age of 13? How can a child understand the policy and process of how this works if a grown adult cannot?”

Another stated:

“The terms of agreement can exceed 10,000 words and not be accessible unless the consumer searches the web for it. Consumers don’t get the full story of how much the companies invade their personal lives. Even aspects like your political preference are being monitored and can aid in influencing your votes.”

One student is mounting a fierce resistance:

“I am one of those people that have a Post-it over the camera on my laptop. I shut off the location on my phone, even though I feel like it is being monitored without my consent a lot of the time. My smart TV is not connected to the Internet, and I rarely use streaming devices, such as Netflix or Hulu — if I do, it is usually on my computer. Devices like Google Home and Alexa completely freak me out and I do not believe I would ever purchase one for my home. Even some of the newer home security systems — like Xfinity Home or the video doorbell, Ring — introduce new ways for people to hack in and monitor your personal activity.”

Data leaks and potential misuse are another concern. One student worried about home assistant devices mishearing innocuous phrases as legitimate commands to record and send private conversations:

“Families could be going through a family matter and these devices are listening and recording what is being said. Next thing you know, it is being sent to your boss or colleagues who did not need to hear or know what is going in in the comfort of your home. Also, the refrigerators that know exactly what is inside can share this information with marketers who then share it with insurers who can possibly charge consumers more for unhealthy diets.”

But it’s not all gloom and worry. One student who recently booked a trip to Disney World was delighted by the collection and use of her personal data:

“Being able to get discounted magic bands and Disney exclusive accessories catered for my needs has been a huge bonus. This also benefits Disney, as they are getting my credentials and can alter their research based on my specific data. A part of the reason they are so successful is because of how personal they make the process feel. Even from the first search, they are there to help guide you and aid in your conversion to purchase. (They) get you to come back, because they have that initial information and the personal details of your preference.”

(BTW, how great is Disney? Offering discounts on those magic bands that they use to track your movement and purchases throughout the park. They not only get you to agree to it, they get you to pay for it and be grateful for the discount).

So the time may be right for privacy advocates to gain a foothold among the generation whose members have gone so willingly into the world of sharing personal data.

Gen Z Advertising Dos and Don’ts for Marketers

Every day, advertising trends are emerging. These trends and tactics are newly developed as a means to best reach a target audience, whomever it may be. As such, advertisers are utilizing new marketing methods to reach the newcomers on the scene of consumerism: Gen Z.

Every day, advertising trends are emerging. These trends and tactics are newly developed as a means to best reach a target audience, whomever it may be. As such, advertisers are utilizing new marketing methods to reach the newcomers on the scene of consumerism: Gen Z. Here are some vital dos and don’ts advertisers should take into account when advertising to the Gen Z audience.

DO: Seek to Make an Authentic Connection With Consumers

Authenticity is paramount to a brand’s success in selling to the Gen Z audience. As I’ve mentioned in a previous article, making connections has a whole new meaning for Gen Z, with the rise of technology. Social platforms have allowed for connection to feel more personal and more real than ever. As advertisers, taking advantage of this can make all of the difference. The more personalized social media marketing tactics present today make it inherently easier to reach your consumer. As a result, brands are more closely connected to their consumers than ever. Using this close contact to maintain an authentic relationship will go far with Gen Z. Interact with us and stay transparent; keep it real.

DON’T: Stick to Surface Level and Hope the Consumer Comes Knocking

With the tools at hand, not only is it easier than ever to make authentic connections with consumers, but it’s also more important than ever. The deep-rooted marketing tactics that credible companies have long used must be challenged to continue on successfully. Unless a brand’s marketing efforts dive deeper and seek to strike a chord with the emotions of Gen Z, they’ll likely have little to no luck. Remaining surface-level with the message advertised, along with how and what marketers choose to share about their products, just won’t work for a Gen Z audience. As consumers, Gen Z will never resonate with a brand unless there is a deep connection or story that sells the relationship between them and your product. This can only really be done if the campaign messaging hits hard on the reasons why it will truly enhance the lives of Gen Zers.

DO: Genuinely Care About Social Responsibility

One of the more exciting trends Gen Z can’t get enough of is social responsibility. Gen Z cares about the world they live in and the people in it, and are hungry for change to make a better tomorrow. They crave equality and want to help. Though these initiatives going mainstream have inevitably created some misconceptions, the overall adoption of these ideologies by brands is still a positive change, and Gen Z is excited about it. Whether products are ethically sourced and sustainably grown, or a company openly expresses its pro stance for transgender equality or that of female women employees, Gen Z feels incredibly satisfied to see these topics being taken on and embraced by brands.

DON’T: Stretch the Truth About Giving Back

If a company is moving toward more socially responsible initiatives, but isn’t quite there yet, that’s OK. The one thing that’s important to keep in mind as brands work to adopt more sustainable and socially responsible initiatives is to not stretch the truth. Becoming a socially responsible company does not happen overnight. As consumers, younger generations understand that. But during the process, brands should not market their products as sustainable or beneficial to a social justice cause, unless they truly are. Doing so will cause brands to look inauthentic to Gen Z when they do some online sleuthing and quickly find out the truth, ultimately driving away their business. Companies should simply state they are working toward it, and continue to do so. Gen Z prefers and appreciates sincerity and transparency as companies work toward a better future.

DO: Tap Into Trending News and Pop Culture

Pop culture is basically determined by young people. What’s cool, who’s not, and what’s funny on the Internet are some of the things Gen Z have precedence over, as generations prior have also ruled during their adolescence. This is nothing new. Tapping into pop culture can be one of the easiest ways to appeal to the Gen Z audience. Newsjacking, which is when brands creatively tailor trending news stories to bring attention to their own content, has proven successful on a number of occasions. Taking advantage of a situation for a brand’s own benefit seems intuitive and a win-win, as both the story/topic and the brand gain more exposure. However, when specifically targeting a young generation, it is vital to have a deep understanding of the topic before applying it to a brand inaccurately or overdoing it.

DON’T: Overdo the References in an Attempt to Relate to Gen Z

The easiest way to understand Gen Z is to pay attention to the media they consume. With that said, however, it’s important to remember that just because you’re in on a meme about Baby Yoda or Billie Eilish secretly being the same person as Lil Xan, doesn’t mean you can seamlessly relate to them. Though utilizing a pop culture reference can go extremely well in selling to Gen Z, it’s pretty easy to spot when it’s been done incorrectly by an older generational brand. This may seems like a simple way to get on the radar of Gen Z, but it’s really important to make sure it’s  done right. Don’t take advantage of pop culture references and don’t overuse them for the sake of a potentially easy connection. Only newsjack pop culture and trending news if it really fits in with your brand identity and if you really understand the happenings.

How-tos for Generational Marketing to Millennials vs. Gen Z

Millennials and Generation Zers have both broken out of a shell that generations prior were determined to mold themselves to. This fact, along with their closeness in age, have led many to believe that they have a lot of commonalities that can accommodate similar generational marketing strategies.

Millennials and Generation Zers are both notorious for shaking up the status quo in more ways than one. They’ve both broken out of a shell that generations prior were determined to mold themselves to. This fact, along with their closeness in age, have led many to believe that they have a lot of commonalities that can accommodate similar generational marketing strategies.

While they are adjacent generations, the qualities in which they have gained notoriety differ, especially as consumers. The rise of the newest wave of consumers, who make up roughly 40% of all customers in the market, is certainly creating changes as Gen Z’s desires are not perfectly aligned with their older generational neighbors. The people who make up this group were born between 1997 and 2012.

At the same time, this does not imply that advertisers should stop pushing their marketing efforts toward Millennials. Simply put, Millennials largely contribute to the U.S. economic capital with a generational wealth estimated at $24 trillion. This group is made up of people born between 1981 and 1996.

With these statistics in mind, it is important that brands learn how to make the most of both unique generational consumer behaviors. Here are different elements advertisers should keep in mind when targeting a Millennial vs. a Gen Z demographic.

Similarities

Before we break down the differences these two generations have as consumers, it’s important to acknowledge they do still have quite a bit in common. First, both groups are well-versed in social media and the amount of time they spend plugged in doesn’t vary too drastically.

Even at an average of 20 minutes less per day, Millennials were young and impressionable when the age of the Internet came to be and, as such, they are just about as savvy in social media as is Gen Z.

Second, both generations place importance on diversity, equality, and progressive social values. In contrast to generations prior, Millennials and Gen Zers have questioned many social norms that Boomers and Gen Xers have accepted as reality.

Though there are undoubtedly many similarities in the grand scheme of things, these generational differences must also be considered in order for marketers to successfully cater to both.

Attitude Toward Spending

Interestingly, the way Millennials’ and Gen Zers’ finances differ is quite great.

Many Millennials were young adults when the Great Recession hit the U.S. in 2007. Growing up with a poor economy at large taught this group to place value on quality over quantity, as they remain mostly optimistic about their personal finances.

With Gen Z being quite young at the start of the economic downturn, this generation adopted the notion of practicality and financial preparation from an early age.

How Can Brands Successfully Cater to Both Spending Behaviors?

For Millennials, quality over quantity means they are looking to invest their money in brands that create a unique product or experience that will noticeably enhance their quality of living. Millennials are inclined to do significant research before making a purchase, ensuring they’ve found the most beneficial product or experience for them. This is good news for marketers, as Millennials are constantly on the lookout for the next best thing to help them in their everyday lives. All brands need to do is prove they are the ones Millennials should be investing their time and money in, and they may have customers for life.

For Gen Z, it’s best to get right to it. Let the consumer know exactly why the product or experience is the best one for them and why it’s worth the money. As previously mentioned, this generation is very focused on responsible spending as a result of their early memories of the Great Recession. So, if you want to sell to Gen Z, make sure you keep your brand’s feet firmly planted on the ground. Approach selling in a practical manner and make sure your product has a clear purpose for its consumer.

Feeling Connected Through Social Media

It is apparent that both generations are avid social media users, and the feeling of connection that social media creates is well enjoyed by both. However, the ways they best receive those feelings of connection vary.

Millennials feel most connected through the more traditional sharing, pinning, and forwarding; predominantly on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Gen Zers have had social media at their fingertips for the majority of their lives and, as a result, they consume more media on fewer platforms. This group is very visual and prefers rapid consumption, mainly through Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat and, most recently, TikTok.

How Can Brands Leverage Connection in Their Marketing Efforts?

Millennials prefer the more traditional social media platforms and sharing techniques, because they’re easy ways to feel seen and heard. Brands can leverage this in their customer journeys through interaction: asking consumers questions, encouraging them to communicate in comments sections, and more. This creates a space where Millennials feel valued and contributes to their attitude that a brand can better their lives on a deeply personal level.

Gen Z’s short attention span makes their marketing needs exclusively geared toward them. Cut to the chase and get down to benefits of the product — this is the best way to reach them on their preferred social platforms. Utilizing influencers for brand marketing is an effective way to connect to this audience. With 10-second Instagram stories and #sponsored posts, brands can use their preferred social platforms to connect in a unique way that feels authentic to Gen Z.

Embracing Generational Differences as Marketers and Advertisers

As two groups who came one after the other, it’s no surprise that Millennials and Generation Z are very similar. Both known for questioning common ideas the predecessing generations easily accepted, the two generations have redefined marketing in a new era for brands. They value authenticity, social responsibility, and inclusion. But both have different consumer behaviors when it comes to their finances and how they connect. For marketers, it is more important than ever to optimize and strategize based on their ever-changing habits as consumers

For Measurement-Oriented Marketers: The Best of ‘Here’s What Counts,’ 2019

Over the past year, “Here’s What Counts” opined on several topics. But the ones that gained the most traction involved Gen Z’s views on privacy, social media data collection, and 1:1 marketing.

Over the past year, “Here’s What Counts” opined on several topics. But the ones that gained the most traction involved Gen Z’s views on privacy, social media data collection, and 1:1 marketing.

The most popular post, “Have We Ruined 1:1 Marketing? How the Corner Grocer Became a Creepy Intruder,” was reposted on LinkedIn by Don Peppers, co-author of the book, “1:1 Marketing.”  The idea grew out of an assignment I gave my students at Rutgers School of Business in Camden, N.J. The students had to compare the 1996 version of database marketing, as described by Arthur Hughes in the introduction to his watershed book, “The Complete Database Marketer,” with the current state of online direct/database marketing. Hughes likened a marketing database to the Corner Grocer, who kept mental notes on his customers’ names, personal preferences, and family connections. Specifically, the students had to tell me how marketing technology innovations have enhanced database marketing since 1996.

The Takeaway:

While they concede that the targeted ads they experience are usually relevant, several of them noted that they don’t feel they have been marketed to as individuals; but rather, as a member of a group that was assigned to receive a specific digital advertisement by an algorithm. They felt that the idealized world of database marketing that Hughes described in 1996 was actually more personal than the advanced algorithmic targeting that delivers ads to their social media feeds.

It’s not surprising that Gen Zers expect a more personalized marketing experience. As I wrote in “Gen Z College Students Weigh-in on Personal Data Collection — Privacy Advocates Should Worry.”

Some Gen Zers don’t mind giving up their personal data in exchange for the convenience of targeted ads and discounts; others are uneasy, but all are resigned to the inevitability of it.

Student comments included:

Resignation

“I do not feel it is ethical for companies to distribute our activities to others. Despite my feelings on the situation, it will continue — so I must accept the reality of the situation.”

 Rationalization

“… I feel as though consumers gain the most from this value exchange. Marketers can do pretty much whatever they want with the information that they collect, but they do not really ‘gain’ from this exchange, until people actually purchase their products …  Even if this exchange allows marketers to play with people’s vulnerabilities, it is ultimately consumers’ choice on whether or not they want to buy something.”

 And, in response to a New York Times article about Smart TVs spying on people, one student expressed:

Disgust

“Marketers are gaining money and information through various means and have the ability to do so without risk, because consumers are not going to read [a] 6,000-word privacy policy just to be able to work a television.”

Lest we think that the younger generation is alone in eschewing concerns about privacy, take a look at “Getting Facebook Sober: What Marketers Should Know About Consumers’ Attitudes and Social Data.”

While people claim to be concerned about privacy, they’re not willing to pay for it.  A Survey Monkey poll done for the news site Axios earlier this month shows that three-fourths of people are willing to pay less than $1 per month in exchange for a company not tracking their data while using their product — 54% of them are not willing to pay anything.

As we charge into 2020, we need to carefully consider how the data we give up so willingly is used to manipulate not only our purchasing behavior, but our beliefs and values. In the post, “A Question for Marketers: Is it Social or Is it Media?” I recount Sasha Baron Cohen’s speech at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) calling Facebook “the greatest propaganda machine in history.”

I sent The Guardian’s publication of Cohen’s speech to my children, two of whom have given up their Facebook accounts. My daughter replied, “Did you learn about this on Facebook? If so, irony is dead.”

Actually, I did. RIP, irony.

3 Ad Campaigns That Resonated With the Gen Z Audience

Gen Z is completely shifting the way advertisers work. The long-held mindset of heritage, comfort, and familiarity is being upset by this up-and-coming generation of digital natives. Gen Z approaches the world differently than previous generations.

Gen Z is completely shifting the way advertisers work. The long-held mindset of heritage, comfort, and familiarity is being upset by this up-and-coming generation of digital natives. Gen Z approaches the world differently than previous generations, and their way of thinking is coming to the forefront of today’s society. Their passion for social justice, demand for authenticity, and short attention spans have forced brands that target Gen Z consumers to shift their advertising strategies accordingly.

Today, brands are starting to get better at picking up on what Gen Z values and learning to adapt. From a company structure perspective, this can mean implementing more corporate social responsibility initiatives; while in advertising and marketing, this can mean deploying messages, media, and strategies designed to resonate with Gen Z consumers. There are a number of one-off ad campaigns that have redefined success with this generation, as well as continuous campaigns and brand behaviors that are molding and shaping the way marketers and advertisers target this audience.

Here are examples of three very different ad campaigns that have resonated with Gen Z in unique ways, and how they did it.

Aerie ‘Real’ Campaign

Historically, clothing brands have promoted themselves with bombshell supermodels who possess unattainable beauty. It may seem simple, but Gen Z is challenging that paradigm by calling for and responding to ad campaigns that feature “normal” people, and by rejecting impossible beauty standards.

In the early ’00s, brands began receiving backlash for digitally enhancing the faces and figures of their models in noticeable ways and removing anything that might be seen as an imperfection. Once it became clear that this imagery was harmful to the development of young girls’ self-esteem and confidence, American Eagle’s intimates brand Aerie decided to connect with its target consumer, Gen Z, with a different approach — body positivity.

In 2014, Aerie’s “Real” campaign was born. American Eagle started by announcing that it would not only cease the use of supermodels, but would also refrain from digital retouching. That campaign received a flurry of attention as the first-of-its-kind and was a big success. Since then, Aerie has continued to expand the parameters by which it chooses lingerie models. Campaigns have included women with curves, cellulite, small chests, large chests, disabilities, medical illnesses, stretch marks, body hair, and more. Furthermore, the “Real” campaign has expanded by including Aerie consumers. The brand encourages people to feel positive, confident, and comfortable in their own bodies and show it off by joining in with the hashtag #AerieReal on social media.

Not only has this approach helped Aerie stand out in the market and build a positive reputation with Gen Z, but it’s also increased sales year-over-year, with a 38% increase in Q1 of 2018, alone. Overall, the “Real” campaign enabled Aerie to earn credibility in authenticity, diversity, inclusion, and body positivity spaces. Aerie was also ahead of the curve, and many brands are now embracing body positivity and inclusion in their own branding.

Casper

Casper is a new age mattress company that has completely shaken up its sector. A traditionally brick and mortar industry, Casper took a direct-to-consumer approach to mattresses that appeals to a younger-skewing audience. Casper has succeeded with this business model by incorporating selling factors that are important to Gen Zers.

Before Casper, the idea of getting a bed-in-a-box was unheard of and viewed as impractical. Casper, however, had a deep understanding of its target audience and realized a DTC approach could be effective, if the brand positioned itself as a master in the mattress space. To that end, Casper deployed a robust content marketing campaign. The company leveraged social media and retargeting to garner attention and create brand awareness. Once its audience was engaged, Casper established itself as the expert in the space, using product comparisons, customer reviews, and influencer marketing to move the consumer down the funnel toward purchasing a mattress they had never even touched before.

In addition, Casper invested in building a sense of community around its brand. Campaigns like Staycation Story Hacks, unboxing videos, “Waffle Crush Wednesdays,” and the publication Winkle were all geared toward giving consumers many different ways to engage and interact with the brand, and with fellow brand customers. Together, Casper’s marketing efforts have brought in upward of 100,000 video views; 2,000 to 10,000 likes per post; and increased its valuation to $1.1 billion, in just five years.

#RevolveAroundtheWorld

Revolve, an e-commerce clothing brand geared toward Gen Z, has targeted and engaged these consumers, not with traditional advertising campaigns (like Aerie), but by putting its marketing dollars toward a large group of Instagram influencers — 3,500 of the most successful fashion influencers Instagram has to offer.

When influencer marketing really began to take off, Revolve saw an opportunity to grow its relatively new brand and build buzz. The company established an ongoing relationship with Instagram’s most popular fashion influencers, including Kendall Jenner, and began throwing #RevolveAroundtheWorld events in popular destinations, including Palm Springs, Turks and Caicos, and the ever-important Coachella — a super hub for influencers and Gen Zers, alike.

These lavish trips and events are invite-only and create a space where influencers can come together and do what they do best — advertise Revolve’s products by modeling the clothing and publicizing them all over their Instagram accounts. An event exclusively filled with popular Instagrammers effectively gets the brand name out there and capitalizes on the “wish you were here” mindset that Instagram seeds in its users. Consumers have their attention grabbed by the glamorous photos and then may feel inspired to buy the trendy clothing they see. They both relate to and aspire to be like their favorite influencers. Clearly, this approach is working, as Revolve was recently valued at $1.2 billion.

Final Thoughts on Gen Z Ad Campaigns

In today’s world, it is vital that brands— old and new, alike — continue to evolve in the ever-changing advertising landscape. Brands that target Gen Z have to shape their marketing and advertising strategies to convey authenticity, relatability, consistent engagement, and progressive social values. American Eagle’s Aerie, Casper, and Revolve have each taken a highly distinct and unique approach, and each has succeeded in its own way. There are lessons to be learned from their similarities, and their differences. There are many ways to craft campaigns that resonate with Gen Z, but they won’t look like campaigns of the past.

Omnichannel Marketing Is Preferred by 85% of Consumers

With the advent of the Internet and social media, choosing the right marketing channel to distribute your message to your target audience and create a stronger relationship with them is now more complicated. With all these choices, what’s important is to focus on selecting the right media channels for your customer base … both online and offline.

With the advent of the Internet and social media, choosing the right marketing channel to distribute your message to your target audience and create a stronger relationship with them is now more complicated. With all these choices, what’s important is to focus on selecting the right media channels for your customer base … both online and offline.

Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in a webinar with Liz Miller, SVP of Marketing from the CMO Council. She shared findings from a recent study done by the CMO Council in partnership with Pitney Bowes titled “Critical Channels of Choice.” The study surveyed 2,000 consumers across five generations (Gen Z, Millennial, Gen X, Baby Boomers, and the Silent Generation).

According to Miller, “Everyone assumes that Millennials and Gen Zers are all digital and that is the best way, and in some instances the only way, to communicate with them. The most critical finding from the study indicated that the channel of choice was in fact, omnichannel.” Consumers expect a seamless shopping experience, whether they’re shopping online from a desktop or mobile device, by telephone, or in a brick and mortar store location.

When asked to describe their communication preferences, consumers overwhelmingly agreed that one path to the brand simply isn’t enough … they want them all. Some 85% of consumers surveyed agreed that their ideal channel is actually a blend of channels, opting for a mix of both digital and physical experiences (Figure 1).

According to survey respondents, consumers prefer to have omnichannel marketing efforts directed toward them.
Source: CMO Council, Critical Channels of Choice, 2019. Click to enlarge.

Miller explained that print is alive and well. She said, “Perhaps most telling of this openness for omnichannel is that printed mail, considered by some to be one of the more ‘traditional’ channels in today’s marketing mix, is essential. It continues to be a highly valued channel of choice. One out of every three consumers surveyed expected printed mail to be part of their ideal communications mix. Brands need to reevaluate how they are leveraging and deploying all of the tools available in an omnichannel toolkit.”

While you might expect a divide across generations in terms of channel preferences, that isn’t the case. The research found that all respondents, regardless of age demographic, prefer a blend of digital and physical channels to pave their communications journey with a brand (Figure 2).

Based on key findings, there is a preference for a blend of digital and physical communications in marketing efforts, regardless of age.
Source: CMO Council, Critical Channels of Choice, 2019. Click to enlarge.

The study also pointed out that the deciding factors for channel usage by consumers include convenience, reliability, speed, personalization, and trust (Figure 3). Whether it is print, social media, or email, consumers are looking for channels that meet their expectations.

Critical attributes of must have channels.
Source: CMO Council, Critical Channels of Choice, 2019. Click to enlarge.

The Bottom Line

Given the drive for a seamless omnichannel experience, your customers will be looking for partners to help deliver the solutions consumers want. Print will continue to be integral to the marketing mix, but your offerings will need to be blended with social, mobile, and online channels, as well as brick and mortar point of purchase solutions. Service providers need to evaluate the role they want to play in an omnichannel world.

7 Steps to Advertising to the Emerging Gen Z Consumer

Advertising to the emerging Gen Z consumer is both as challenging and simple as it has ever been, which is an oxymoron in itself. But it perhaps explains the complexity of this 32% of the global population, which is edging out Millennials.

Generation Z, the post-Millennial group of digital natives born after 1997 who have an insatiable desire for instant gratification and personalization in all aspects of their lives, is arguably the most unique generation to come. Advertising to the emerging Gen Z consumer is both as challenging and simple as it has ever been, which is an oxymoron in itself. But it perhaps explains the complexity of this 32% of the global population, which is edging out Millennials.

Before we get into methods for marketing to Gen Z, it’s important to understand who this generation is and the qualities that make them unique. Generation Z has never lived in a world without the web. The Internet has always existed for Gen Z; though it has evolved into an entire entity in the last decade or so, life without an online presence is but a vague and distant memory to them. In this day and age, 96% of Generation Z members own a smartphone and, on average, they spend more than three hours a day perusing their devices. Social media is the beast that lies within these smartphones and has proven to be a powerful tool highly utilized by this generation.

For some, reaching Generation Z may seem difficult for this very reason — from the outside in, they are seemingly out of touch with the real world. For advertisers, however, it has made Gen Z more reachable than any preceding generation. Making a connection has a whole new meaning in advertising, due to the realm of social media and smartphones. Here are best practices on how to reach and engage with the Gen Z audience:

Reaching the Gen Z Audience

While Gen Zers have earned a reputation as arduous customers, there are various methods advertisers can tap into to successfully sell their brands/products to this tenacious bunch. As a well-informed and arguably opinionated generation, they generally respond well to brands that earn their loyalty as customers. This is unique to Gen Z, as other generations have typically chosen what they consume based on tradition. And just how can advertisers earn their loyalty? Sell the all-encompassing brand and its story to give it a sense of relatability.

Authenticity

When determining how to best reach this demographic, one word should be kept top of mind: authenticity. Research shows that 63% of Generation Z want marketing from “real” people, as opposed to celebrity endorsers. I put “real” in quotation marks, because this category does not stop at trusted friends and family of Gen Zers. A trusted source or friend can be found anywhere from an inner circle to their favorite social media influencers and bloggers. Influencer marketing has proven successful with this generation, because hearing about a product from an average, everyday person (with 10,000-plus social media followers, that is) resonates more deeply with Gen Z than seeing a high-profile celebrity endorse everyday items.

Influencers

Influencers are more trusted by Generation Z because they don’t seem like they’re trying to persuade; rather, they’re just filling their audience in on something they enjoy. In turn, influencer marketing does not feel like corporate manipulation. Furthermore, their followers are just that: people who follow and are invested in their lives. They are already sold on the person, which makes it easy to trust their opinion.

Keep Reaching Out/Retargeting

Online retargeting is key in engaging this generation and staying top of mind. Once Gen Zers begin researching a brand, it is vital to remain relevant to them, and retargeting is one of the best ways to do so. It is an easy way to take them through the buying process, so they end up as loyal brand advocates. As a generation obsessed with fast-paced, instantaneous moments, it can be easy to forget about something if it’s not reinforced. Retargeting — by means of social media and banner and display ads — is paramount to success with Gen Zers.

With the power of online retargeting, however, it is important to put a cap on the frequency, as to not fatigue the potential buyers. If a member of this group sees an ad too frequently, it can wind up in lost interest. They may feel it is being pushed too hard on them — which is quite the opposite of feeling authentic and caring.

Authentic Reviews

Online reviews are another important factor when Generation Z considers a product. Creating a space where they can hear from people of a similar background in a written or spoken testimonial to the product can make all the difference. Reviews get customers involved and allow their voices to be heard, tying in an element of personalization. In order to receive genuinely positive and highly regarded reviews from Gen Z, it’s important a company is honest, maintains the quality it guarantees, and makes them feel special throughout the process. They don’t want to be considered another number; rather, they’d like to feel included and impactful.

Corporate Social Responsibility

Generation Z also cares deeply about brands that have a positive social or environmental impact. It is of the utmost importance for a brand to come across as one that cares — in all aspects. Though Gen Z can seem like they lack character or substance, because they spend so much time disconnected from the world around them, this group actually has a tendency to express their values online and want to vocalize those beliefs. Therefore, they appreciate when a company does the same. Voicing inclusivity, social justice, and sustainability can majorly impact a Gen Z target while they determine whether a brand is worthy of their purchase. Typically, members of this generation look at a brand from a holistic standpoint before deciding to become a customer or not. This is why a company’s social media presence is one of the most important upkeeps. Serving as a place to express oneself, it’s the prime method to communicate a brand’s the progressive values.

Engagement

Ultimately, the best way to engage with Gen Z and make them purchase is to foster a connection that does not feel contrived. They love realness above all and prefer that a company is upfront with what it has to offer and what it values holistically. With technology at the tips of their fingers, Gen Z members have almost always done their research before purchasing. This is why marketing to them is more crucial than ever: the way a brand portrays itself online and the decisions it makes can make or break its profitability. Advertising geared toward Gen Z should always pique their interest and keep that interest alive until they decide it’s time to buy. The initial point of contact in getting this audience’s attention will push them to look further into a brand to ensure it’s something they’re interested in putting their money toward. As such, it is vital to a company’s success to maintain strong marketing and advertising tactics — from start to finish, throughout the buying process.

Brands: Show You Care About Gen Z

The bottom line of advertising to the Generation Z audience is that you should always sell the brand as one that cares not only about its own success, but also about the success and ultimate happiness of its customers. Maintaining happy customers, at the end of the day, is the main driving force behind the success of any Gen Z-focused company.

Gen Z College Students Weigh-in on Personal Data Collection — Privacy Advocates Should Worry

Some GenZers don’t mind giving up their personal data in exchange for the convenience of targeted ads and discounts; others are uneasy, but all are resigned to the inevitability of it. However, the language they use to describe their acquiescence to data collection should be troubling to privacy advocates.

Some GenZers don’t mind giving up their personal data in exchange for the convenience of targeted ads and discounts; others are uneasy, but all are resigned to the inevitability of it. However, the language they use to describe their acquiescence to data collection should be troubling to privacy advocates.

After reading “Sharing Data for Deals? More Like Watching It Go With a Sigh” (NYTimes 12/24/18), some students in the Consumer Analysis college course I teach expressed discomfort, even outrage at the extent of the data collected via their social media posts, geo-tracking on their mobile phones, shopper loyalty program and smart home devices. But they all accepted their conscious and unconscious data surrender as a fact of life.

The article reports on the study of 1,500 consumers by Professor Joseph Turow of the University of Pennsylvania who found that “people are uncomfortable with surveillance, but they don’t know what to do.” One student summed up our mass acquiescence, saying:

“I do not feel it is ethical for companies to distribute our activities to others. Despite my feelings on the situation, it will continue — so I must accept the reality of the situation,” said one.

Some don’t really mind having their personal data exploited for marketing purposes. While most of my students agreed that marketers gain the most from the exchange of data for convenience, one student embraced the inevitable data surrender as being more beneficial to consumers, because they can choose whether or not to act on the marketers’ targeted messages:

“… I feel as though consumers gain the most from this value exchange. Marketers can do pretty much whatever they want with the information that they collect, but they do not really ‘gain’ from this exchange, until people actually purchase their products, and a lot of effort is required to get them to do so. We are all educated consumers, so it is our responsibility to respond to these marketing attempts wisely. No one is forcing anyone to make a purchase they don’t want to, so even if this exchange allows marketers to play with people’s vulnerabilities, it is ultimately consumers’ choice on whether or not they want to buy something.”

The rationalization that the consumer is still in charge is a good argument for those opposed to limits on involuntary data collection. But more troubling is the belief that there is no potential for bad actors to exploit the personal data that’s collected. One student writes:

“Personally, I feel as if consumers benefit more from this exchange of data. Even though their information is constantly being monitored and collected, it is not being used to hurt them. Marketers are using the information to make people’s lives easier so that they spend more money on their products. There is no going backwards with technology, only forward. So, consumers need to be able to trust that marketers are using their information only to help them. While marketers are benefitting a lot from the money they are making, consumers lives are getting better and easier, day by day.”

Here’s another red flag for privacy advocates from a student who’s OK with smart devices collecting information from private conversations, but concerned only about how that information is stored:

“Articles from The New York Times, ‘Home Items are Getting Smarter and Creepier, Like It or Not’ (01/07/19), cited an example of these devices recording more information than we thought. The author stated that ‘background conversations may be stored with the voice recordings and resurface with hacking or as part of lawsuits or investigations,’ (The Associated Press). This finding shows that our speech is kept indefinitely, and the information is accessible upon force or request from a higher power. I believe that these smart devices should only keep the information that was processed through the user’s speech instead of the actual voice recording itself.”

But there’s hope for those who want more transparent privacy policies. Reacting to “How Smart TVs in Millions of Homes Track More Than What’s on Tonight” (NYTimes 07/05/18), one student wrote:

“Marketers are gaining money and information through various means and have the ability to do so without risk because consumers are not going to read 6,000-word privacy policies just to be able to work a television.”