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.

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.