Marketing to Gen Z, According to Gen Z [with Infographic]
As every generation will tell you, it’s completely normal to feel out of touch with the kids. You might feel like Gen Z slang doesn’t make any sense to you, TikTok is a scary void, and some of the latest fashions look like what you wore in 2009.
As someone on the older end of Gen Zers, I’ll be the first to admit that we’re very confusing, but that’s also why I want to help you understand us, at least as Gen Z consumers.
Many ecommerce store owners seem to think that marketing to Gen Z is a skill that will only need to be mastered by their future selves. But the truth is, Generation Z entered the workforce a few years ago, and, in 2020, we became the largest generation on the planet, making up 32% of the population.
As the most digitally savvy generation to have ever lived, we are also at the forefront of most trends and our influence far outweighs our direct buying power. So, whether you like it or not, it’s time to turn your eyes to a new target audience!
Finding your way to new customers takes time and requires insights into the people you’re targeting. To help you navigate this road to my generation, I’ll talk about who we are, where to find us, and how to market to Generation Z.
What makes Gen Z different
Gen Z, iGen, Generation Snowflake, Gen Tech, Net Gen, Digital Natives, Zoomers… I’ve heard it all. The list of names used to describe us is extensive and often makes us sound like aliens. So who are we?
Generation Z includes people born between 1995 and 2015, so everyone who’s between ages 5 and 25 is considered part of the Gen Z age range.
Even though the previous generations have had more time to show what they’re like, there are already several Generation Z characteristics that have come up over the past few years.
We’re the first generation that grew up surrounded by smartphones, tablets, and laptops. This makes us well versed in all things tech and internet, including scouting for the best online deals and consulting product reviews.
Gen Z also sees social media usage as a normal part of everyday communication, so we expect other people (and companies) to have a well-curated social presence.
A big reason why we think and shop like this is that we grew up during a period of economic instability, the global financial crisis, and climate change, so making financial decisions isn’t something we take lightly.
For a store owner, marketing to Gen Z is a complex task—we are price-sensitive, tech-savvy, well-oriented in ecommerce, and less impulsive with their buying decisions.
Generation Z is quickly moving away from big department stores towards supporting small businesses, as well as choosing to shop online much more often than other generations. This also makes us the perfect target audience for on-demand drop shippers. The items only get made when an order is placed, so there’s no excess stock wasted, and since anyone can start their ecommerce store, there are a lot of design options offered by small businesses with limited print runs.
The circumstances are perfect for small ecommerce stores to become the go-to shopping sites of Zoomers. You just need the right approach when marketing to Gen Z.
The 3 pillars of Zoomer-focused marketing
In order to appeal to Generation Z, you need to know what matters to us. To make this easier to understand and remember, I’ve broken it down into 3 main categories: community, authenticity, and transparency. Here is a handy infographic that outlines this approach to marketing strategies:
Generation Z perceives brands as agents in the world with their own moral compass and meaningful impact, so you should start viewing your brand that way too. Show that you care about the world and your customers, and always try to provide real value through your products and marketing.
Companies are expected to make an effort to improve the communities they serve. This means keeping your marketing diverse and size-inclusive, taking steps towards a more sustainable business model, and proactively advocating for causes that matter to your customers.
It sounds like a lot, but your brand doesn’t have to be perfect as long as you show that you make a real effort. Gen Zers are willing to pay more compared to other generations when they know they’re supporting ethical businesses, so let them know what goes into your pricing!
Another reason why community should be a core pillar of your marketing strategy is that Gen Z is most influenced by who they know. We are much more likely to buy something if our friends recommended it or posted about it on social media.
When marketing to Gen Z, you can take advantage of this through referral programs, user-generated content, and carefully selecting influencers whose audiences are aligned with your own. The more personal your marketing gets, the more likely it is to work.
From the day we were born, our eyes have been bombarded with a variety of traditional marketing methods, from billboards and TV commercials to brightly colored packaging and popups on every website.
As a result, Zoomers are experts at filtering out impersonal, airbrushed, and poorly targeted ads. Having some celebrity with chiseled abs pose with a bottle of perfume won’t make us buy it, which is great news for small businesses.
Most retail giants such as Amazon are impossible to compete with on prices, range of choices, and fulfillment speed, and, as a small business owner, you don’t have to. Instead, you have the opportunity to build brand loyalty by being authentic and likable.
By sharing the unique stories behind their brand and products, online shops can make sure they’re noticed in the ecommerce market. This isn’t an entirely new idea, but it’s especially important in the context of Gen Z which is known for appreciating authenticity and openness more than anything else.
You can show your authentic side by adopting a less airbrushed aesthetic, talking about your struggles or mistakes, having candid public conversations with your customers, and choosing more human marketing materials over sleek and perfected ones. Don’t be afraid to create vulnerable stories with your marketing or inject some humor into your communication.
The shopping process in your store still needs to be quick and easy, just like with the big retail giants, but your marketing can be more candid and imperfect to give your brand a unique touch. This way you’ll build lasting bonds with your Gen Z customers.
Just saying that your care about your community and your customers won’t be enough, no matter how likable your brand becomes. Generation Z truly cares about the values of businesses, and I want to emphasize that these values can’t be faked or hacked.
Unless you put your money where your mouth is, Gen Zers will find your marketing buzzwords inauthentic. Always be honest with yourself, your brand, and your customers.
Case in point, in 2019 H&M terminated its brand Nyden only after 2 years of existence. The brand’s aim was to engage with young consumers, but it lacked shared values. For example, Nyden came under criticism for not sporting large sizes, even though its target audience values inclusivity and body positivity.
When you make mistakes (as we all do sometimes), it’s always best to be honest about it and take accountability. Public discourse has the power to ruin businesses immediately and Gen Z doesn’t hesitate to denounce unethical behavior, so being open and transparent is your best bet.
How to reach Gen Z
So you’ve figured out what your marketing will look like, now all you need is to get Gen Z to see it. This is no easy task since we are notorious for using ad-blockers and not engaging with traditional media like magazines, TV, and radio. Your strategy needs to be online-focused and meticulously crafted down to every detail, so let’s talk about what you can do.
Your brand needs to be recognizable, so make sure to maintain a cohesive brand voice and personality, post regularly, and keep up an ongoing story throughout your messaging.
Focus on mobile
The average Zoomer will be browsing your product catalog on their phone and could move on in about five seconds, so make sure that the mobile version of your store is intuitive and easy to use.
Rethink your emails
Generation Z uses emails as a designated place for business promos, so keep your emails informational and genuinely valuable, and limit the number of emails as much as possible. A great example of informational email marketing is this message from plant-based supplement brand Moon Juice about a positive change in their packaging.
Find the right channels
We all know that Generation Z prefers Instagram to Facebook, but don’t forget TikTok, YouTube, Twitch, Snapchat, and Twitter. Smaller user bases aren’t necessarily bad, sometimes that can make targeting much easier for you.
Adapt your content
You shouldn’t use the exact same approach on all social platforms, it will make your marketing look awkward. Taking the time to create content that is targeted for each platform will pay off in engagement.
@kajabeauty Add some cuteness to your blush routine with Cheeky Stamp 🥰💖 Featuring shade Sassy 😏 #kajabeauty #blush #makeup #oddlysatisfying #kbeauty ♬ original sound – toohot4scotty
Make things engaging
Your ads will be more successful if they engage the brains of younger consumers, so invest in strong visuals, focus on video content, post more interactive and user-generated content, and make things short and fast-paced.
Collaborate with Gen Z
Nobody knows Zoomers better than other Zoomers, so work with them by designing a product line together or involving Gen Z micro-influencers on your social media platforms.
Hype can help
Gen Zers aren’t immune to FOMO and love showing off their individuality with unique pieces, so take full advantage of limited-edition drops, short-term offers, and custom items.
What to avoid?
There are certain things that I’d advise you to steer clear of if you’re trying to target Generation Z. Most of them should be fairly straightforward after reading the rest of the blog post, but it’s helpful to point out the specific things that might be going wrong in your marketing.
The new generation is generally less tied to rigid social categories, from gender norms to cultural standards. Don’t make “his and hers” items and don’t include gender stereotypes in your marketing. Avoid using “slimming” as a selling point for your items and create unisex options when possible.
Cheugy is a relatively new slang term used for anything that is basic, uncool, or untrendy. Some things you should avoid to not be called cheugy are cheesy quotes, loopy fonts, jazzy slogans, and anything with “girlboss” on it. These things can be great if your audience is older, but they won’t work for Generation Z.
You absolutely shouldn’t hide bad reviews or public criticisms. Instead, respond to them and be honest and apologetic. This will show that you are trustworthy and transparent, and it will also make the good reviews more credible since customers will know that you don’t tamper with their feedback.
In an attempt to capitalize on a viral social media trend, you might try to create marketing materials around it. This is a great idea in theory, but I see it go wrong far too often when companies use slang incorrectly or create memes with formats that were popular months ago.
Even big brands like McDonald’s can make these mistakes, like that one time they completely missed the mark when attempting to tweet a meme reference. In conclusion, if you don’t know the context of the joke, don’t use it.
Which products Gen Z buys
Generation Z treasures feeling comfortable. The definition of “comfortable”, however, varies from person to person, which means that store owners have a lot of room to experiment. Still, there are a couple of trends that have emerged with Gen Z entering the market.
Streetwear mixes punk, skate, surf hip hop, and many other subcultures into an ever-changing and fluid style. Its fans appreciate the casual approach urban fashion has towards life and style.
Product-wise, think jeans, baseball hats, elements of sportswear, and most importantly—t-shirts. A tee with a graphic design is a staple of any streetwear collection because it epitomizes the casual and sporty aesthetic urban fashion is associated with.
When it comes to designs, bright graphics and minimalistic typography take the cake. Gen Zers like sending a message with their clothes, so consider including statements that advocate for social causes in your designs.
Coming straight out of gyms, tennis courts, and soccer fields, athleisure brought elements of sportswear into everyday fashion. Generation Z is attracted to the trend because its aim is to make the wearer feel unrestricted. So the more sports apparel products in our wardrobes, the better.
The athleisure trend has given us the “Are leggings pants?” debate (leggings won), beautifully designed sports bras under sheer tank tops, and the victorious comeback of the trendy sportswear brand Champion. Your athleisure collection also needs to focus on products that feel right both in the gym and at a hangout with friends.
As for athleisure designs, Gen Z shoppers go for unique or even messy designs and bright colors. Despite the laid-back idea behind athleisure products, we still like to show off our personality through our style.
Whether your store rocks the streetwear or athleisure aesthetic, it’s the way you style and present the products to your target audience that makes or breaks your brand. Gen Z is all about oversized apparel with bulky silhouettes and exaggerated proportions.
Forget about fitted hoodies, jackets, and t-shirts, and make sure your products come in XXL and larger. It’s often worth getting rid of separate men’s and women’s sections entirely in favor of a unisex apparel collection.
Big, bold, and unapologetic applies to oversized apparel designs. 90’s fashion is back, so experiment with large photo-realistic images that further exaggerate the oversized proportions.
Our Design Services team has prepared some downloadable designs that experiment with the graphic trends Gen Z appreciates. You can use these direct-to-garment print, all-over print, and embroidery graphics for your store, or adapt into new designs. The download button is at the bottom of the article.
Where to start
If you’re on board with the mentality of my generation, it’s time to take the first step towards creating marketing strategies for us. I suggest starting with updating your store’s product catalog with oversized athleisure and streetwear products and taking out the “Live, Laugh, Love” crop tops.
Feel free to revisit the Gen Z Marketing strategy infographic to refresh your memory once in a while and download the free Generation Z inspired designs now to start working on new products.
Let us know in the comments if you have your own experiences with Zoomers that changed your approach to marketing!
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