Getting Down With the Kids: Gen Z Marketing

Millennials have attracted all the love (and “back in my day” rants) from marketers as of late, but their younger cohorts- Generation Z- are increasingly demanding attention too. Some boundaries of Gen Z are broader than others, with some including anyone under age 20, and others limiting the “Gen Z” moniker to current 7-17 year olds. Regardless of the specific definition, to view Generation Z-ers simply as younger editions of Millenials would be shortsighted. Unlike the Millenials who grew up alongside the development of the Internet, Gen Z members are the first to experience the full integration of technology into their childhood. Elementary schools are increasingly integrating technology into the classroom. Parents are buying children smartphones at younger and younger ages. And if the prevalence of preteens on social media is any indication, Facebook’s age limit may be more widely ignored than Apple’s terms and conditions.

Of course, any savvy digital marketer knows that among preteens, Facebook is out and Snapchat and Instagram are in. But considering that companies are led by Gen Z’s parents and grandparents, it’s unsurprising that some brands haven’t yet figured out where the kids are hanging out, much less how to reach them. Though brands such as Sharpie have effectively engaged teens through visually engaging Instagram posts, others use stereotypes to dictate their marketing strategies. And no, Gen Z marketing does not consist solely of posting selfies, slapping emojis onto everything, and including a Kardashian (or rather, Kylie and Kendall Jenner, who they actually care about now). Certainly these are important elements of the teenage cultural lexicon and their use is appropriate in some cases (ie, using a Kardashian to endorse a fashion line). But some brands may not be able to incorporate them in posts while remaining relevant to their brand or product. See below.

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Beyond failing to convincingly sell their product, marketers who resort to these stereotypes risk offending their target audience. By assuming that Gen Z audiences will rush to buy their product solely because its post features cute hashtags or a member of One Direction, marketers paint teenagers as a one-dimensional generation of mindless, celebrity obsessed social media addicts. At that point, saying “Get off my lawn” is just about as effective (not to mention much cheaper). 

 Generation Z has noticed this service gap, as four in 10 Gen Z-ers complain that brands don’t take them seriously (http://wearesocial.net/blog/2015/10/gen-talkin-bout-generation/). Boasting a $17 average weekly allowance, most of which they spend online, Gen Z members possess more spending power than any other generation of youth. Especially with holiday shopping season looming, brands would be best served to learn how to connect with this generation. To introduce brands to Gen Z, global social media agency We Are Social will host Gen Z 101 in November.

Perfectly scheduled before Black Friday, the conference aims to prepare brands to navigate the “very fine line between cool or cringe”. We Are Social leverages their own experience with youth-friendly brands such as; Beats by Dre, and Adidas to “show attendees where, when, and how [they] should be talking to teens on social”. Coca-Cola senior digital marketer Kata Bleyer will serve as the headliner of the event. Her insight will be particularly valuable given the especially strong influence of Gen Z-ers on fast food brands like Oreo, Subway, Doritos, and Mountain Dew. (http://www.wikia.com/Generation_Z:_A_Look_at_the_Technology_and_Media_Habits_of_Today%E2%80%99s_Teens). Now “one of the most important platforms for teens”, Snapchat also figures greatly into the programming, with an entire keynote session dedicated exclusively to reaching teens on this platform. Because Snapchat posts disappear after 12 seconds, marketers will need to craft more visually engaging and attention grabbing content for this medium.

Another session focuses on reaching influencers, essentially the social media marketing equivalent of wooing the most popular girl in school with your fast car and free beer. Health and wellness brands execute this tactic often by identifying fitness enthusiasts with massive Instagram followings. They provide these influencers free products in exchange for promotion. As more and more preteens turn to social media as a source of self-expression, brands will find more and more opportunities to market their product for (basically) free through influencers.

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The relevance of Generation Z marketing varies between industries. Their whims determine the life or death of fast food and entertainment brands, but Generation Z likely won’t be utilizing retirement savings products in the next few years. However, with the Generation Z-ers nearly halfway through college, it is only a matter of time until their $17 weekly allowance turns into a full salary and 401(k) plan. They’re coming fast, but through We Are Social’s Gen Z 101, all brands can prepare themselves for these demographic shifts.

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