Gen Z Marketing: How to Reach a Generation of Digital Natives

The world has changed a lot since the days of the boomers. That generation of optimistic hard workers who valued teamwork and cooperation, was succeeded by Gen X, a contradictory generation full of self-reliant skeptics, risk-taskers, and people who strove for a solid work-life balance. And then the internet exploded.

Millennials (Gen Y) came next, growing up during the dawn of the Internet era as we know it today. With a changing world, this hopeful demographic puts a high value on change and diversity, bucking the trend of working only for a paycheck and instead seeking work with meaning.

But if we’re labeling any generation as truly digitally native, it’s today’s Generation Z. The first-ever social media network debuted in 1997, the same year that the first Gen Z babies were born, meaning these “Zoomers” have never known a life without social media.

Who is Gen Z anyway?

Gen Z is the digitally native generation, and their consumer habits are vastly different from the generations before them. They’re digitally-fluent, hyper informed, adept at scrolling, and their attention is fleeting. They’re also the most racially and ethnically diverse generation the country has ever seen.

There are about 65 million Gen Zers in the US today, which accounts for almost 20% of the population. Ranging in age from 11 to 25, they may seem young, but they are mighty. In fact, they have an estimated annual purchasing power of $44 billion, not to mention a high degree of influence on family purchasing decisions. They’ve grown up in a post-9/11, pandemic-ravaged world, and as a result, they tend to think and feel deeply about many things, and expect brands and businesses to do so as well.

Their views on education and work are different, too. They place less value on a higher ed degree, recognizing that there are other less expensive, more expedient ways to get an education and launch a career. In fact, only 51% of Gen Z teens are interested in pursuing a four-year degree. It’s not a fundamental issue they have with higher education, but rather an aversion to the astronomical cost. Like their grandparents’ generation, they’re more focused on the merits of a skills-based education.

Gen Zers use social media frequently – to stay connected, express viewpoints, amplify voices, initiate change, and to consume anything and everything. But they’re also discerning, and won’t fall prey to the one-and-done marketing initiatives of the past. They demand personalization, a socially conscious sales proposition, and meaning in all they do and consume.

Gen Z’s digital behavior by the numbers

Things have changed a lot since 1997, when dial-up internet was still the reality for many households. But Zoomers probably don’t even remember the whine of a dial-up connection, or waiting hours for a video to buffer so you could watch it straight through. Today, they are always connected. Their world never sleeps.

So it’s no surprise that Gen Zers spend more time online than any generation before (and that most of that time is spent on a mobile device). Gen Z self-reports an average of 4.5 hours a day on social media, and a whopping 7.2 hours a day watching videos. Do you think they ever sleep?

Unlike the millennials before them, platform preferences have changed with Gen Z. They spend the majority of their time on Snapchat, TikTok, and Instagram. Trends suggest that as they continue to phase out of their teen years, growth will steadily climb across other platforms like Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Reddit, but with the social media landscape changing so quickly, it’s difficult to predict where the masses will land.

What matters most to the average Zoomer?

Gen Z has their finger on the pulse. They’re tuned into the plights of other world citizens, and want to serve as advocates for what’s right and just in the world. They demand personalized experiences, hold a high standard for content and messaging, and want a deeper, more meaningful brand/consumer relationship. So what does this mean for us marketers trying to reach them? Pay attention to what matters most:

  • Gen Zers stand for what they believe in, and they want the brands they support to do the same. Whether they’re advocating for political, environmental, economic, or social change, the most successful brands in the Gen Z space will prioritize action towards a better world.
  • They’re content to share personal data with trusted brands for a more personalized experience. As digital natives, this generation is freer with their personal information than generations before, as long as they trust the brand or business, and they’re promised a more personalized experience in return. They especially like engaging via email, where they have more control over what they do and don’t opt into.
  • They’re not afraid to put their money where their mouth is. Gen Zers are completely redefining how to make money, and how to spend it. Growing up in a post-2008 economy, they’re self-educating in the fields of investing and finance, and are willingly investing in products, services, and emerging currencies that resonate with them and their values.
  • They blur the lines between digital and IRL (in real life). Their interest and involvement in the Metaverse is real and growing – in fact, a whopping 83% of Gen Zers engage in metaverse activities – which pushes the boundaries for brands catering to a group of consumers who don’t necessarily care to distinguish between what’s real and what’s imagined.
  • They want what they want, and they want it now. As a generation accustomed to speed and accessibility, they expect everything they’re seeking to be available on-demand, 24/7. More than 60% of Gen Zers said they won’t use an app that is slow to load or hard to navigate, so ensuring constant uptime, speed, and a clean UX is table stakes.

How do you reach a Gen Zer?

It might sound trite, but you’ve got to meet them where they’re at. Zoomers are voracious consumers across their favorite platforms, so you’ve got to be on those platforms – and not just one, but many. It takes 8 touches to make a sale, so more platforms = more interactions = quicker sales. 

Whether millennials, Gen Z, or the upcoming Alpha generation, effective marketing only happens when you take the time to get to know your audience, their likes and dislikes, quirks and pain points, and how your product or service will best fit their needs.Have questions about the best ways to market to Gen Z? Talk to an Ethos Brand Strategist today to see how we can help.

About Ethos

Ethos is a multiplatform branding agency that develops and executes integrated marketing campaigns across multiple channels for companies inside and outside of Maine. At Ethos, we believe that the most effective way to set a company’s marketing course is by finding its core truth – its “ethos.” We know that once we discover and communicate that core truth, we can truly make a difference for each client’s unique marketing and business objectives. With Ethos, you get more than a marketing agency. You get a long-term partner whose goals are your goals. Learn more about the Ethos approach and the work we’ve done for our clients. Want to have a conversation about your brand’s core truth? Contact us!

Written By

The ETHOS Team