It’s been said so many times that it’s become a cheap joke: Gen Z has the attention span of a goldfish. In reality, looking at the digital generation in this way limits a brand’s marketing potential more than you can imagine.
Now accounting for nearly a third of the global population, writing off Gen Z’s economic value is a mistake you don’t want to make.
In an online world of lightning speed scrolling, swiping, and seven-second videos, nothing seems to hold the attention of teen to 25-year-olds for very long. However, this isn’t because they’re lazy.
Growing up as the first mobile-first generation, life without social media is a hazy historical past. Gen Z has adapted to their environment as expected. They’ve developed an uncanny ability to filter content in response to being overloaded with it every time they reach their hand into their pocket.
Short attention spans aren’t a deficiency. They’re a strategy to avoid becoming overwhelmed by endless swathes of content. This opens up the power of choice; the choice to engage and the choice to consume.
When we say consume, we don’t just mean passively. Some estimates put Generation Z’s global spending power at $140 billion, making them a market most brands can’t afford to not target. But how can you target them successfully?
As the most hyper-connected generation yet, Gen Z are the quickest to hide, block, delete and unfollow when displeased. How can your brand make Gen Z’s thumbs itch towards that follow button and stick it out to become a firm fan?
These savvy spenders aren’t simple to please. But don’t worry, we’ve got marketing advice to help push your brand to the front of Gen Zer’s minds for all the right reasons.
1. Presence 📱
As with any audience, you need to occupy the same space Gen Z do on a daily basis. For these bright young things, the place to be isn’t technically a physical space, but cyberspace.
Let’s focus on the specifics. Are your potential Gen Z consumer base Snapchat addicts, Instagram aficionados, Youtube critics, or TikTok natives? Your brand will find its most natural fit where content that aligns with it already thrives.
American fast-food chain, Chipotle, found an unlikely home on TikTok.
Natural is a big buzzword for this generation. If your brand stands out for the wrong reasons and disrupts a Gen Zer’s carefully curated feed, that powerful filter is activated and your content is dismissed. First impressions are everything.
Unfortunately, it’s not enough to just be where Gen Z are online. You’ve got to navigate like one of them. Tim Berners-Lee may have invented it, but Gen Z constructed the modern-day internet’s every nook and cranny. They’re the OGs.
It’s definitely worth hiring a social media manager to keep you up to date with the ever-evolving trends. With the older end of Gen Z now reaching the 18-25 age range, they might even end up being a Gen Zer themself!
2. Tone ✏️
When it comes to copy, the aim of the game is to relate and be relatable. Let’s look at the major ‘don’ts’.
Just like the visuals, Gen Z isn’t looking for perfection. We’re not saying throw the grammar rules out the window, but slang, emojis and playful punctuation will definitely gain you more ground than the Queen’s English.
“the right language and references are indivisible; Gen Z’s language is radically open and saturated with internet culture and humor”
Never be patronising or superior. Even if your brand is premium, you don’t want to appear cold and off-putting. Gen Z love inclusivity, as we’ll see later…
Don’t just develop a tone of voice, develop a personality. Your brand should speak online as if it were a person, not a sales pitch. You just have to decide whether you’re the fun older sister, the quirky aunt, the nerdy best friend… honestly, the possibilities are endless.
Don’t take your brand too seriously. Take cues from Innocent Smoothies, KFC, Crocs, and more trailblazers who’ve captured a Gen Z audience’s admiration across platforms.
And finally, let’s end on a copy ‘do’.
Make them laugh! Gen Z responds equally well to layered and referential humour as they do to daft puns. They may sometimes think they’re cool, but they’re never above a good old fashioned ‘lol’ (*cringe*).
3. Aesthetics 👀
In the digital realm, options for self-expression are endless, but also highly specific. Gen Z makes the brands they consume and interact with both online and irl a major part of their self-identification. This makes the aesthetic a brand embodies essential to the success of its digital marketing strategy.
In a typically rebellious rejection of all things that came immediately before them, in this case, the Millenial coming-of-age era, Gen Z looks further back in time to their early childhood and before for visual inspiration.
Ironically, internet culture is now permeated with a huge wave of nostalgia for a period before its very existence. Examples include a rise in the popularity of ‘90s and ‘00s fashion, the return of the phrase ‘Y2K’ to describe anything loosely relating to the turn of the last Millenium, and the overall gravitation to a less polished self-presentation.
The Insta-perfect airbrushed minimalism most associated with Millennial youth culture is well and truly on the out. Gen Zers are not naive to the dangers and drawbacks of the online world and are quick to treat anything that presents as too polished, overly-aspirational or otherwise unrealistic with scepticism.
This, along with the rise of more immediate video-driven media like TikTok, Stories, Reels and live streaming marks a move towards a preference for a more raw, organic aesthetic presentation.
“No more sleek and minimal imagery — Gen Zers want brands that are bold, have a strong voice, and a personality“
See Starface’s Instagram. They’re a pimple patch brand that perfects the balance between bright colours, informative content, user-generated content, and social issues.
Forget Millennial pink, but don’t even think about trying something new. Gen Z’s affinity for the retro stretches beyond their clothing choices and into wider culture. They much prefer to reimagine, recycle, rework, sample, collage and borrow past images, memes, jokes, and other media to create a rich tapestry of reference in their online activities. Think carefully curated chaos.
Trends are never truly new, but they are valuable. Don’t turn down chances to contribute and capitalise. Gen Z appreciates unique takes on existing viral trends, memes, dances and more.
When fuelling the circular economy through second-hand fashion, furniture and other cultural symbols has proven to have more longevity than just any old trend, it takes a lot to draw a Gen Z consumer’s eye to ‘new’ products and services.
The takeaway: when it comes to aesthetics, keep up to date but NEVER try to be original.
4. Values 💓
Gen Z’s conscious consumption isn’t just aesthetically driven. This generation is the most informed and connected on issues of diversity, LGBTQ+ rights, social and environmental responsibility, ethics, body positivity, race and more. As a result, they have a greater sense of responsibility for global issues than those who came before them.
Gen Z is mindful of wanting to present ethical values through personal style, both physically and online. This means choosing to purchase from brands that actively present values aligned with their own.
Positive and ethical brand values are no longer a ‘nice’ addition to a company, they’re essential if you want to successfully market yourself to Gen Z. The Black Lives Matter movement of 2020 proved that it is no longer acceptable for brands to be neutral, silent, or quietly tolerant when it comes to important social issues.
Bland statements, mild, pacifying language and inaction are out. Commitments to change, donations and activism are in. Take Ben and Jerry’s reaction to the Black Lives Matter protests for example.
5. Transparency 👓
Gen Z grew up in the era of ‘fake news’ so they know when someone’s trying to spin them a yarn. These internet sleuths can spot inauthenticity a mile off, so keep your nose clean. This means those stated brand values have to be backed up in every aspect of your company’s activity, or they WILL find out.
Do your research before agreeing to work with an influencer, because your audience certainly will. Skeletons in the closet (like old racist tweets) have proved time and time again to be the downfall of a well-meaning paid partnership.
Gen Z’s ideal brand is genuine, honest, withstands vigorous research and, perhaps most importantly, holds itself fully accountable when mistakes arise. The journey towards better brand values in action is a learning curve. Don’t be too proud to apologise when you get it wrong.
6. Community 👩💻
For Gen Z, the internet isn’t just a log-in, log-out deal. It’s an all-day, everyday presence running parallel to reality. In some cases, it holds far more potential than reality for self-expression, social connection and learning.
However, according to some studies, Gen Z is still the loneliest generation (in the US at least). As a result, many turn to the internet for connection with like-minded individuals.
Brands have the potential to help facilitate that process, encouraging conversation on interesting, important and sought-after topics through the platforms they create online. This could be anything from a passion for special effects makeup to mental health to cooking to reproductive rights, or most likely, a patchwork combination of many different things.
Micro-influencers play an important role in bridging the gap between brands and multi-faceted Gen Z consumers. They offer a real-feeling connection between values and products/services, delivered through the already established relationship of trust they have with their followers. Consider incorporating them into your online marketing strategy to connect with this latest and most complex digital generation.
Gen Z can’t be that challenging to entertain. After all, you have under 10 seconds to do it in 😉 However, if the digital generation still feels far beyond you, the DMT team are here to help. Check out our digital marketing services.