How Gen Z consumer behaviours shape the future of marketing

It would be handy if you could connect with all consumers using just one marketing approach. But that’s not the case. After all, different audiences have different expectations, needs, and wants, and this is something that we see most clearly via Generational divides. 

The marketing landscape had to shift from baby boomers to millennials, and now it’s beginning to shift from millennials to Gen Z. While baby boomers still have the most spending power, and millennials represent the largest group, marketers are increasingly interested in Gen Z, who are beginning to throw their money around. 

The question is: how do marketers reach this new and growing audience? If there’s one thing that’s becoming increasingly clear, it’s that Gen Z consumer behaviours differ moderately from millennials consumer behaviours, and significantly from boomer consumer behaviours. 

Looking to tap into the future of marketing? Then you’ll need to focus on your Gen Z audience. In this post, we’ll take a deep dive into the world of Gen Z marketing, including some handy tips on how businesses can pivot their current marketing strategies to reach this growing segment. 

Understanding the Gen Z Generation

All Generations have their own characteristics and identities. Generation Z, which refers to people born between 1995 and 2010, have been shaped, as with all other Generations, by the context in which they grew up. As the first digital natives, they grew up in a reality that was much different from the experience of Generations that came before them — and that has resulted in a much different type of consumer. 

Any marketer hoping to break through to the Gen Z audience — and that should be all marketers, given the $360 billion in spending power that this audience has — will need to frame their marketing campaigns within the context of this new consumer.

So how can we pin down this new, vastly different consumer? Experts say that it’s a search for truth that lies at the core of all Generation Z behaviour, including their consumer habits. They live to express their own truth, they connect with — and accept — others based on their truth, they’re understanding of various perspectives, and also have a sense of realism. They’re not living in fantasy land. In other words, you probably can’t pull the wool over their eyes; if you’re dishonest, they’ll know it. 

We recognise that probably doesn’t help to clear up how you should change your marketing approach to reach Gen Z. But don’t worry — we’ll get to the ins and outs of suggestions later on in the article. 

Key Gen Z Insights

It wouldn’t be fair to say that Generation Z is a different species from the older Generations. They’re not. There’s still a lot of significant overlap between all consumers. However, it’s very much the case that Gen Z has its own thing going on, and there are certainly some key characteristics that we see time and time again among Gen Z consumers. For example:

They’re Loyal

This one always comes as a surprise to marketers, who tend to believe — as most adults do – that younger people are fickle and will change direction like the wind. But that’s not supported by the evidence, which shows that Gen Z consumers are Generally loyal to brands

  • Some 60% of Gen Zers trust brands they liked growing up.
  • 45% of Gen Zers say they have a strong connection with or loyalty to their favourite brands.
  • 65% will stay with a brand they like for an extended period of time.

This is another way of saying that if you can get a Gen Z consumer on your side, then they’ll stick with you, providing you stay true and continue to nurture the relationship. 

They’re Brand Ambassadors 

As we’ll see later, one way to grow your Gen Z audience is to work with influencers. But each Gen Z consumer is, in a way, their own influencer. The loyalty that Gen Zers have to their favourite brands extends to, in effect, shouting about those brands from the rooftops, especially within their own family. A study by IBM found that they also influence how their family spends its money, especially when spending on travel, restaurants, furniture, and household items. 

They Care Deeply About Social Issues

This should come as no surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention to the news in recent years. There’s been a huge increase in the number of protests and demonstrations in favour of women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and anti-racist policies. So it should come as no surprise that this Generation expects the brands it supports to also live up to these ideals. 

A vast majority — some 80% — of Gen Z consumers say they would stop buying from a brand and tell others to do the same if they discovered that the company was using marketing materials they considered to be misogynistic, homophobic, or racist. 

This Generation is more issue-focused than previous Generations. Indeed, they’re willing to sacrifice some of themselves — in this case, an item they want to purchase or a musician they want to see — for the greater good.

Digital Messages

OK, so now we’ve figured out what Gen Z is broadly looking for — and perhaps just as importantly, what they’re not looking for. The question now becomes, how do you get your righteous message in front of the audience?

Crafting the message is one thing. Making sure that it’s seen is another thing entirely. There’s one place where brands hoping to reach Generation Z must be placing their marketing materials. And if you’ve been paying attention to how Gen Z spends its time — that is, glued to their phone — then it’ll come as no surprise.

Social media is the answer. One study found that 54% of Gen Zers spent more than four hours looking at social media each day. They always say that if you want to reach the people, you need to go where the people are hanging out. And for Gen Z, that’s unquestionably social media. 

Of course, it’s arguably just as important to be on the right social media sites. Instagram and TikTok? Absolutely. Facebook and LinkedIn, on the other hand, won’t be as important, since those sites are not as popular with that Generation. 

Self-Expression is Key

Self-expression is a big deal to Generation Z. They want to express their inner identities, rather than reflect a collective identity. While they care deeply about the other people around them and are less motivated to make themselves look superior to the collective, they still want to use their purchase decisions as a way to showcase who they are.

This differs from previous Generations, who would typically make purchase decisions based on the product’s ability to help them fit in with a crowd. 

So what does this mean for brands? One, that personalised offerings are effective, with some 50% of consumers willing to pay more for products that are personalised in some way. An even higher percentage of people are willing to pay more for products from brands that reflect their social values or support causes that matter most to them.

Perhaps one area where we see a more collective approach is Gender conformity. Gen Zers are much more likely to buy from brands that do not make a distinction between male and female products. 

How Gen Z Impacts Brand Marketing

We can see how Gen Z differs from millennials and early Generations. The question is, what are brands supposed to do with this shift? 

First and foremost, it’s important to keep things in perspective. Gen Z is doing their own thing, and that requires a different marketing approach — but only if the brand is actively trying to solicit the Generation. There are more people in the Millennial age group and boomers have the most money, so if your business focuses on them, then stick with what you’re doing. You don’t need to adjust your marketing campaigns overnight if Zoomers only account for a small percentage of your audience.

However, if you want to build your Gen Z audience, or you just want to align yourself with the future of marketing, then some changes will be required. Below, we’ll run through some handy tips that’ll help to make your marketing campaign more Gen Z-friendly. 

Use More User Generated Content

Looking for a quick, easy, and fun way to bring Gen Z onboard? Take a look at including user-Generated content within your marketing campaigns. Studies have shown that Gen Z consumers are much more likely to trust an advertisement — and thus the brand — if real actors are used in the promotional materials. In that scenario, 82% have a favourable view of the company, while the figure drops down to 26% if it’s a paid actor/spokesperson. 

As such, it’s recommended to encourage your customers to make photos/videos of their experience of your products/services, and then use that content in your marketing. 

Influencer Marketing

Older Generations can think the concept of influencers is stupid. But that’s certainly not the view of Generation Z, who have shown time and time again that they’re heavily influenced by these small social media stars. Indeed, it’s one of the most effective ways to reach the group — around 15% of 13 – 24-year-olds have bought something because of an influencer. And given the relatively low cost that influencers charge, it can’t hurt to give them a try.

For the best results, it’s recommended to work with nano-influencers (1k-10k followers) and micro-influencers (10k-100k followers). Those guys have a higher level of engagement than celebrity influencers, and they won’t charge you anywhere near as much. 

Social Responsibility

For the majority of marketing history, brands have shied away from taking any sort of social or political stance. Virtually every brand stayed neutral. Now, it’s the opposite. You’ll be more likely to lose customers if you have no stance. Gen Z expects brands to use their power to be on the right side of history, and that means fighting for improvements in mental health support, birth control, women’s rights, and climate change, among other critical issues.

A word of warning, however: if you’re going to take a stand, then it must be Genuine. Throwing in a few phrases of empty support will do more harm than good — Gen Z is exceptionally good at weeding out the brands that really care from the ones that just say they do. 

Truth is a Priority

Older Generations seemed to be OK with the appearance of truth. If there was a happy cow on the packaging, then that was enough. Gen Z is more concerned with Genuine truth. They want the brands they buy from to be authentic and trustworthy. 

Authentic and honest and the rest can seem like vague terms, but what it basically comes down to is: be sincere wherever you can. Upfront honesty, fair employee rights, and no manipulation of photos/videos are the way to go. 

Engaging Marketing Forms

You might win a Gen Z customer by writing a brilliant whitepaper. But in all likelihood, they’ll skip that paper in exchange for something more engaging. And what’s engaging in the world of a Gen Z consumer? Video! Short-form video content that’s easily shareable on TikTok and Instagram has shown to be an effective way to reach the Gen Z audience. 

Final Thoughts

So, what have we learned? Perhaps the overall message of this post is: Gen Z is different from other Generations, and that’s something that brands should reflect in their marketing strategies. The traditional ways of doing things are still valid for millennials and baby boomers, but they’re increasingly likely to be less impactful on Gen Z consumers.

That group is all about self-expression, social and political activism, and love for the world. Though brands need to work hard to bring them on board, once they have, they’ll have a loyal consumer base that sticks with them. And with some $360 billion up for grabs, it’s a journey that brands would be well recommended to undertake in the next couple of years.  

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