7 ways for companies to better engage with Generation Z

7 ways to better engage with Generation Z

Unless you’re able to connect with tomorrow’s buyer, your business success today may count for very little.

Your reputation and ways of successfully doing business could soon kill off your company. Your company ‘strengths’ – built up over many years – could be the same things that turn off younger buyers.

Generation Z – generally classified as consumers born between 1995 and 2010 – is the most digitally savvy generation yet, having been practically born with a smartphone in their hand.

They are more connected than any other generation, making them perhaps the most accessible age group of all time. They might also be the most discerning when it comes to being sold to – having grown up through a bombardment of online advertisement and click-bait.

Gen Zers are more connected than any other generation – and might also be the most discerning when it comes to being sold to.

And by 2020 they’ll account for 40% of all US consumers (they already make up 22%), according to recent research by Goldman Sachs. In Europe the figures will be similar.

What’s more, 93% of parents say their Gen Zer children influence family spending decisions and household purchases. So even if your products are not aimed at younger buyers, you’re far from immune from their influence.

Changing habits

As Gen Zers take a larger slice of spending power, many companies will have to up their game in terms of how they market their brand, products and services and the channels they use to reach younger buyers.

Big brands, built on decades of heritage, won’t necessarily appeal. In years to come, Kodak’s demise might be seen as the tip of the iceberg.

For instance, 41% of Gen Zers say they would consider banking services from digital companies such as Google, Amazon, Apple or Facebook. And while only 14% of the general population trusts digital solutions over banks, according to one study, the percentage is 25% for Gen Zers – the highest for any age group. Only 30% of Gen Zers favour loyalty programmes.

41% of Gen Zers say they would consider banking services from digital companies such as Google or Facebook.

Of course, buying habits will vary depending on the product or service being sold, as well as between individuals. It’s difficult to generalise too much about what any age group wants, let alone Gen Zers. Having said that, a few patterns and trends seem to hold true when understanding how best to engage with Gen Zers:

1. Talk with them, not at them
Gen Zers rarely sit through ads and care little for heavily sponsored content. What they’re looking for is value. When producing content, don’t think about just selling to them. Think about helping them, empowering them and collaborating with them.

2. Know your cause
In many cases, Gen Zers will want to know what your business is doing to create broader change. Business is not just business. For example, 93% of Gen Zers say that a company's impact on society affects their decision to work there. And more than half want their jobs to impact the world. Regardless of what you’re selling, many Gen Zers will quickly form an opinion of whether your business is ethical and part of a larger cause. This opinion could well determine whether they spend with you.

Many Gen Zers will quickly form an opinion of whether your business is part of a larger cause.

3. Be in many places at once
While millennials typically use three screens (and bounce between them intermittently), according to some estimates Gen Zers use five: smartphone, TV, laptop, desktop and tablet. Gen Zers will certainly use multiple social media outlets so, in many cases, that is where your business needs to be. In many cases a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat will just be scratching the surface.

4. Get to the point
An average Gen Z consumer has an eight-second attention span, according to some studies. Gen Zers know they can move on to another company’s website with just a few swipes, so brands must get to the point. Simplicity is key. Short digestible messages, and communication through images and videos improve your chances of retaining their attention.

5. Build communities
Mobile devices are typically Gen Zers’ primary form of communication. This is why social platforms thrive and have created niche markets. For example, platforms like Musical.ly provide Gen Zers with creative ways to express themselves and, just as critically, a community of other users. It’s no surprise that some start-ups are starting to think of ROI as ‘return on interaction’, rather than investment. It’s through meaningful interactions with Gen Zers that you’ll find connection points between them and your brand.

It’s no surprise that some start-ups are starting to think of ROI as ‘return on interaction’.

6. Drop the celebrity
Most Gen Zers (63%) say they prefer to see real people in advertisements, rather than celebrities. And close to 70% are more interested in content with a “realistic ending” than a polished but unlikely narrative. Gen Zers are actually more inclined to relate to their favourite YouTube stars and Instagram influencers. About one third of US social media users between 16 and 34 are social influencers, meaning they either have a sizable following online or actively partner with brands. In future, it might be these social influencers, rather than traditional celebrities, that help to drive your brand forward.

7. Go native
Staying authentic to your audience is extremely important. Being a part of the communities/industry groups that you serve can make a vital difference and increase ‘stickiness’ between you and target audiences. Having real empathy for your client base is vital. Only after Nike put skateboarders in control of designing and marketing footwear did it crack the skateboarding market. If your company doesn’t have employees with empathy for younger generations, factor this into your hiring. 

Of course, companies should not throw the baby out with the bath water. Older customers will continue to be vitally important. Moreover, generalisations about any age group must be tempered by an appreciation that habits and attitudes vary – and will change with time. And there will be many similarities across age groups: integrity and trustfulness, for example, are company characteristics valued by people of all ages.

What is clear, however, is that yesterday’s success might mean very little for tomorrow’s buyer – a buyer who is well-informed and prepared to shop around.