Generation Z: The Future of Marketing

Members of Generation Z are the original digital natives: they’ve been fully immersed in technology since they were born. To them, technology isn’t innovative; it’s standard. This simple fact symbolizes a major shift in culture, trends, and values for this generation. It also presents a whole new set of challenges for marketers.

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While Gen Zers may be in the early years of maturation, their purchasing power continues to grow. Direct spending by Gen Zers is currently estimated to be between $29 and $143 billion per year—not including the additional billions in spending they influence. Marketing to Generation Z is poised to become one of the most important aspects of brand strategy.

Generation Z as an Emerging Consumer Audience

The Generation Z moniker is generally applied to anyone born between 1995 and 2012. Millennials are officially no longer the youngest generation to affect marketing strategies and bottom lines.

As tempting as it might be to think of Zers as an extension of the millennial generation—they’re often referred to as “millennials on steroids”—the differences run deeper. Research outlets indicate that some of Gen Zers’ values and ambitions overlap with those of millennials, but these digital natives are already showing marked differences against the preceding generation. Gen Zers also tend to take a more inclusive and tech-forward approach when compared against other generations.

The research on Generation Z is in its early stages: many factors could alter how Generation Z continues to grow and interact with brands. With the oldest Zers turning 22, however, they’re starting to enter the workforce in earnest, and their purchasing power will only increase. Enterprising brands must address existing marketing strategies in order to appeal to Generation Z.

A Brief Generation Z Profile

Generation Z is a multifaceted group of individuals. They’ve seen a great deal of changes and have grown up in the shadow of major events, ranging from the debut of Tesla to the global financial crisis. Current observed trends in the attitudes and preferences of Gen Zers will continue to impact how brands market to this new generation.

  • Generation Z is a “global generation” with over two billion individuals.
  • Generation Zers were born into and live in a digitally flexible world.
  • Generation Zers tend to self-identify as confident, optimistic, and motivated.
  • In general, Gen Zers believe that equality, across the board, is a human right.
  • Gen Zers have a short interest and attention span of about eight seconds.
  • Generation Z is largely a pragmatic generation—and their brand loyalty, preferences, and values are evidence of such.

Marketing to Generation Z

TLDR: Gen Z is going to be particular—they want to have a relationship with the brand they’re representing and the products they’re purchasing. Ultimately, they view any product or company that they do business with as an extension or representation of their beliefs. Marketing to Generation Z means understanding those beliefs.

Marketing to Generation Z means understanding how they approach relationships with people, technology, and brands.

Gen Zers are tech-savvy mega-media consumers, yet they’re also skeptical of putting too much faith in AI or the internet. They want products that are aesthetically pleasing, but they also want these products to be functional and represent their beliefs. In other words, for every desire and set of values shared by Gen Z, there’s a caveat.

Technological Relationships

Gen Z is a technology-forward and mobile-first group. Their phones are their most important asset: it functions as their wallet, camera, computer, and connection to the world. Generation Z isn’t exactly keen on calling companies either—they’d much rather use chat, messenger apps, or self-solution services. Zers also have an incredibly short interest span, so marketing approaches need to be catchy and succinct.

To adapt to this shift in media and advertising consumption, brands will need to make a few changes to their relationship with technology:

  • Use UX-centric designs to hook interest, capture attention quickly, and ensure scannability.
  • Target prospects on social media with short videos and quippy content.
  • Offer myriad digital communication methods with customized messaging for all platforms.
  • Provide chat apps for easy mobile communications.
  • Improve self-service solutions.
  • Utilize cloud storage for quick access on-the-go.

Brand and Interpersonal Relationships

Gen Zers want an honest experience with each other and the organizations they interact with. And they’re egalitarians: they view racial, LGBTQIA, healthcare, and gender equality as inextricably linked human rights. Additionally, they value freedom of self-identification and are keenly aware of the inequities that poverty can create. Ultimately, Gen Z individuals want to make a difference and feel passionate about what they’re doing or buying.

Gen Zers want the products they purchase and the brands they purchase from to feel purposeful. Marketing to Generation Z means prioritizing interpersonal relationships.

Generation Z will, so to speak, vote with their wallet. They want the products they purchase and the brands they purchase from to feel purposeful. A brand’s integrity could fall under scrutiny if a Gen Zer suspects that they’re being dishonest. And Generation Zers are inclined to share their suspicions, qualms, and general experiences online, extending the potential reach of criticisms.

Marketing to Generation Z means prioritizing interpersonal relationships: 

  • Lean heavily on social responsibility reporting.
  • Maintain transparent communication about practices and sourcing.
  • Keep branded communications easily accessible.
  • Create forward-thinking products that can be applied to myriad verticals for all people.
  • Collaborate with brand ambassadors or influencers that relate to brand values and resonate with the generation.

Corporate Relationships

Gen Z has witnessed the fallout of bad decisions made by many big corporations, like Facebook’s incident with Cambridge Analytica. This has skewed how they view corporations and impacts the level of trust they have in brands in general. Gen Z assumes that all corporations are bad, so brands will need to re-evaluate how they create trust between themselves and their customers.

Generation Z doesn’t put full trust in the internet as an authoritative resource, either—they’re well aware of the pitfalls that lay beneath resources like Wikipedia. They’d rather go to directly to the source and chat with family members or friends to glean information or news firsthand. This is why Gen Zers often rely on social media platforms as a way to stay involved.

Remedying this inherent distrust won’t happen overnight, but the right tactics can drastically improve a brand’s standing with Gen Z:

  • Create a corporate citizenship statement or brand story that reflects motivations other than profitability.
  • Distribute transparent, authentic messaging about corporate entities.
  • Give Generation Zers a reason to care—provide people-first copy and storytelling.
  • Buttress product and offering campaigns with firsthand, authentic customer experiences.

For the Future

Despite Gen Z’s complexities and myriad interests, the corresponding trends and needs can be seamlessly integrated into existing business strategies and plans. Ultimately, we recommend that brands put their people and culture first—Gen Zers will be able to tell if a company can walk the walk and talk the talk. By doing this, a brand’s messaging will be honest, authentic, and allude to an interpersonal relationship that best resonates with Gen Z.

Monique Seitz-Davis

With ten years of professional marketing experience, Monique brings a passion for telling brand stories to her writing for Clearlink. Prior work includes collaborative projects with companies like Merrell, Backcountry, Cotopaxi, and Wit and Delight. When she’s not copywriting, you can find Monique trail running, rabble-rousing with her pups, or practicing her bird calls.

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