What Brands Still Need to Learn about Gen Z Marketing

November 24, 2021

If you’re a brand hoping to convince Gen Z consumers to look your way for more than the eight seconds it generally takes them to tune out your message, lol... welcome to the club, friend: Gen Z has officially entered the chat. As the most diverse and hyper-opinionated generation in world history, they can feel like a tough crowd to understand - let alone advertise to - if you're using standard marketing tips and strategies.

To cite one obvious instance, Gen Z is hard to reach using tried-and-true advertising channels like TV. Likewise, you can't simply run online digital banner campaigns and get these digital natives to buy into your product or service. According to marketing research, the overwhelming majority either use ad-blockers or just skip through ads as quickly as possible. But that doesn't mean you can't reach them digitally.

Sure, Gen Zers might use ad-blockers, but they're still checking their Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok feeds pretty much round-the-clock. What's more, they binge-watch hour after hour of YouTube in the same way their parents sat watching TV. As a general rule, if you develop an always-on marketing strategy that engages them via social media influencers, video creators and branded content partnerships, you can - at the very least - capture their attention.

Know the difference between grabbing attention vs. winning loyalty

Alright, cool... So let's say, just for the sake of argument, you do all that. You build a cross-platform social media team who keep Gen Z hours (24/7/365) when it comes to screen time. Not only that, but you partner with popular social media influencers who command mid-to-large followings among younger Millennials and Gen Zers. Chances are you're going to catch Gen Z's eye. Good on you.

But are you actually going to win their interest and brand loyalty? Because that's a whole other question.

We hate to say it, but Influencers and creators with large followings aren't necessarily going to help you win Gen Zers over to your brand. Jojo Siwa might command one of the largest followings on YouTube and TikTok, but she's probably not going to sound very convincing if you're looking to advertise a product or service to male athletes. Likewise, George Millar might be great for plugging high-budget, gamer-related sponsorships to his millions of Minecraft and Roblox fans, but he's probably not be your go-to if you're marketing a new health supplement.

The point being, Gen Zers can spot a fake within a matter of seconds. And they take their relationships to brand creators and influencers seriously, in the same way older generations take their relationships with politicians and leading business figures in total seriousness. If a Gen Z consumer is following an influencer or celebrity online, and that influencer happens to advertise a product or service that goes against their values and beliefs, then... well...bye.

They might even hit "unsubscribe" from that influencer's channel. Which kind of defeats the purpose of targeting Gen Z consumers based on numbers.

How to market to Gen Z students, courtesy of Curastory

Authenticity is (almost) everything

In order to advertise successfully to Gen Z, you need to remember this simple equation:

Niche > Numbers

It doesn't matter whether you're a content creator or a worldwide brand: The biggest selling point for Gen Z audiences is your level of honesty and authenticity, according to new research from Morning Consult. If you can't deliver on that and answer some key questions, "Who are you? What are doing on my screen right now? Does what you're selling have something to do with my values and lifestyle?" then Gen Z's interest will be extremely limited.

In order for them to actually trust you, you're going to have to understand them at a deeper level than simply another "advertising cohort" in your programmatic campaign. You're going to have to (gasp!) understand them as individual human beings... and engage with them at a personal level that most marketers aren't generally trained for.

How can you, as a marketer, engage with a Gen Z audience on that hyper-personal level?

One way to do it is to form sponsorships with nano-influencers and niche content creators that drive engagement and sales. Nano-influencers may not have the huge numbers of followers and subscribers that social media royalty do, but they do drive twice as much average engagement. They also tend to come with a much lower price-tag than people with huge followings, so you're getting more bang for your buck.

Why do nano-influencers generally achieve higher engagement rates? That's easy: Because Gen Zers, as a rule, trust them... specifically because they're not perceived as grifters or being "out for clout". They're "everyday influencers" and come across as intensely relatable.

The bottom line is this: If you can find niche creators who already entertain and delight the types of audiences interested in your product or service, then by all means, go for it. You're almost sure to get higher ROI than you would from relying on social media royalty.

Also, one last tip: Since individual nano-influencers don't have the same reach and scale as macro-influencers, it's probably wise to strike deals with multiple nano-influencers.

Offer products and services with promos

In addition to being socially idealistic, Gen Zers tend to be conservative about fiscal matters. That observation may seem a little contradictory, but Gen Z is all about the contradictions - and for good reason. After all, these are the kids who grew up watching their parents get dragged into massive debt during the 2008 housing crisis and Great Recession, and they're not out to make the same mistake twice.

What's the lesson here for brands? If you can't connect with Gen Z's left-leaning idealism, you can still seek to offer them value with the products and services you advertise. One way of doing that is to have your video creators and influencers provide promo codes and discounts, which are wildly popular with Gen Z, and one of the deciding factors they cited for making purchases in 2020.

According to a report from UNiDAYS, Gen Z's top category for spending their money (beyond paying their tuition and rent) is on dining out... by an overwhelming majority. If quick-service restaurants are willing to engage video content creators and social media influencers to satisfy Gen Z's cravings for all things Food and Beverage, they're bound to gain some traction!

Market to them as students

What's possibly the one thing Gen Z all share in common? Ding ding ding, you guessed it: Their age range. And the fact many of them are already students - or at least seeking to become them.

Now, consider this: The average cost of a four-year public university in the United States comes out to roughly $22,690 per year for tuition, room, and board according to Statista. And it costs even more for anyone applying from out-of-state. Meanwhile, average tuition at your average private liberal arts college or university adds up to around $51,690.

Not only are most Gen Z students planning on attending college in-state, but nearly one in five plan on living at home with their parents in order to save on housing costs. Sure, that means they could miss out on some student life... but they're also (and wisely) opting out of student loans.

Brands able to make students' lives a bit more luxurious -- while keeping down their costs -- are going to win big with Gen Z. One of the main reasons Amazon's hugely popular among college students is its Student Prime program, which provides the savings and shipping privileges of a normal Prime account... but at a much lower price. The same goes for Apple Student Discount, an Apple initiative that sells premium electronics products to Gen Z students at reasonable costs.

If you're looking to win big with Gen Z, market to them using tech-savvy influencers and content ceators, who are well-positioned to hook them up with promos and offers that help them save on college.

To sum it all up

Like it or not, Gen Z is slowly becoming the make-or-break test of every successful marketer. But don't fret. By engaging them on the social channels and platforms they frequent, using nano-influencers and creators they trust and respect, you can get in the good graces of this hyper-personalized generation of teens and 20-somethings. Finally, to learn how you can use Curastory to help drive your social media and video engagement and purchase rates with Gen Z, reach out to us! We're here to help you succeed, every step of the way.

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