When I was much younger, my mom drilled into me that it’s never a good idea to stereotype, yet we marketers often fall into traps that do just that. We’ve invented no end of fancy ways to hide the fact we are making a lot of assumptions about peoples’ interests based on their age, or that they have children, or that they prefer their caffeine delivered in the form of artisanal coffee, for example.
Called personas, custom segments, clusters, demographics, tribes or whatever, one of the most common (and oldest) ways of identifying customers and prospects is clustering by generation. It’s never a perfect science, and indeed, most marketers cannot even agree on a standard series of years to delineate Generation Z from millennials or their predecessors, Generation X.
So, despite saying in my set up that it’s not a good idea to generalize — let alone draw conclusions based on their choice of artisanal coffee drink — I’m writing an article for you, outlining three key reasons why Gen Z is different from prior ones and how to create content that resonates with that generation. For the purposes of this article when talking about Gen Z, I’ll use Mintel’s definition as being between the age of 11 and 24.
What’s different about Gen Z?
1. They are the true digital natives: Forget what millennials told you, this is the first generation that truly grew up in a connected world and have really earned the right to be called digital natives. For all their adoption of new tech, millennials can still remember a time before they had access to 24/7 entertainment via their smartphones or tablets. Gen Zers have literally existed from a very early age with their parents giving them electronic devices as “pacifiers.”
So it’s no surprise to learn that a Morning Consult report on Gen Z, titled “How America’s Largest, Most Diverse, Best-Educated, and Most Financially Powerful Generation Will Shape the Future,” indicated that half of Gen Z adults (49%) get the vast majority of their news from social media (including YouTube and TikTok), as compared to 17% of older adults.
Even more telling is that only 12% of Gen Z adults get most of their news on television, compared to 42% of all other adults. However, this reliance on social media for news and information (where misinformation is rife) is also impacting their levels of trust (see point #3) in institutions and corporations.
Of course, the introduction to mobile devices in their early years is triggering an increased reliance on them as they grow up. According to eMarketer, while millennials spend around 7.5 hours online, Gen Z is connected for nearly 10 hours, and Gen Zers’ mobile-first mindset also impacts how they shop. Members of this generation are twice as likely to make a mobile online purchase as compared to millennials.
2. Video rules: The fact that Gen Z has grown up in an online world certainly shows in the length of time each generation spends connected to the web and also their use of social media — especially when it comes to the sites each group prefers. Millennials still nurture their Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter habits. Gen Z prefers Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and Snapchat. The difference, it seems, is that Gen Zers much prefer their video-based platforms and prefer to learn about products, especially through social media-based videos and influencer marketing.
When marketing to Gen Z, bear in mind that they are technologically adept and accustomed to finding the content they want and rejecting (and finding ways to block) content they don’t want, such as advertising. It helps when marketing to Gen Z to focus on content that feels more informative and less like advertising (pro tip: content marketing works great for this). Research shows that 82% of Gen Z will skip video ads as quickly as they can and 66% of them have downloaded some type of ad blocker on their devices.
3. Trust and honesty matter: A survey of Gen Zers conducted in 2020 by Morning Consult, which was obviously a time heavily influenced by the impact of COVID-19, suggested that the pandemic and Black Lives Matter issues are the two most impactful events of their (albeit young) lifetimes.
At the same time, and what appears to be related, their trust in institutions is falling across the board: In just a two month period in 2020, “the average trust rating for 15 major institutions Morning Consult is tracking has dropped from 56 percent to 46 percent.” The report goes on to say that “the largest declines are with the police (a 24-point drop in trust), the U.S. government (-17), the criminal justice system (-14) and the news media (-13).”
Gen Z adults are also making their voices heard when it comes to brands. Driven by a sense of social purpose and enabled by the interconnectivity afforded by their mobile devices, they are standing up and demanding to be heard. This means they are holding brands accountable and are insisting that brands should have an informed and authentic take on issues GenZcares about.
The impact for marketers is that the days of standing on the sidelines during moments of controversy are long gone. Consumers are expecting brands to acknowledge issues, speak out on them and take action inside their own organizations, as explored in further detail in “Your Brand as an Advocate.”
My takeaway for content marketers is this: First, be very careful in defining your brand’s tone, voice and right to voice (for more on this subject go here) — it needs to feel authentic to what your company stands for and what you can deliver. Second, content should be much shorter (certainly shorter than this article is). And last, it should be easily readable (or viewable) on a mobile device and on platforms like Snapchat, TikTok and Instagram.
Using content to build relationships with Gen Z is possible. Start with the advice my mother gave me: Don’t stereotype your audience, be honest and straightforward, and build for the mobile device.
Robin Riddle is the lead content marketing strategist at Foundry 360. He works across B2B as well as B2C and specializes in financial services, insurance and health care. Prior to his time here, he led content marketing businesses at both The Economist and The Wall Street Journal.
A passionate advocate for the value of content marketing, Robin is also heavily involved in industry issues and speaks at many events on the topics of content marketing and native advertising.
 Mintel defines Generation Z as the generation born between 1997 and 2010. In 2021, members of Gen Z are between the ages of 11 and 24. MARKETING TO GENERATION Z US, MAY 2021