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Gen Z: How Marketers Can Win With the Next Wave of Consumer Game-Changers

They’re young, they’re aware, they’re involved, and they are a growing portion of the economy. Just don’t call them Millennials.

Generation Z, the demographic that falls post-Millennial and pre-Generation Alpha, comes with a relaxed definition of age (born in the mid to late 90s to early 2010s). Its members also bring an identity forged with plenty of influence from the earth-rocking events of the 2020s.

Gen Z is also growing in buying power. Here at The Brandon Agency, we have been digging into this new, powerful consumer segment to better understand Gen Z, what makes its members tick and how we can better tap into their buying power as it continues to grow in importance. This is part one of a five-part series on how marketers can win with the next wave of consumer game-changers!

According to Business Insider, American Gen Z members spend $143 billion annually. Their data shows 75% of Gen Z spends more than half their money monthly. And the publication projected the generation to comprise 40% of consumers this year.

That’s eye-opening to brands and marketers. Gen Z is next on the horizon, but its members don’t act and buy as Millennials do in all cases. What influences their purchasing decisions, and how do marketers improve the way they reach them?

First, a Bit More About Gen Z

They’re Enterprising.

Self-described as ambitious and career-focused, Gen Zers are 17% more likely to take risks than members of other generations. About 50% say helping the environment is critical to them, compared to about 40% who put emphasis on helping their community.

They’re Aware.

They’re the most connected generation ever — but also aware of technology’s pitfalls and the detriments of too much screen time.

Kirby Altman is Marketing and Production Manager at The Brandon Agency. A cusp Gen Zer who is Millennial by some standards, Altman says the pandemic hasn’t upped her screen time.

“I made it a goal to unplug more this year and not spend so much time on social media,” Altman said. “I feel like after sitting in front of a screen all day at work, the last thing I want to do is look on my phone.”

They Game.

With 94% counting themselves as gamers, they’re the gamiest generation ever. They play with real-life friends too, as social gamers (44%).

They’re Changing Social Media.

They like YouTube like the rest of the generations, but they’re not as keen on broadcasting their personal lives on social media as others tend to do. They’d rather be entertained together and take a break from it all.

They’re Enigmatic.

Well, so far as marketers are concerned. If Gen Z feels difficult to reach for brands, there’s evidence to support that — 15% of them don’t feel represented in advertising. They want to be reached differently than prior generations, and that’s a challenge, especially to traditional brands.

Gen Zer Brianna Young is a Social Media Associate at The Brandon Agency. She gives brands the benefit of the doubt and is open to how they engage.

“Emails and social ads are where I get reached, and I actually engage with the content and products companies are trying to get me to buy,” Young said.

GlobalWebIndex is a market research SaaS company that provides audience insights to media agencies, marketers and publishers. GWI recently examined Gen Z and its purchase journey.

Breaking Down the Gen Z Customer Journey

Brand Discovery

From step one, reaching Gen Z with advertising looks quite different than it does with other generations. It’s not primarily from search engines and TV. Altman found Athleta, an activewear brand, recently through social media.

“It won me over through their posting of all types of people—not a cookie-cutter athletic brand where they only show one demographic,” Altman said. “I liked that they represent everyone. Plus, they make nice clothes for lounging when I work from home.”

Vlogs and celebrity or influencer endorsements also drive brand discovery for Gen Z (20% each). The COVID-19 onset accelerated growth for influencer marketing, now a $6.5 billion industry. Ads on music-streaming services (15%) also connect.

Gen Z member Lizzy Wullner is a Junior Media Buyer with The Brandon Agency. She says rather than social media, she pays attention to ads on streaming services such as Hulu and YouTube TV. A brand also must make a real connection to gain Wullner’s business.

“They are just products and services, but I like to think if the connection made is authentic, then it is worth it,” Wullner said. “I guess working in this industry makes us more tuned-in with what is authentic or not.”

Online Purchase Drivers

So how do you get a Gen Zer to bust out the credit card and make that purchase? Likes and positive comments help. They take their peers’ advice when it comes to products and services. Ease of payment, especially in select markets where cash on delivery is an option, is a driver of sales (21%). (Just a smooth cart experience can help, too.)

Young likes dynamic catalog ads, especially from Shop Disney — and it helps that it’s a snap to make a purchase there.

“It’s super easy to go to the product page and check out, versus having to navigate the brand’s whole website to find the one item,” she said.

The “buy” button on social media posts sure is helpful to 14% of Gen Z polled.

Cost and reward are big, also. This generation likes to spend but doesn’t yet have the buying power of Gen Xers and Baby Boomers. They like:

● Free delivery (54%)

● Coupons and discounts (43%)

● Exclusive content (24%)

● Enhancement to online reputation (18%) through awards and badges

As a newlywed, Altman’s on a tight budget, so these factors play a role in the purchase journey.

“I want to be rewarded for spending my money with a company, and discounts are always great,” she said.

Online Product Research

Just as they discover brands, Gen Zers will research them. Vlogs and micro-vlogs, as you’d find on Twitter, lead the way (20%). Brands that can integrate research and checkout get an advantage — 28% of Gen Z shoppers cite an easy online process as a key driver to purchase, especially if they don’t have to navigate away from a mobile app to do it.

Gen Zer Haywood Brandon is an Account Manager with The Brandon Agency. He’s found brands that resonate with his generation, including Filson, GORUCK, Huckberry, Mossy Oak, Orvis, Pladra, TravisMathew and Whitetailer. His research is simple.

“I definitely look into them to see if I feel they are authentic to what their brand represents, but that is about as deep as that goes,” Brandon said. “I’m not a huge fan of corporate, and I often feel corporation-owned companies aren’t actually passionate about what they sell, so I try to avoid them if I can.”

How can your brand more effectively appeal to Gen Z?

Gen Z purchasers who work for The Brandon Agency spoke out about what they seek when they make purchase decisions.

Understand What Resonates

Wullner’s position as a media buyer gives her insight into ad content and placement.

“There is a lot of planning that goes in, and everything is for a reason — which is to generate a specific goal, whether that is revenue, leads, etc.,” Wullner said. “So, it is easier for me to see through that sort of thing when it is served to me.”

Seeing a brand do this well is appreciated, said Wullner. She took a class in college on Super Bowl commercials. In it, they dissected messages coming from top brands. That ability to connect superseded any other factor, she said.

“Even if they have a budget for huge production and spend large amounts of money for that ad space, the message is not always great or doesn’t connect with the audience,” Wullner said.

Be Aware

“Tone deaf” became a buzzword in 2020. Rather than appear to want to capitalize on situations, take a step back and realize your position in your community and society.

Young says dealing with a brand that operates and communicates without acknowledging current struggles is a hard no.

“As a consumer, it’s important for me to see bigger companies helping smaller ones or helping the community in other ways in 2020,” Young said. “I have not always felt that way, but it definitely has been on the forefront for me since the pandemic started.”

Gen Zer Craddock Close is a Social Media Associate with The Brandon Agency. Lockdowns have meant more time-consuming messages on almost all digital platforms, he said. That means social feeds loaded with sponsored posts and targeted ads.

“I spend more time scrolling and less time on the ads themselves,” Close said. “I am more likely to engage with the ads that use quick videos and animations and clearly state the product and its purpose rather than messages that are generic, unclear or uncomfortable, such as insensitivity to the pandemic and global climate.”

Young would like to see more Instagram incorporated into campaigns at The Brandon Agency.

“Instagram and TikTok are where the true Gen Zers are, right?” Young said. “But, for an agency to effectively utilize both of those platforms for clients, it’ll take a lot of time and effort. Facebook is trying to not be a thing of the past, but the demographics using Facebook are not really Gen Zers.”

Altman praises The Brandon Agency’s understanding of Gen Z in marketing efforts. “We apply this knowledge to our clients and plan accordingly,” she said.

What can The Brandon Agency do to help your brand with Gen Z?

Reach out today and discover how we can work together to present your brand in ways it can easily connect with this burgeoning demographic.