Marketing to Gen Z: 3 Insights to Engage with Digital Natives


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Brands need to take special care when marketing to tomorrow’s most-wanted consumers.

In the year 2030, the majority of Generation Z will be in their 20s and 30s – landing with both feet in family, career, and adulthood. They already wield enormous economic influence, but Gen Z’s spending power is just getting started. Only 10 years from now, they will be making a huge portion of the purchases that drive growth in the US.

But with adulthood comes anxiety. Gen Zers are susceptible to a unique set of burdens and concerns, rooted in their role as connectors of the analog past – a world their parents took for granted – and a post-smartphone future that we can only imagine right now. They are true digital natives who have never known life without smartphones or social media. And they are inheriting a planet increasingly compromised by the excesses of their parents and grandparents.

To market wisely to this uniquely challenged and gifted generation, brands need to understand Gen Z from the inside out – their deepest cultural reference points, as well as the pleasures and tasks that occupy them day in and day out.

We know, for example, that Gen Z feels stressed. In GfK Consumer Life studies, 81% of Gen Zers say that young people are under a lot of pressure to do the things adults think they should; only 51% of Baby Boomers say the same thing, showing a huge disconnect between these generations. Nearly seven in ten Gen Zers (69%) also report having three major stressors in their lives – with money holding the #1 slot. Other key sources of anxiety for this group are self-pressure and lack of time to do the things they want to do.

We might assume that digital technology – from smartphones to tablets to streaming services – would serve as a trusted ally for this plugged-in generation. After all, smart technology has been their research assistant, personal scheduler, and all-in-one source of entertainment since before they can remember. But the latest insights from GfK Consumer Life suggest that Gen Z’s relationship to digital tech is complex and often ambivalent. Here are three essential new insights that brands need to keep in mind when marketing to this indispensable consumer group.

1. Digital tech may not hold all their answers

Overall, more than half (58%) of Gen Z Americans say they prefer products that offer the latest technology, slightly higher than their Millennial counterparts. Yet only under half (46%) of Gen Z report optimism about the effects of technology on society – 7 points below the total US average, and 9 points under Millennials. While they feel they need to have the most recent gadgets and services, Gen Z – more than other young adults – clearly is not certain that the net effects are positive.

According to Facebook, the average person scrolls through over 300 feet of mobile content every day; that is roughly the same as the height of the Statue of Liberty. While this quantity of information may yield insight, it can also contribute to confusion and concern about what other people and countries are doing; we know so much, but when do we have time to process it?

2. They have trouble checking out

Given our enormous quantity of daily online scrolling and searching, maybe it is not surprising that almost two-thirds (62%) of Gen Z Americans say they have difficulty taking breaks from technology; that score is dramatically higher (18 points) than the total US, and 7 points above US Millennials. At the same time, Gen Z are less likely than their Millennial counterparts (62% versus 72%) to want to be “always reachable” – a potential sign of technology fatigue. They are even less likely than global Gen Zers to desire constant connection (10 points lower).

3. The environment is never far from their minds

Gen Z are more likely than average Americans to say climate change and environmental pollution are among their top concerns. Climate change is the #2 concern for American Gen Zers, behind only “Money enough to live right and pay the bills.” Among the global Gen Z population, pollution is a bigger concern (#1) than climate change (#6).

Our insights show that Gen Z is truly unique – practical and ambitious, yet also socially attuned and anxious about life. Technology is a given in most of their activities, an ingredient baked into their expectations and agendas. But this native reliance on digital devices and services does not mean Z-ers have figured out the online/offline balance that almost all tech users struggle with. This is an opportunity for brands to show wisdom and share strategies for coping with the opportunities and obstacles of our increasingly digital world. Earning the trust of these wary consumers today will surely pay dividends as their needs and spending power grow.

Jola Burnett
In her current role, Jola consults with a variety of Fortune 500 clients, looking to make sense of the future and consumers in the US and abroad. Jola'sexpertise includes media & entertainment, advertising and PR, health, consumer packaged goods, personal care, beauty & fashion, food, retail, marketing and non-profit. Jola is fluent in Polish and Russian and holds an MBA from Pace University (New York), with a dual major in Marketing and Finance; a BA in English and American Literature from the University of Wroclaw (Poland); and a BA in American Literature from the SUNY.


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