Targeting Generation Z Consumers, Part 2

Stephen DeAngelis

February 25, 2019

“If retail was a target-based dart game,” writes Cara Salpini (@CaraSalpini),, “then hitting Gen Z would be the bullseye. Not because they have the most spending power or the most stable jobs, but for a variety of factors that make them, if nothing else, a good investment.”[1] It might be a bit premature to make Gen Zers, rather than millennials, the marketing bullseye. Together, however, the two generations are an economic powerhouse. Combined those groups will make up roughly 70% of the global population by 2028. As millennials have aged, they have also left enough digital clues that retailers are getting comfortable with their efforts to target their tastes and preferences. Members of Generation Z, ranging in age from 7 to 24, are much harder to figure out. As noted in Part 1 of this article, we do know some things about them. They:

  • Love technology.
  • Watch a lot of video.
  • Are visually inclined.
  • Are socially and politically conscious.
  • Use the digital path to purchase.
  • Want to interact with brands.

Christine Alemany (@TBGrowthAdvisor), CEO of Trailblaze Growth Advisors, rightfully insists, “Smart brands won’t generalize when it comes to Gen Z.”[1] Nevertheless, the generalizations mentioned above do provide clues for retailers to follow when trying to reach out to Gen Zers.

Targeting Generation Z consumers

The first thing retailers should understand about Gen Z consumers is that the best way to reach them is using mobile technology (i.e., their smartphones). Claire Lentsch (@ClaireLentsch), a member of Gen Z, explains, “Nearly every student carries their phone on them, with constant messaging and intake of information.”[3] In other words, targeting Gen Z consumers requires a mobile-first strategy. Other recommendations for reaching them include:

Give them convenience. Lentsch bluntly states, “Technology creates convenience.” To underscore the fact that Gen Z consumers want convenience, Jamie Grill-Goodman reports, “A majority of Gen Z shoppers want grab-and-go stores (55%), virtual try-on for clothing and glasses (46%), in­teractive shoppable screens (50%), home delivery by Uber-like services (45%), order-only stores where products are only shipped to your home (41%), and in-home product order buttons (42%). And look to the sky, 39% want drone delivery, compared to just 26% of all shoppers.”[4]

Push the technology envelope. Technology might mean convenience but it also sparks excitement. Grill-Goodman notes, “Gen Z shoppers are looking for more innovation, more disruption, more next-gen retailing.” Lentsch notes many retailers still try to reach young adults using e-mail. She insists e-mail should be dropped in favor of texting.

Be social. Rob Straathof (@Flying__Dutchmn), CEO of Liberis, suggests harnessing the power of social media. He explains, “Virtually all of Generation Z uses social media in some capacity, and they are incredibly engaged in doing so.”[5] Alemany suggests this strategy is not as easy as it might sound. She notes, “This generation is notorious for staying one step ahead of brands, leaving them to chase after them with strategies that are no longer relevant. For example, businesses that are investing all of their marketing dollars into influencers may soon find that method ineffective, as Gen Z finds new influencers to follow or new spaces to occupy.” According to Salpini, retailers are in the early learning stages of social commerce. She explains, “In many ways, social commerce is in its infancy, but it’s nearly impossible to talk about generational differences without touching upon social media. As is to be expected, social platforms are more popular with younger generations, which by default suggests that shopping and brand discovery on social channels are more popular with Gen Z and millennials than with Gen X and baby boomers.”

Leverage visual channels. A survey conducted for Wibbitz found, “Gen Z spends about 2.9 hours watching videos on smartphones [daily].”[6] And Ayaz Nanji (@ayaznanji), co-founder of ICW Content, reports, “Gen Z consumers are significantly more likely than older consumers to use visual-based social networks, such as Instagram and Snapchat.”[7] Alemany suggests retailers take a closer look on which channels their desired consumer is spending most of his or her time. “Gen Z is notorious for loving YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram,” she explains, “but don’t assume you can create a YouTube ad to reach the entirety of your Gen Z audience. It’s likely that the subset of Gen Z that you want to connect with is spending more time on one of those platforms than the others. Or the group of consumers you want to reach could be on TikTok (now including Musical.ly), Houseparty or Tumblr.”

Be authentic and transparent. Nobody likes feeling they’ve been duped or treated unfairly. Alemany insists, “Brands must connect with consumers about more than the product in order to truly develop a relationship. Gen Z’s members specifically look for brands that match their values and affirm their identities.” Brands failing to live up to their rhetoric can suffer severe economic blows. Gen Z consumers are aware data is being collected from them and they expect it to be used for their benefit. Mark Mathews, Vice President of research development and industry analysis at the National Retail Federation, states, “[Retailers] need to ensure they are transparent in what they do and how they communicate with what is a very cyber savvy generation. This is especially the case for how they use their data. Gen Z is very cautious with sharing their personal information and retailers need to explain the how’s and why’s when it comes to requesting personal information.”[8]

Be concise and use the right “language”. Today’s consumers, including Gen Zers, are bombarded with messages and have little patience when confronted with extraneous information. Alemany writes, “As digital natives, Gen-Zers have been inundated with ads and marketing messages from the cradle. This generation is more likely than any other to skip ads quickly and utilize ad blockers. By now, they’re savvy about the way marketers leverage messaging and emotions to connect, and they make brands work a little harder to keep their attention.” Straathof adds, “Today, the average attention span of a consumer is just eight seconds. So, whether you want this new wave of consumers to click on your blog post or fill in a form, you’ll have to give them all the information they need within this time frame.” According to Grill-Goodman, retailers must use Gen Zer’s preferred “language” in making their pitch. He explains, “Communicating more frequently in short bursts using images, emoji’s, and videos, is one of the top five factors retailers should consider when talking to Gen Z.”

Don’t generalize — segment. Despite our love to generalize, we all know people are unique. Some of share certain interests, tastes, and preferences; but, trying to put an entire generation into a single pigeon hole makes no sense. “It’s easy to throw money away on strategies that will not actually connect with the target market,” Alemany explains. Do your homework: gather your data, analyze it, and target intelligently.

Concluding Thoughts

We all like attention. Recently, the spotlight has moved from baby boomers to millennials and is now beginning to shine on Gen Zers. However, Generation Z shouldn’t get too comfortable in the spotlight. Articles are already being written about Generation Alpha (2013-3025) — most whose number have yet to be born. Life goes on.

Footnotes
[1] Cara Salpini, “Gen Z’s need for speed and how retailers can keep up,” Retail Dive, 8 May 2019.
[2] Christine Alemany, “Smart Brands Won’t Generalize When It Comes to Gen Z,” Entrepreneur, 21 January 2019.
[3] Claire Lentsch, “Meet Gen Z: Technology Is Convenient, Comforting,” The Shelby Report, 12 March 2019.
[4] Jamie Grill-Goodman, “7 Ways Retailers Can Target Generation Z,” RIS News, 22 June 2017.
[5] Rob Straathof, “Top 5 ways to target Generation Z,” European CEO, 27 February 2018.
[6] Nighat Noor, “Analysis: Social media video ads are major source to access millenial and Gen Z,” Digital Information World, 22 January 2019.
[7] Ayaz Nanji, “Getting to Know Gen Z: Beliefs, Preferences, and Behaviors,” MarketingProfs, 13 March 2018.
[8] Grill-Goodman, op. cit.