Generation Z is the largest and most diverse generation in history. We represent 40% of consumers and already control $143 billion in purchasing power globally.
The time to understand and target Gen Z consumers is not in the future. The time is now.
However, many current Gen Z marketing strategies are vague. “Use Social Media,” “Incorporate a Social Cause,” and “Work with Influencers” are well-intentioned, but do not provide specific, tangible advice.
As a Gen Z marketing company run by members of Gen Z, we wanted to provide some tips directly from the source. Here are five Gen Z marketing strategies, from Gen Z.
Own a Real Purpose
“It’s the marketing ploy for me.” We know that 72% of Gen Z is more likely to buy from a company that contributes to social causes. However, brands often misinterpret this and think strategically donating to social causes or posting Black Lives Matter statements will appeal to Gen Z. In reality, most Gen Zers view these actions as performative activism because it seems like a marketing ploy.
Instead, we believe brands need to integrate causes bigger than themselves within their products, hiring, and values. Instead of just posting an empty statement about racial inequality, are you taking active steps to fire racist employees, create inclusive products, and commit to change within your organization? No brand is perfect, but some examples of brands embracing a larger purpose include Patagonia, Nike, and Ben & Jerry’s.
Patagonia is an outdoor apparel brand that has integrated saving the planet into the root of its purpose. With its products, Patagonia boasts an unlimited returns policy on unworn items and offers a repair service for worn clothing. On social media, the brand provides sustainability tips, creates content around outdoor activities, and promotes the importance of saving the planet. When the company received a $10 million tax cut, it donated all of it to organizations combating climate change. Its commitment to sustainability is something Patagonia unapologetically owns, so much that it is no longer an outdoor apparel brand — it’s a “saving the planet” brand.
Build Online Communities
“Social media, but make it community.” Imagine becoming best friends with someone you met over PlayStation voice chat. Or finding a community of like-minded strangers through a Discord channel. Or meeting co-founders and collaborators through TikTok. These are not rare stories for Gen Z. Becoming friends with online strangers and joining online communities is a normal practice in our generation. In fact, nearly three quarters (74%) said that belonging to an online community has improved their sense of unity in the world and 77% said it has improved their overall well-being.
In today’s world, every brand should think of building community instead of marketing to individual customers. This could include creating actual online communities such as subreddits (XBOX), Discord servers (AKChefs), or Facebook Groups (Peloton) for your brand around exclusive deals, brand engagement, or customer feedback. Or creating content around relatable experiences and memes only your customers understand. Chipotle’s TikTok account is a worthy case study, sharing Chipotle’s guac recipes, poking fun at Boomers who often struggle to pronounce ‘Chipotle,’ and joking about customers who fill free water cups with soda.
Another way to foster community is to build a community of influencers. Rather than thinking of short-term partnerships, which can often feel disingenuous, brands can enable their team of influencers to work together. Think Bang Energy with its stronghold over TikTok in comparison to traditional energy drink powerhouses such as Red Bull and Monster by working with teams of influencers. Meg Liz Owoc, Bang’s CMO, notes that “these extended-term influencer-based projects have given the brand its social media edge.” It comes to down one takeaway: if you invest in the influencer, they will invest in you (and so will their fans). If you partner with an influencer for one sponsored post, their fans will comment “Get that bread” for their favorite content creator but won’t take your product seriously. Instead, if you find relevant influencers who can become passionate ambassadors, their fans will begin to pay more attention.
Develop a Persona on Social Media
“Whoever runs this account deserves a raise.” If you look at organic social media content from favorable Gen Z brands such as Netflix, Glossier, and Wendy’s, they don’t sound like a brand at all. They sound like an actual person. Netflix is a woke celebrity who feels relatable, sharing memes and constantly spreading awareness about social issues. Glossier is a trendy gal, spreading positivity and horoscopes with their audience. Wendy’s is that edgy best friend; they make fun of their customers and get into Twitter wars with their competitors. Despite being in different industries, they have all generated high levels of engagement and cult-like followings on social media by developing distinct personalities that provide real humor, energy, and emotion. Instead of trying to squeeze out dollars by marketing and selling, drive brand loyalty simply by providing joy. And there is a strong return on investment, reflected by Wendy’s social media success.
There are two ways to develop this social media personality: Craft a distinct social media personality similar to the brands above or literally develop an actual person to represent your brand in human form. Some great examples of brand persons include fictional characters like Jake from StateFarm or real human beings like Dave Jorgensen from the Washington Post, a video producer who runs the Washington Post TikTok account with 750K followers. You may have seen recent Jake from State Farm television commercials, but he also has his own Twitter and Instagram accounts with tens of thousands of followers as well, where he sprinkles a normal lifestyle with State Farm propaganda. Similarly, Dave is the face of The Washington Post TikTok, creating and appearing in every video. He mixes his own self-aware, slightly cringey personality with a parade of workplace humor and reporting and is now synonymous with The Washington Post among Gen Z.
Tap into Nostalgia
“I was born in the wrong generation.” From fashion to music to video to polaroid photographs, Gen Z has romanticized and developed a taste for the past. Our generation has transformed brands founded in the 90s like Supreme and Champion from afterthoughts into some of the world’s hottest brands, and brands can totally tap into this nostalgia. This might stem from unprecedented access to visual history. With Spotify, we can access millions of songs from decades of music. On Etsy and Depop, we can thrift clothing and jewelry from the 80s and 90s. Through YouTube and TikTok, we can discover videos from years past. A trend in where users shared and obsessed over high school videos from the early 2000s went viral on TikTok, with the hashtag #2000sthrowback generating over 907 million views on the platform and #2000s with over 197 million views. Dispo, David Dobrik’s Polaroid camera app, is the next fast-growing Gen Z-focused product to tap into this nostalgia.
If your brand has been around for a while, tapping into Gen Z’s romanticization with nostalgia can be an effective marketing strategy to connect with our generation. The 90s is an era particularly favorable to Gen Z. Did you have a popular product or line from the early 2000s? Do you have video or product images from the past you can recreate? Can you create retro products or experiences? (Gen Z would probably love if McDonald’s brought back their classic 1950s golden arches at select locations.)
Hire and Work with Gen Z
“We’re just built different.” Gen Z is a generation like no other. We speak in the language of memes and distinct vernacular, much of which coming from Black AAVE. Words such as cap, shook, ship, simp, gucci, fire, basic, pull, salty, and tea mean something completely different among most Gen Zers. Additionally, we use social media as a weapon to raise awareness, mobilize, and create influential change. Many primarily Black and Brown Gen Zers have mobilized hundreds of thousands of peaceful protestors from their mobile phones, while a single TikTok user caused Life360, a family location tracking app, to plummet from 4.5 stars to 1 star on the App Store by mobilizing Gen Z to write bad reviews.
To put it simply, no one understands our generation like we do. Instead of talking about us, you need to start talking to us. In July, TikTok competitor Triller hired TikTok star Josh Richards as Chief Strategy Officer, which is only the beginning as the first Gen Zers have entered the workforce. In fact, many Gen Zers have now made it their mission to help brands better understand and market to their generation, including us here at JUV Consulting. With our diverse group of Gen Z consultants, strategists, and creatives and our community of thousands of Gen Z survey responders, we are passionate about working with brands to collaborate on purpose-driven research and marketing campaigns.
TL;DR: If you want to reach and connect with Gen Z, you need to start by having us at the table.
JUV Consulting is a Gen Z company that works with companies to create purpose-driven and authentic marketing campaigns that engage young audiences. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and subscribe to The Screenshot, our weekly newsletter, if you want to learn how to connect and engage with Gen Z.