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The New-Age Customer: Marketing to Gen Z

Familiarize yourself with this audience and what makes them tick

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Editor's Note: I actually remember a time when unlimited text messaging wasn’t part of a mobile phone plan, but was a premium add-on (or just wasn’t a thing at all). For those targeting Gen Zers, they’ve likely only had unlimited text messaging their whole lives.

When it comes to marketing to Gen Zers, keep in mind the impact SMS messaging is having. In the US alone, there are over 294 million smartphone users and since 2019 SMS usage in the US has been growing at a rate of 6.2%. Research shows that 54% of consumers say they prefer direct communication from brands through SMS messaging.

This all proves the widespread adoption of both mobile technology and SMS as a powerful communication channel are growing and with no signs of slowing down.

Read on to uncover other insights into this ever-growing audience and how to grab their attention.

Do you remember when Pepsi launched its ‘Live for Now’ commercial, only to take it down a day after its release? The ad featured supermodel Kendall Jenner, who joins a protest and hands a can of Pepsi to one of the police officers on site, effectively diffusing the situation.

The ad faced widespread online criticism, with many viewers dubbing it a tone-deaf trivialization of systemic injustice in the US. After pulling the ad, Pepsi publicly apologized for “missing the mark.” Pepsi’s faux pas is an example of the dangers of cancel culture, a social phenomenon fueled by Gen Z. Gen Z is on track to become the largest customer base by 2026. They’re also the first true digital natives and are already influencing the way brands do business.

To win the hearts and wallets of these new-age customers, you need to get familiar with who they are and what makes them tick.

The first digital natives

Gen Z refers to everyone born between the late 1990s and early 2000s. Unlike millennials, who grew up during the dawn of the digital age, Gen Z was born into an already digital world. Since the beginning, members of this generation have had endless options for entertainment, information and communication at their fingertips. They’re used to fast, seamless and well-designed experiences.

It should come as no surprise that Gen Z has high digital expectations. They see digital technology as indispensable to everyday life and are looking to be engaged at all times, on all channels. They aren’t loyal to any one channel, so maintaining an omnichannel presence is key.

Just as important is creating high-quality, relevant content. Brands need to wow Gen Z with content and experiences designed to grab (and keep) their attention.

Keeping it real

Despite having incredible purchasing power ($360 billion to be exact, according to Bloomberg), Gen Z is a money-minded cohort. They grew up during a global recession and are now facing the economic impact of Covid-19. As a result, they’re skeptical about where they spend their money, and think twice before making a purchase.

Gen Z values individuality, authenticity and inclusivity, and is vocal about what matters to them. Sustainability, social issues and mental health are important to Gen Z, and brands that advocate for the same causes have a higher chance of earning their trust and support. In fact, nearly 70% of Gen Z want brands to add value to society, says Ogilvy.

That being said, you can’t just pick a cause and start posting on social media about it because you want to target Gen Z. They won’t fall for it. You need to be sincere, transparent and consistent about your stance, and embed it into your brand values. In other words, show you care instead of simply stating it.

Tailor your marketing

Known as the most connected, socially aware and skeptical generation, Gen Z is transforming the customer experience (CX) landscape: they aren’t afraid to ask for what they want, and they’ll happily leave your brand for a competitor if you don’t meet their expectations. Adapting to their needs and wants may be daunting, but it’s the only way to win them over. This starts with understanding Gen Z, what they value and how to connect with them.

Our recent work with Oxfam Novib can attest to the power of knowing your audience and creating experiences that are tailored to them. The not-for-profit joined the Climate Action by EU Citizens Delivers for Development, an initiative by the European Commission that aims to build support for climate change policies. Oxfam asked us to conceptualize and build a brand targeting Gen Z and millennials from 13 European countries.

We conducted workshops and ran focus groups to determine how Gen Z and millennials view climate change. This helped us build a brand that resonates with them and mobilizes them to speak up against climate change. The brand is named ‘Spark,’ an umbrella term that can be applied to different calls to action: spark a change, spark a difference, spark a revolution.

The Spark brand was then translated into a bold visual identity that is appealing, recognizable and stays true to the brand’s mission. The visual identity is supported by a detailed style guide containing brand guidelines and various design assets. Each design asset is customizable and gives Gen Z and millennials the freedom to take charge, express themselves and make a difference.

Spark received great responses from the target audience and inspired them to get involved in the fight against climate change. The brand is successful because it was built based on the target audience’s values and beliefs. All visual elements were designed in line with these values and contribute to a consistent, bold brand identity that conveys the brand’s mission.

From boomers to zoomers, every generation has its unique traits, attitudes and spending behaviors. The trick is to know who your audience is and build strong connections with them. At the end of the day, customers will remember how you made them feel. It’s up to you to make them feel good and win their trust.

This article was written by Michael Vromans from The Drum and was legally licensed through theIndustry Dive Content Marketplace. Please direct alllicensing questions to

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