Opinion: Five tips for marketing to Gen Z, from a member of Gen Z

Be entertaining, be purpose-driven and don't be cringey on social media

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Just when you think you've got the Millennials all figured out, here comes my generation to complicate things all over again. If marketing to Generation Z seems a bit daunting to you, don't worry. Here are five tips for connecting:

Meet us where we live—on social media—but be careful where you step.

Anyone who has spent time on Twitter or Instagram knows that this can be difficult territory for marketers. On the one hand, you want to be fun and relatable, but on the other hand, it's sometimes difficult to know which posts will go viral and which will offend us or make us cringe (you don't want to end up on reddit's FellowKids). So, don't create content for content's sake, or try to incorporate your product into every trend to get attention (because it may not be the positive kind). No one is going to follow you if your posts aren't worth seeing, but if you use a dead meme, or use a meme incorrectly, you're going to come off as cringey, not clever. Get to know your audience and develop a voice. An easy way to do this is to follow-back big fans of your product. It's win-win—you get to see what your ideal customer posts, and they're often excited enough by your follow-back to post positive content about your company.

Be purpose-driven (and the profits will come)

Gone are the days when brands never needed to pick a side on issues—we want to support brands that share the same values as us. But your connection to a cause has to make sense for your brand. Patagonia nailed this perfectly when it criticized President Trump's decision to reduce the size of two national monuments in December 2017. The move seemed sincere because Patagonia's connection to the cause made sense, and its genius was reflected in how the brand's Twitter post was retweeted more than 50,000 times. Support a cause that makes sense to your company and make this support clear in your advertising and social media outreach.

Make it entertaining. And be quick about it.

Generation Z has grown up with entertainment always at our fingertips. Boredom strikes us almost immediately; sometimes we'll click "skip" on advertisements before we even know what the product is. So, if you're creating a video ad, make sure it gets our attention as quickly as possible, or your content will get ignored. It doesn't matter how good your ad is if only the first three seconds get watched. Be funny, be compelling or be skipped.

Smoothly integrate micro-influencers into your campaign.

Micro-influencers are social media users with followings ranging from a few thousand to around 100,000. Because of their comparatively "small" followings, their posts seem more intimate and personalized than those of mega-celebrities. Thus, Gen Z is more likely to listen to and believe their opinions than those of big-name celebs. That's why it's important to pick the right micro-influencers for your brand, and allow them some creative control. These users know exactly what kind of content their followers positively respond to, so allow them to personalize their posts to fit their voice and online personality, within reason. If the post comes off as contrived, both the influencer and your brand will lose credibility. Let the influencer do their thing, and you'll be rewarded.

Know where to advertise, and how.

If you're trying to reach Gen Z, you have to know where we are. It's definitely not Facebook. Your best bets are Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube, in that order. Instagram allows ads to be seamlessly inserted into users' feeds so that the content is less annoying to us than on other platforms. If advertising on Instagram, keep your content compelling and aesthetically-pleasing—even a bit flashy, but not obviously so. It has to catch our eye as we scroll without coming off as attention-seeking. Snapchat attaches some ads to the end of users' stories, which gets ads viewed but also allows them to be skipped with just one tap. If advertising on Snapchat, make it immediately interesting so it's less likely to be instantly skipped. And if you're purchasing an ad that can't be skipped on YouTube, it needs to be fun and elicit positive feelings because viewers aren't going to be happy about your ad preventing them from seeing their content.

Gen Z is a unique generation that both poses new challenges and creates new opportunities for companies that want to reach us. The good news: We're going to be around for a long time, so it's worth getting to know us now.

Michael Pankowski is a student at Harvard University and head of Crimson Connection, a Generation Z Marketing firm run by Harvard students.

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