Move over millennials, it’s time to talk about Gen Z

Millennials, like me, are old news — there are some new kids on the block. By 2020 it’s estimated that the teenagers of today will be the largest group of consumers worldwide — in Europe alone they’ll represent 40% of the market.

As the audience that will shape the immediate future of consumer behaviour it’s essential that we understand who ‘Generation Z’ — broadly defined as anyone born in the mid-90s or after — are, and how they live their lives. Only then can we appreciate the differences in how they shop compared to the generation that came before them. This piece aims to outline a few key learnings that should be taken into consideration when marketing to these complex but critical shoppers.

1. TECHNOLOGY HAS BEEN A PART OF THEIR LIVES FROM BIRTH

The primary difference between Gen Z and millennials is their aptitude for using technology. Gen Z multi-task across five screens, millennials use up to three. 84% of Gen Z use an internet-connected device while watching TV, and they spend twice as much time on computers as teens did a decade ago.

Most millennials are competent, frequent users of tech, but we’ve had to adapt to changes in technology. Remember recording the Top 40 chart on your cassette player, setting a timer on the VCR before leaving the house or being limited to using the internet after 6pm? Gen Z are the first true digital natives. They can’t remember a time before smartphones and live in a world where their mobile device is so integral to their lives it’s like an extension to their very being. And we’re not talking about Nokia 3310s here, with just that one game… we’re talking about touchscreen smartphones without physical buttons, with always-on internet and free, worldwide instant messaging. Gen Z has grown up with applications that allow them to access the content they want, when they want it, from wherever they are in the world, and all in the palm of their hand.

Importantly for us, this always-on access has a drastic impact on their purchase journeys. For Gen Z the process of shopping is as important as the final purchase itself. They have both the time and the tools to research, compare products, hunt for the best prices, seek approval from their friends and consider the merits of different retailers — be they physical stores or online destinations — before parting with their cash. What’s more, if they want something they expect to be able to purchase it immediately, at any time of day. Which means the number of retailers that offer ‘same-day delivery’ services will surely continue to rise to meet this demand.

If Gen Z make it in-store as part of their journey then they’ll expect a seamless retail experience. Give them access to touch, feel and play with products — don’t hide important information from them. And if your staff talk to them, make sure they don’t patronise them — if they’re serious about buying something they will already have done their research and may know more than you do about your products and competitors!

2. THE WAY THEY COMMUNICATE IS DIFFERENT

Gen Z are visual communicators. The popularity of platforms like Snapchat and Instagram confirm that they would rather communicate using imagery and symbols, like emoticons, than with lengthy text. Their frequent use of multiple devices and short-form messaging applications means they’re exposed to a plethora of messaging from numerous sources. To combat this they’ve developed highly-evolved 8-second attention filters (down 12 seconds from millennials) that allow them to quickly sort through and assess enormous amounts of information, deciphering what’s relevant and of interest to them and ignoring everything else. Gen Z lose interest as quickly as they consume information, so messaging targeting them needs to be quick, to the point and in their language.

When shopping they navigate at eye level (they don’t look up) and pay no attention to signage. Brands need to create store environments that offer compelling experiences that aid Gen Z on their purchase journey by encouraging browsing and being less about the ‘hard sell’. POS material should make use of images and colour, without an overreliance on lengthy copy.

3. MAKING THEM BRAND ADVOCATES IS WORTH IT BUT REQUIRES EFFORT

If you thought getting Gen Z’s attention was tough, then keeping it is even tougher! When compared to millennials, Gen Z are much more fickle shoppers. Their willingness to hunt around for the right deal means they’re less likely to be loyal to specific brands. That said, the brands that are able to demonstrate their worthiness to Gen Z will benefit from an incredibly valuable, committed and focused customer.

Gen Z have grown up learning and working in a collaborative world and they want to have a relationship with their favourite brands. To build trust and advocacy with Gen Z brands need to have a personality that feels genuine and authentic — nothing will turn them off quicker than an influencer forcing a product into their social media feed.

In summary, it’s crucial that we understand the differences between Gen Z and the generations that came before them. We need to target them where they are and not where we want them to be; we need to create inviting, exciting in-store experiences that allow them to get hands on with products; we need to inspire them and start a conversation with them by talking TO them not AT them, in a language that they understand. Get it wrong and brands risk becoming extinct, get it right and they’ll end up with an army of advocates that are more likely than any other generation before them to positively review and recommend products to their family, friends and followers.

Luke Harrison
Account Director (& millennial)

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Haygarth’s story.