Always-On: Marketing to Gen Z During COVID-19

Picture this scenario: Jane, a 22-year old entry-level employee, is thumbing through her phone to kill time. The first thing she does is open her Facebook account. As she...

Iss Bautista
Iss Bautista May 14, 2021

Picture this scenario:

Jane, a 22-year old entry-level employee, is thumbing through her phone to kill time. The first thing she does is open her Facebook account. As she scrolls down her feed, a notification pops up, inviting her to an event nearby. It catches her attention. Of course it does: the platform already knows what she’s interested in.

She might already have something to wear, but her favorite online store is throwing ads at her. There’s a sale, up to 40% discount on all items for 24 hours. If she buys something now, she’ll get it before the weekend. She clicks on the ad, picks an outfit, checks out. She pulls up directions to the event’s venue and finds that there’s this cool bar people are raving about on Facebook just a couple of blocks from the venue. Perfect for pre-game. In a span of a few minutes, Jane turned into a casual social media user into an eager consumer.

Call her impulsive, but this is Generation Z. They’re all about new experiences, spontaneity is in their DNA, and it’s constantly being fed by corporations and mass media. This is the world they grew up in.

Even the oldest, most established businesses need to adapt, however reluctantly, to the current largest living adult generation. By now, they would’ve already figured out what makes Millennials tick. They’ve reinvented their brand, message, and even values to get the good graces of the fickle, tech-oriented, me-time generation.

But times are changing, and a new generational cohort called Generation Z is taking shape and inching into adulthood. In the coming years, they will be stealing the spotlight as they influence trends and drive demand in consumer markets. And if you haven’t kept up with the times, you’ve probably been asking yourself how to market to Gen Z.

What is Gen Z?

Generation Z includes people born roughly between 1995 and 2010. It’s only been recently that people began to take an interest in this generation and its role in the world’s demographic fabric. In the US, at least, institutions are bracing themselves for a shift in many aspects of society, from consumer behavior to politics.

Now that we’re halfway through 2021, it’s clear that COVID-19 will be the generation-defining moment for Gen Zers just like how the Great Recession was to Baby Boomers. But unlike Millennials who came of age during the Great Recession and were conveniently handed over a strong economy with record-low unemployment rates — Gen Z is faced with nothing but looming uncertainty.

Data shows us that Gen Z has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Findings from a March 2020 Pew Research survey share that about half of the Gen Z participants in the study report that someone in their household had lost a job or taken an income cut because of COVID-19. The number is significantly higher than Baby Boomers (25%), Gen Xers (36%), and Millennials (40%).

Apart from the unique set of circumstances the youth is faced with, what other Generation Z characteristics do we have to know about?

More Educated

Experts predict that Gen Z is to be the most educated and open-minded generation to date. A 2018 survey performed by the Pew Research Center reveals that this group scores higher on SAT/ACTs than its predecessors, has significantly lower high school drop-out rates, and higher college admissions rates.

The study also reveals that, in the US, a majority of this group come from affluent families and are likely to have a higher purchasing power compared to Millennials. This is because 44% of Gen Zers have at least one parent who has a bachelor’s degree or higher education, whereas only 33% of Millennials had a parent with this level of education.

A McKinsey survey shows that, on top of being more educated, Gen Zers also tend to be more “realistic.” As a generation of self-learners, with vast amounts of information at their disposal, they have developed a more analytical and pragmatic approach to making decisions. They also prove to be more comfortable absorbing knowledge online than in traditional educational institutions.

Always On

Though the report shows that Gen Zers spend less time on social activities, they grew up in a world of digital and technological maturity. The way they communicate and interact is fueled by technology, and 41% share that they’d rather lose their wallet than their smartphone. In this case, Gen Zers don’t know a world with slow-loading websites, dial-up internet, snail mail, low-fi content, and spammy ads.

Unlike Millennials, whom Comic Sans and cellular phones (now called “dumb” phones) would evoke nostalgia, Gen Zers are true digital natives. They tote the latest gadgets, seek ubiquitous connectivity, and demand the best content. They are very comfortable with integrating offline and virtual experiences.

Another Pew Research Center study shows that Gen Zers are early mobile adopters and are native to messaging. They also seek on-demand content and prioritize gaming. Here’s a snapshot of how technology is shaping the lives of American teens and young adults:

The fact that many Gen Zers would rather have a working Wi-Fi than a functional bathroom, or go three days without a shower than go a week without their phone says a lot about how important technology is to their everyday lives. They are authentic story seekers, fearful of missing out (FOMO), and video-centric. Social media can provide all these in one place simultaneously.

There’s no wonder that social media platforms are often the jump-off point for Gen Zers to engage in digital commerce. Some key insights about Gen Z social media usage include:

Authenticity is the Name of the Game

Gen Z has a penchant for authenticity, a trait carried over from its predecessor. They have developed a personal brand, discerning tastes, and unconventional choices shaped by technological advancements and information overload. They have zero tolerance for BS, and they recognize their irascible nature as an appropriate response to injustices in society. They are armchair critics and keyboard warriors, but would set differences aside to connect and mobilize around causes and interests.

Data from Marketing Dive gives us a clearer picture of just how authentic Gen Zers want their experience with brands to be:

Gen Z teens and young adults, along with their Millennial counterparts, are often in the frontlines of boycotting even the world’s biggest companies that dare to offend them. They detest brands that stick to age-old advertising tactics and legacy systems. They rebel against brands that are harming the environment and not doing anything about it. And they ignore brands that don’t make an effort to engage with them on a personal level.

Selling to the Entrepreneur

What’s even more interesting is that Gen Zers on the cusp of adulthood would postpone joining the labor force to go to college. But they don’t plan to drown in insurmountable debt like their predecessors did.

While Millennials turned to student loans and side gigs to pay for tuition, Gen Zers are more strategic in their approach. And it only makes sense: the pandemic is exactly what brought on these changes in behavior and outlook. As the demographic group that came of age during COVID-19, there is an urgency to be frugal, cautious, and at-the-ready.

Here’s what we mean:

While plans change with age and circumstances, the entrepreneurial dream isn’t too far-fetched for Gen Zers. If you think about it, we’re at an age where 6 year-olds have million-dollar YouTube channels and teens can be money-making influencers and successful startup founders.

And no surprise: older Gen Zers are more accepting of diversity in race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, and of same-sex marriage than any other generation.

Identity Entrepreneurs

Maybe that’s why “identity entrepreneurship” has been on the steady rise in this day and age. Once touted as evil and divisive, Gen Z has turned identity politics around on its head and changed the face of entrepreneurship for good. The idea behind identity entrepreneurship is to build your business around a central theme such as location, religion, or race.

A perfect example is Tiffany Zhong, a self-professed “Gen Z whisperer” and serial entrepreneur at just 22 years old. She used Twitter to build a network of venture capitalists and eventually founded Zebra Intelligence, a company that helps brands collaborate with Gen Z and Millennials for “brutally honest” insights on product, branding, and marketing decisions.

In her Forbes interview, she says that young people crave authenticity, and that brand loyalty is not easy to achieve. Her advice is that companies should “constantly iterate on their product, on their marketing, on their campaigns, on their outreach, and be more innovative with every part of the business.”

The Takeaway

So what’s in it for us marketers and business owners? What does successful marketing to Generation Z entail?

We shouldn’t view this paradigm shift as something completely negative, nor should we blame an entire generation for capitalism’s collapse. Instead, as with all generations, we should consider them as a “lens through which to understand societal change.” Whatever implications this change may bring, companies must face it head-on.

Surely, today’s hypercognitive, radically inclusive, and always-on youth is a product of the times. They have high expectations of brands and hold those with values in high esteem. They can identify an ad from a heap of online content and make lightning-fast decisions when sizing up web pages and content. They are also mobile-first shoppers, whether they’re buying small products like shoes and makeup to big-ticket items like plane tickets and furniture.

And if this teaches us anything, it’s that Gen Zers have high expectations from your brand. So if you want to nail your Generation Z marketing efforts, here are a few things to pay attention to:

Given all these, and with the line of social media and ecommerce becoming increasingly blurred among young people, these insights should inform your next marketing, sales, and branding strategy.

If you need more insights into customizing digital strategies for a specific audience, feel free to get in touch with Growth Rocket today.

More From Growth Rocket