young student in classroom
Just figuring out millennials? It's time to move on to Gen Z PHOTO: Poodar Chu

What’s been hyped, discussed and debated more in the last few years than marketing to millennials? 

I get it — with 80 million of them in the U.S. alone and them poised to take over the workforce as well as dominate spending, they are a force to be reckoned with. 

But even though millennials have been top-of-mind for marketers for a while, we still haven’t quite figured out how to leverage their influence or get them to spend the $200 billion they’ve got in their collective back pocket.

So you can imagine the panic and the head scratching that the following will inspire in marketers everywhere: it's time to market to Gen Z. 

Pressure's off you millennials, you’ve been leapfrogged — by a bunch of teens and tweens. 

Why Market to Gen Z ... and Why Now?

Despite being a dad to two Gen Zs, this phenomena puzzles me. 

I watch my daughter tap Siri for homework help without a moment of hesitation. Her use of technology is so deft and so seamless — it’s second nature. Sure, millennials grew up with the internet and home computers and many don’t remember a time without all of that. 

But Gen Z takes it a step further: their lives have been entirely integrated and entirely mobile. 

Even though these 11 to 17 year olds are impressive, if millennials aren’t buying then Gen Z certainly isn’t — and won’t be any time soon. 

So why are brands coming out of the woodwork to get their products and services front-and-center before these kids? Why is this “next up” generation already so appealing to marketers? And what’s the end game? 

Because marketing expenses tied to Gen Z are growing fast. 

Who’s Marketing to Gen Z ... and Why?

The list of Gen Z-focused brands seems to get longer by the minute. 

Beats by Dr. Dre has been promoting its headphones to this younger market from day one, with solid success. 

Always #LikeAGirl campaign is probably the most amazing example of Gen Z marketing and, since its 2014 launch, has become ubiquitous among this generation and their parents. First it was the hashtag, then the incredibly extremely shareable videos and, now, the emoji, all designed to turn an insult — you run/throw/lift like a girl — into a point of pride for young women and girls. 

And in this case, the Like a Girl campaign was about so much more than selling products. It was truly a movement tapping into the millennial/Gen Z affinity for causes and making a difference, and it shows no signs of slowing down. 

No matter the product, though, brands targeting Gen Z seem to be decidedly unified in their goal: to influence this next next generation of consumers. 

Gen Z may not be buying just yet but, soon enough, they’ll take millennials’ place as the digital disrupters and social influencers, driving conversations and creating the kind of global chatter that drives trends, interest and engagement. And after that, they’ll do what every generation before them has done: get jobs, start families, buy houses and spend, spend, spend on everything from cereal to cars to technology. 

Moving Beyond Personalization 101

Much of this success comes down to one thing: delivering spot-on relevance to the Gen Zs. 

But that personalization takes on a unique spin here, since Gen Z is the ultimate multi-tasking generation. Eighty-four percent say they use their smartphones or tablets while watching TV. They’re constantly gaming and chatting, texting and watching videos, consuming content and making purchases, all without missing a beat. 

As a result, brands targeting Gen Z must split the culture of this generation from the moments in time. 

They’re always going to be mobile-first and always be comfortable pivoting between platforms and, even, using multiple simultaneously. But they aren’t always going to be tweens and teens and, soon enough, will control more than the $44 billion in buying power they already wield. 

Writes 1000 Dreams Fund founder Christie Garton in Entrepreneur, “[C]ompanies need to discover how to genuinely connect with Gen Z to build trust and loyalty. Even if Gen Z isn’t your current target audience, they will be — and the best time to grab their attention is now.” 

Delivering the right message on the right platform at the right time — a.k.a. Personalization 101 — clearly won’t be enough to move the needle with Z. To be effective, brands need to be everywhere they are, creating fully immersive and fully synergistic cross-channel experiences that can work in tandem to further Gen Z’s customer journeys. 

What’s more, Gen Zs are obsessive about their personal brands — enter personalization, again. 

Gen Z consumers want to be heard and they want to feel like they’re shifting discourse and driving influence. They want to feel like, despite their age, they’re each a meaningful personal brand, worthy of attracting and engaging. 

How to deliver? Just ask, and deliver relevance accordingly. Invite them to be ambassadors or influencers. Ask their opinion on new products and services. See what they want as individuals and as a collective, then show how your brand is responding based on that feedback. It’s simple, but it’s powerful. 

Should You Market to Gen Z?

Is this young generation worthy of our marketing resources and budgets? It’s not a question of if, but when — that is, “should we be doing it now?” 

The answer in short, is maybe. 

It depends on your brand, your goals and what’s next. If you can invest in marketing to Gen Z without sacrificing the here and now — if you can wait to see financial ROI as a result of your efforts — then Gen Z is worth a look. 

If you’ve got a meaningful message and a way to connect it with these consumers on a very deep level, then you’re heading in the right direction. But you’ve got to be prepared to get personal and get personal everywhere, and you’ve got to do it in a millisecond. 

More than any other generation, Gen Z needs to feel the relevance right now or they’ll be on their way to the next brand experience. They’ve got “eight-second filters” versus the 12-second attention spans their millennial counterparts had in 2000, so if they don’t see you’re in-step with them, they’re gone — and likely for good. 

And to think, we were just getting the hang of the millennials …