Gen Z vs millennial influencers: why the same marketing to both is destined to fail

Sara McCorquodale is founder of CORQ, the only independent influencer review, data tool and social media map. A journalist by trade, she has worked for Tatler, WGSN and AOL and consulted globally for premium and luxury brands.

Photo by on Unsplash

Hauls. Diss-tracks. Flat-lays. Selfies. These have been my world since the start of 2017 when I embarked on a mission to fully understand the world of digital influencers.

Why? I had decided to build the first objective influencer review, which would juxtapose qualitative journalistic insight with quantitative data analysis. It’s called CORQ, and I won’t tell you how many vlogs I’ve watched to make it happen.

But there was no getting round it – for me to create a comprehensive product, I had to understand the dynamics between influencers and their audiences. What was it about their stories that generated so much devotion? Why had they developed these independent media brands (because, truly, that is what influencers are) and where was this movement going?

My team and I researched the entire influencer community, understood how it worked and mapped the niche communities thriving on each platform. It was fascinating, and with this monthly column I will share what I have learned.

My main take away from all of this research is millennials and Generation Z are nothing alike. Learnings from marketing to the former can not be applied to the latter.

Think about it – the millennial influencer phenomenon happened right in the middle of the recession when this generation were being told jobs were scarce and personal wealth impossible. They had less money, fewer opportunities and yet were being encouraged to share their lives visually – and publicly – online.

Combine this with an explosion of fast products that they could afford and a traditional media that didn’t recognise they were broke and voila! A movement was born. While magazines were showing readers the best pieces from Burberry, YouTubers were presenting their edit of the most stylish clothing from Primark, talking about the fit and telling them how to style it. Basically shopping editors who also shared PMS woes and makeup tips.

But things are about to change. Millennials have properly grown up and Gen Z are the new youth customer. They don’t want your fast fashion, your products that have been tested on animals or your lack of representation. Also, they think Instagram is embarrassing because it ripped off Snapchat.

They are feminist, vegan and having grown up with the internet, have always had infinite choice. They have always had a voice – and believe their voice matters. Millennial influencers opted for a cosy, child-like tone to offer relief from economic gloom with positive content. Gen Z face political and financial uncertainty head on with humour and indignation. Their wokeness is extraordinary and they are more comparable to activists from the 1960s and 1970s than their direct predecessors.

However, the most impactful difference between Gen Z and millennial influencers? They don’t necessarily want to advertise your brand, because they have their own. Take Nathan Zed, whose t-shirts and hoodies sell out immediately and inspire Supreme-like hype (Lin-Manuel Miranda was on the waiting list at one point). The challenge with this generation is they have the loyalty of your target audience, but it will be much more difficult to insert your brand into their stories. Their style of consumerism is so much more subtle.

The upshot? Long-term partnerships that enable influencers’ storytelling rather than #ad. A halo effect via association rather than ephemeral sponsorship. It’s a bigger ask, but will make the resulting campaigns so much better. And better is something this emergent industry definitely has the potential to be.

Sara's next evening seminar is on "Gen Z vs Millennial Influencers". Follow CORQ on Instagram @corqstudio and find out more about its workshops here.

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