Marketing to Gen-Z can be a complex task. Alex Gallagher, chief strategy officer at UK-headquartered Unidays, the leading student affinity network, shares some key insights around this evolving cohort and what marketers can do to keep pace with them
Even as marketers start unravelling the myths and facts around the newly emerging Generation Alpha, the generation that will never know a world without smartphones, it is time to relook at the Gen-Z or the zoomers, who are emerging as a powerful and uniquely-placed set of consumers.
A common misconception of Gen-Z is that they are struggling to make ends meet. The reality is that they are in a period of their lives where they have a relatively high disposable income – thanks to student loans, part-time jobs, side-hustles and often financial support from family. They are also the most digital native generation and thus expect brands to engage with them on their terms. They are also extremely smart consumers who can instantly see-through marketing that is generic or disingenuous.
Marketing to a savvy but bargain-hungry cohort
Despite their relative spending power, students are savvy and are always looking for a bargain. Data shows that 76% of students think discounts are important or very important when making a purchase. As reported, UK consumer spending shrank in lockdown. Brands need to recognise the purchasing power of this cash-rich, financially smart generation. Gen-Z intends on spending more over the next 12 months: 32% plans to spend more on clothing, 29% on beauty, 29% on technology– they are hungry to shop, and brands need to harness this opportunity. However, research also shows that Gen-Zs have less affinity to brands when compared to their predecessors and building a relationship with them through providing bespoke benefits may work well for the brands in the long run.
Here are some key challenges that brands face while engaging with this subset especially in the current scenario.
Challenge: Finding and reaching the TG in the lockdown
A common mistake that brands make is that they focus too much of their attention on students at Freshers week. But with campuses closed and students more isolated than ever, brands have found it more challenging to know when or how to reach them. The marketing landscape for students is already hugely competitive and, with the ongoing pandemic and unpredictable social restrictions, it’s a risky strategy to zero in on one short period. Data shows that despite a couple of peaks around Freshers and Black Friday, students spending is consistent throughout the year.
Challenge: Building brand affinity among the app-hungry generation
So, what is the most effective way to engage Gen-Z and build brand affinity? This is a generation of content creators – constantly posting and engaging on apps and platforms such as TikTok, Twitch and YouTube. Throughout a year of isolation, young people turned to social media to feel connected to friends and communities. They also spent that time interacting with their favourite brands in the digital space. Smart marketers recognised that the best way to engage with Gen-Zers is through collaboration - to treat them not as consumers but as co-creators.
Challenge: Targeting them right and with the relevant content
The phasing out of third-party cookies is going to force advertising spend onto platforms that hold vast amounts of proprietary data. But are consumers ready for this change? When it comes to targeting Gen-Z, brands have to be very careful about how this will impact their online experience. The trick will be picking the appropriate platforms to invest in, with the most relevant content.
Do young people want to be seeing an abundance of ads as they scroll through their Instagram feeds? This runs the risk of putting them off these platforms entirely, which means less ROI for your digital spend. To prevent this, advertisers should look for performance channels where the audience already has a high purchase intent. When our members come to Unidays it’s usually because they have already decided to buy something. That’s a mindset that is far more open to seeing content and offers than one that’s in the middle of browsing their social media timeline.
The events of 2020 didn’t necessarily slow down Gen-Z spending, but rather focused it into particular areas and evolved how they expect brands to interact with them online. They expect brands to share their world view, treat them as active partners instead of passive consumers and respect their digital boundaries. Gen-Z is a generation of change. Marketing must change with them.
Alex Gallagher is the chief strategy officer at Unidays, a leading UK-headquartered student affinity network.