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Instabrain: How to market to Gen Z

Instabrain: How to market to Gen Z

This is a guest post by Bixa CEO and author Sarah Weise.

At the time I launched my first youth research study, I had been conducting market research and UX research for nearly 15 years. I had built strategy for hundreds of brands and products, and I had gotten to know audiences ranging from tax dodgers to PBS donors. After doing so much research, not much surprised me anymore.

Yet an early video that rolled in from a young lady in her early 20s blew my mind. The task seemed simple: participants were asked to record their phone screens and show us how they keep up with an interest or hobby.

With graceful ease, Alexis bounded between no less than 6 apps on her phone to plan a weekend girls trip to Nashville.

She used no search engines.

She toggled between screens so fast it was like watching a symphony conductor unify an orchestra in prestissimo. Within just 10 minutes, she had soaked in extensive research on her trip, and had planned nearly every aspect of it from flights to hotels to activities, even what outfit she would wear while at the zoo! She had found Groupons for activities and had scouted the best food and nightlife. She knew just what hashtags to “search up” and she analyzed photos on Instagram with intuitive precision: “This club looks slow. He snapped a photo after 11 and there’s not even a line.” Setting the tempo, she was then able to execute clear preparations, sharing itineraries through Airbnb with her travel companions.

All this, in just 10 minutes!

Yet in my mind, the most impressive part was that this was no big deal for Alexis. For me, finding the ideal combination of departure times and airfare for any trip is a major headache. Alexis flew through this research step, processing times and dates and layovers and airport combinations with ease.

In that study alone, we collected over 30,000 data points across two countries, and paired quantitative research indicating scale with deep qualitative interviews and in-home ethnographic research. Basically, I spent six months hanging out with teenagers—the “fam”—as they “spilled the tea” on their generation.

After that, I did many more studies focusing on these intriguing youth. Needless to say, I had a lot of stories to choose from when writing this article. But I picked Alexis’ story to share here because she is the quintessential representation of Generation Z. From this interaction alone, as marketers we can learn so much about attention, retention, brand awareness, searching, inspiration, researching, converting, transacting, and sharing.

Alexis is a part of Generation Z, roughly defined as those born between 1995 and 2006. Being 25 and under today, you might think that this generation is too young to start marketing to. But oooooh would you be wrong! Right now, this is the largest living generation, and they contribute to $655 billion a year in sales! Just wait until they all get jobs…

That means if your company is still marketing to only Millennials, you’re missing a large and growing market. What’s great too about targeting this youth customer base is that it’s sustainable; it’s something you can count on for years to come as a long-term source of repeat traffic and sales.

Here are 4 keys to better understanding and communicating with this audience that your brand can start capitalizing on right away:

1.  Make your message stick with a compelling hook

Your product and its value proposition has to be on point for your unique Gen Z customer. The promise you’re offering has to hit home, with copy and images that grab attention in less than 8 seconds. This generation has been bombarded by visual inputs for their entire lives, and their brains have physically adapted to process more information, faster. Yet because they are able to juggle more content at once, they have a much shorter attention span.

By using the right words, and formatting them in a specific way, you can reliably give them what they need, over and over. More than that, if you’re able to plot their buyer journey and really understand what moments are pivotal in their buying decision, you can deliver the right message AT the right time—and that’s where the magic happens.

At this point, they are willing to pay a premium because you’re delivering exactly the value they need, in the moment they need it.

To get this right, you need a market research strategy that combines qualitative and quantitative data. Surveys are a starting point for understanding your audience at scale, but to understand what deeply drives them and moves them to a purchase decision, interviewing your customers is key.

2.  Curate your content for each platform

Gen Z is highly discerning about which platforms are for what type of content.The kiss of death for most companies is when they post the same content everywhere. Gen Z expects brands to understand how they use each platform, and wants to see content that aligns with their expectations.

More than that, Gen Z is able to hyper-focus once they are interested in a topic, bouncing from platform to platform, app to app, video to video to do exhaustive research. As a company targeting Gen Z, make sure you provide enough content, in enough different places—and enough variety of content—to make the scavenger hunt real.

3.  Bring the human element

Gen Z has been marketed to their whole lives and is hyper-critical of brands trying to sell them something. More than that, Gen Z trusts people far more than brands, and especially YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok creators they find “authentic”.

Use stories from your customers in your brand, and make sure they are real and believable. User-generated content is a great way to do this! When you are telling brand stories, use video and visuals over text, and make sure to tell them in a conversational way.

If you use influencers to promote your brand, don’t blow your budget on mega-influencers. Stick to mirco-influencers with 100,000 followers or more or even nano-influencers who may have just a few thousand followers but they are super-engaged, local followers.

4.  Personalize the experience

This generation is all about value. They are absolutely willing to pay more for a product—take an iPhone for example—if they believe it’s going to meet their precise needs in a more valuable or personalized way.

While as a whole, Gen Z is far more risk averse than their Millennial predecessors, they are more-than-willing to give personal information to brands they trust in exchange for personalized content. So set up processes to collect that information, and be prepared to provide personalized content feeds, options, and actions based on what your Gen Z audience wants to see.

If your band can follow these 4 tips, you will do substantially well. There are only two ways to find this information. You can trial-and-error it which takes a long time and you’ll spend tens of thousands of dollars before getting it right… Or, you can do the research and get pretty darn close. That way when you start your trial-and-error, you are tens of thousands of dollars, and really months and months, closer to a sustainable strategy for this generation.

Up-front research can tell you exactly who your audience is and will save you so much time and money. This is really the most cost-efficient and time-effective way to find out about your audience—and you need it done right, because if it’s not the exact right hook, they’re going to scroll right by and totally miss you.

Some marketers think they can just take what works for Millennials and apply it to a younger generation. That strategy almost never works because this younger generation is not a Millennial-light. They need different things from you.

If you’re advertising right now to Gen Z, I bet you’re finding that it’s even harder than you imagined to get the ad targeting correct. They are a far more discerning crowd, but if you can hook them and provide a valuable, personalized experience to keep them there, they will be your customers for life!  

Sarah Weise is the CEO of an award-winning market research firm Bixa and the bestselling author of InstaBrain: The New Rules for Marketing to Generation Z. For 15 years, Sarah has been a guide to hundreds of leading brands including Google, IBM, Capital One, Mikimoto, PBS, and Real Warriors, to name a few. Sarah helps brands achieve a laser-focus on their customers and build experiences that are downright addictive. She lectures at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business and speaks at conferences worldwide.