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Marketing to Gen Z: 7 strategies for your online store

illustration of two people talking, one holding headphones and the other holding a phone. to their right is a smartphone showing a tiktok profile.

If you’ve ever spoken to the cohort of teens and young adults who describe themselves as “Gen Z,” you’ll understand that marketing to them is an entirely different undertaking than marketing to other generations. They strive for digital connection with all – including brands.

Remember: Gen Z has grown up in a world where social media influencers are the new celebrities, and where the world is quite literally in the palm of their hand (thanks to the ubiquitous smartphone).

Unlike the picture-perfect Millennials who spearheaded the “Instagram aesthetic” – a grid of curated content presented in a painstakingly precise manner – Generation Z falls more into the DIY bucket.

They don’t mind a behind-the-scenes look rather than on-camera perfection; in fact, they prefer it.

In 2022, Gen Zers range from age 10-25. This means there are quite a few of them who are on the cusp of adulthood or in their early twenties, making purchases using their own credit and debit cards.

But the real question is, how is this younger generation shopping? Or more importantly, what do they want to see?

We’re going to do a deep dive into everything you need to know about Generation Z, and (most importantly) how to connect with them.

Who is Generation Z?

The Generation Z label includes anyone born between the years of 1997 and 2012. Growing up in a digital world that can be complex to navigate, they tend to be radically inclusive and constantly searching for the truth.

Plus, based on a study conducted by Pew Research, Gen Z is more ethnically diverse than previous generations, with one in four Gen Zers identifying as Hispanic, 14% black, 6% Asian and 5% are two or more races.

Companies who are targeting Gen Z may be onto something – as they’re quickly becoming some of the biggest spenders. According to Bloomberg, the generation has $360 billion in disposable income due to full-time jobs and side hustles that most young consumers are juggling alongside schooling.

In order to resonate with this diverse and digitally-savvy group, brands will need to seriously change the way they’re speaking to the audience. While marketing to Millennials has led the charge over the past few years, you can say there are some new kids on the block:

3 key differences between Generation Z and the Millennial Generation

Often, Gen Z and Millennials are talked about interchangeably in media; they’re both completely engrossed in the digital landscape and true pioneers of authenticity over anything else. However, while the generations have similar sentiments, they actually present some very different shopping behaviors.

Gen Zers aren’t afraid to speak up.

While both generations are well aware of social and environmental issues, Gen Z has taken a larger role in advocating for both social and environmental sustainability. Many young consumers are following in the footsteps of activist Greta Thunberg, (who falls within the generation herself) and holding large companies accountable for their less than eco-friendly efforts.

Gen Z are true digital natives.

While Millennials had to wait until high school or college for social media apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat to emerge, Gen Z practically grew up on them.

To make them even more digitally advanced, most Gen Zers received their smartphones earlier than Millennials, around age 12 rather than 17. They are the first generation to be completely immersed in the digital world from the very beginning.

Gen Z consumers want to relate to brands.

While Millennials might enjoy a brand simply for its aesthetic, Gen Zers are looking for more. They need to trust the brands they purchase from and expect their favorites to stand for a cause that they believe in. If your company is only focused on making a profit and not giving back to the community, you might be missing out on your Gen Z targets.

Additionally, if you’re not producing relatable content, or it’s clear that you’re trying too hard, this skeptical group might pass on your product.

Common mistakes that brands make in Gen Z marketing

Because many brands lump Millennials and Gen Z into the same category when it comes to marketing strategies, they’re slightly off-base in resonating with the Gen Z audience.

For example, you’ll find most Gen Zers have hopped over to TikTok, with almost a quarter of the user base aged 18-24 (the ideal target for Gen Z brands). If your brand is investing mostly in Facebook and Instagram content/advertising, you might be missing out on an entire community of TikTok users.

Additionally, while Millennials are less likely to dig into your brand’s background, Gen Zers are extremely socially conscious consumers. They’ll do the research to understand whether your brand is inauthentic or tokenistic – they’ll be able to spot whether you’re doing something just for the “likes.”

Last but not least, Generation Z wants to keep up the conversation… literally. They’re more interested in having a back-and-forth dialogue and being able to interact directly with brands than Millennials. This means commenting, direct messaging, live chats, and more. If your conversational marketing isn’t up to par, Gen Z consumers could be less likely to engage.

Key principles of successful marketing to Gen Z consumers

While it isn’t an exact science, there are a few golden rules to keep your marketing strategy in check while resonating with this new generation:

Always be relatable/irreverent

Gen Z wants to love your brand. They don’t want to be bombarded with marketing campaigns every day of the week. They’d rather see less-produced content like a behind-the-scenes look at your in-person event, or a livestream of how to use your product where they can ask questions directly.

Stay on the pulse of trends and current events

Create content that doesn’t ignore the present. Generation Z is very interested in what’s going on around them – likely because they’ve been “plugged in” to social media, news outlets, and more from a very young age. By not incorporating trends into your marketing tactics, the social media algorithm will keep you from getting views and Gen Zers might find you irrelevant.

Keep it short and sweet

Let’s face it, the younger generation doesn’t exactly have the longest attention span. Not only that, but they don’t appreciate fluff. Keeping messages and content to the point is one of the best Generation Z marketing strategies – it ensures engagement and trust.

Focus on telling stories, not getting sales

Generation Z understand companies need to make a profit, but they want to make sure it’s not the only thing retailers care about. Instead of “buy this, buy this, buy this!” think about more relatable approaches of connecting like sharing stories about your beginnings, your employees, and your customers.

7 Gen Z marketing strategies for your e-commerce business to try

1. Be mobile-first

Did you know that 98% of Generation Z owns a smartphone? For brands looking to interact with and establish a relationship with Gen Z, being mobile-ready is even more important than other generations. Not only should your website be optimized for selling on mobile devices, but your social media profiles also need to be kept up-to-date with daily posts and direct interactions with audience members.

2. Put CSR front and center

If you don’t have one already, it’s time to develop a corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy. Generation Z wants to know what you stand for. Do you share the same beliefs as they do? More than half of consumers are likely to stop purchasing from brands that don’t align with their values and Gen Z is no different. Speaking out on topics like transgender issues, sustainability efforts, and diversity in the workplace could be what makes or breaks a Gen Zer’s purchase.

3. Focus on video content

Currently, video content is at the forefront of every social media channel. With Instagram Reels, TikTok, Facebook stories, and more – every app seems to be leaning towards the same type of video content. For Gen Z, this is a good thing – it’s their preferred content.

Why? For a generation with an attention span coming in at just 8 seconds, short-form videos are the easiest to digest and quickest to grab their attention.

Alo Yoga made a simple video titled “What are Alo employees wearing?” and featured employees in their comfiest work attire. The results? Over 12k views and content that cost almost nothing to make.

tiktok screenshot of the alo office with the text ‘what are alo employees wearing’

4. Use influencers to grow engagement

Generation Z, above any other generation, is engaging with social media influencers daily. E-commerce merchants who develop a micro-influencer strategy and a social media presence are likely to catch this generation’s eye over brands that aren’t as influencer-savvy. Take digitally native apparel brand Edikted, for example.

In just one year of launching, they grew exponentially thanks to micro-influencers on TikTok posting content like shopping hauls and try-ons, all tagged with #Edikted. The brand now has over 200k followers and 2.6 million likes – giving them the perfect platform to reach young consumers.

screenshot of edikted’s tiktok account

5. Have a unique strategy for each social media platform

The younger generations are very particular about their social media channels – they know what they’re getting into when opening up each app. That being said, it’s important to understand the various channels and develop a different marketing strategy that works best for each one. If you’re posting on TikTok, a quick DIY video with the right hashtags could reach a much wider audience than a compilation of professional pictures.

6. Manage online reviews

Generation Z is all about brand loyalty. Every channel of a brand is important to them, including reviews. If brands aren’t actively responding to both negative and positive reviews, Gen Z, along with 93% of consumers researching products, will notice. A brand’s online review management is very telling of the type of customer experience that one will get when purchasing.

7. Don’t shy away from giving followers a look behind the scenes

As we mentioned, Gen Z doesn’t vibe with overly produced content – they’re more likely to think it’s inauthentic and not worth their attention. Instead of a plethora of pristine marketing campaigns, try the DIY method. All you need is a smartphone that has a camera! Go “live” on TikTok or Instagram, share how you pack pieces or design a new product. A behind the scenes look allows brands to connect with Gen Z on a deeper level.

There’s a lot to think about when it comes to developing Generation Z marketing strategies. The conclusion? Don’t overthink it.

It may seem like a huge undertaking to try to understand the youngest generation and what they’re looking for in online retailers. We’ve got some good news – it isn’t overly complicated.

Generation Z isn’t fussy – they want brands to stay relevant, engage with them directly, and be authentic. Above all, they want to connect with and purchase from companies that align with their own values.

The aspects that Gen Z hold high in value are already in a company’s best interest … no matter what age group they’re marketing to.

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