Why Now Is the Time to Capture the Gen Z Market

Carol Feigenbaum |
 12/21/16 |
5 min read


If the generation gap is generally understood as foundational differences that boil down to “old vs. young,” it’s tempting to think Gen Z and Millennials have more in common than not. These generations may be closer together than those past, but Gen Z is not simply a younger copy of the Millennial generation. And marketing to them as if they are won’t bring you the results you want.

As always, understanding and engaging this up-and-coming generation will require skillful use of social media analytics to get right. And there’s no time like the present.

Defining Gen Z

The world’s current youngest generation is typically considered to comprise anyone born after 1995 to those being born today. When described as a whole, those known as Gen Z – or iGen or Centennials, depending on who you ask – possess some unique attributes. Gen Z-ers are:

  • Mobile-first digital natives
  • “The most ethnically diverse generation in US history”
  • More likely to consume media via YouTube than traditional television
  • More interested in experiences they can share on social media than in material goods
  • More interested in ads featuring real people rather than celebrities
  • Fluid – both with regard to sexuality/gender-norms, and how they lives their lives overall

Gen Z is also privacy conscious – but not, perhaps, in the ways you’d expect.

Growing up mobile

There’s a bit of a contradiction in the way Gen Z views privacy – but it makes complete sense given the world they’re coming of age in.

On the one hand, “Their dependence on digital connectivity means that they have always had experience making their private information in some form or fashion necessary to use online,” states The Center for Generational Kinetics. A study they performed outlines a number of key differences in how Gen Z views privacy compared to other generations.

For example, Gen Z’s concern about online privacy is greater than Millennials’, but less than Gen X or Baby Boomers’ – at least with regard to protecting their identity when using credit and debit cards online or in stores: 63% vs. 58%.

They’re also more concerned with identity safeguards when sending and receiving online messages: 38% vs. 29%.

However, with regard to paying with mobile apps there’s a complete switch: Gen Z is least concerned of all generations when it comes to mobile payments on apps like Venmo. And they’re also not concerned about privacy when using social media. They’ve grown up with these technologies, so they trust them.


That doesn’t mean they trust brands though – unless you’re able to reach them in the ways they prefer. Says Jaclyn Ling, Director of Fashion and Retail Services at Kik, “They find email an out-dated communications method, and are 3x likelier to open a chat message received through a push notification. They value privacy meaning the best way to reach them is via private forums than broadcast media like Twitter and Facebook.”

Customer experience management takes on greater importance

Of course it’s not just as simple as knowing how – or how not – to reach out to Gen Z. There’s a lot to the equation brands must embrace – and the stakes are high.

Slideshare reports Gen Z currently comprises approximately 65 million Americans, with spending power of $44 billion dollars – and that number is expected to quadruple by 2018. That’s little more than a year away, which doesn’t give your brand much time to prepare.

Want to feel even more pressure? Goldman Sachs offers this important insight: “If you could imagine for a second a modern day family that’s trying to plan a summer vacation. Oftentimes it’s the tech-savvy teenager that’s online doing the research for hotels – trying to find the best hotel deal, trying to find the cheapest flights. And for that reason their economic influence really surpasses what’s easily quantifiable.”

In other words, you need to be engaging them now if you want to count on the brand loyalty of these tech-savvy teens as they grow into their spending years.

You need to know what matters to any consumer segment to engage them, and Gen Z is no different. As mentioned above, this youngest generation values experiences worthy of sharing on social more than spending for the sake of it, or for so-called “status.”

Luckily, brands are already attuned to the growing need for customer experience analytics and marketing, with 83% of marketers claiming customer experience is more central to their role than it was five years ago, in a survey conducted by Marketing Week.

That role will grow in importance as more of Gen Z comes of age.

Adding to the challenge is the fact that 69% of Gen Z think ads are disruptive, with 67% claiming to actively tune out ads, and only 42% actively seeking out ads before buying something. If you thought word of mouth was important when marketing to Millennials, it’s even more so now.

And the window for making a first impression is super short – you’ve only got 8 seconds to capture their interest before they move on if content isn’t appealing. The good news is, they’re willing to watch for much longer as long as they find the topic interesting.

Get them involved

One way to guarantee their interest – and create an experience worth sharing – is to bring Gen Z-ers into the process as influencers.

Contently notes, “Being a social influencer and being part of Gen Z is often one and the same. Gen Z is more likely than other generations to be ‘social creators’ themselves; recent research shows about one-third of U.S. social media users between 16 and 34 are social influencers, meaning they either have a sizable following online or actively partner with brands.”


Top Gen Z influencers, Smosh [https://cruiseable.com/blog/top-5-celebrity-influencers-of-generation-z-millennials-infographic]

And partnership is the key word, as Gen Z-ers “are more like curators… they use brands to build their own brand.” Thus, you can’t come at them with a sales pitch. It’s better to align with their values if you want to succeed.

This is a key distinction between other generations your brand may analyze with social media listening tools. While most audience marketing is built around common interests, with Gen Z it’s more important to look for common shared values like “morals, ethics and beliefs, and priorities.”

Of course, that’s something you should easily see when performing social media sentiment analysis. You never want to paint any audience with too wide a brush, so your brand should be looking for “feel-alike” segments within the Gen Z audience – as well as where those shared emotions overlap other demographics.

Obviously not every member of Gen Z thinks, feels and will behave the same way, so this overview merely provides a starting point. From here, use social listening tools to fine tune your efforts to find the most revealing insights for your brand and act accordingly.

No doubt our understanding of Gen Z will change over time, as the generation matures and takes its place in the world. By using social media analytics smartly, brands can follow every shifting trend in real-time – to meet this powerful generation where they are, and cultivate their loyalty for generations to come.

For more on how NetBase can help you reach all generations using social media analytics, reach out!




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