4 Ways to Reach Gen Z Authentically

Business Insights

Explore what Gen Z appreciates and avoids when being targeted.

Eva Fellner
By Eva Fellner
Gen Z Article Header

Generation Z, or Gen Z, born between 1997 – 2012, are the most technologically advanced generation to date. This highly perceptive generation can be hard to reach — having used digital platforms from an early age, Gen Z is the first generation to grow up as true digital natives, with Generation Alpha on their heels. Online for nearly four hours a day, Gen Z isn’t new to marketing tactics. They’re skeptical, digitally aware, and more than ready to tune out any advertisements that crowd their social platforms. They’re even quick to call out or cancel brands that push anything that doesn’t align with their beliefs, creating widespread brand disapproval and a steep drop in customers.

The takeaway: They don’t like to be sold to. And traditional, in-your-face marketing is unwelcome and readily shunned.

With traditional marketing out the window and growing uncertainty about how to navigate the daunting cancel culture surrounding public-facing brands and personalities, it’s hard to know where to begin when it comes to creating advertising that Gen Z accepts and welcomes.

To connect with this generation, brands need to focus on these four key tactics to break through to Gen Z and win their approval:

  • Avoid going straight for the sell
  •  Prioritize authenticity
  • Be entertaining
  • Stand for something

Read on to learn more about how to reach Gen Z and what brands can learn from them
to benefit not only their marketing strategies but their entire company.

Gen Z Tip #1

Don’t Go Straight for the Sell

Gen Z doesn’t want to be sold to. They’ve grown up around advertising, and using flagrant marketing tactics is the fastest way to kill your brand potential with Gen Z. This especially goes for social media marketing.

Gen Zers prioritize social platforms like Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and Snapchat, engaging with content because it’s quick, it’s entertaining, and it provides new information about relevant topics.

With 54% of Gen Z spending four hours a day (or more!) on social platforms, it’s essential to blend in with native content and avoid going straight for the sell.

Take time to understand the content that Gen Z seeks out — and make sure it’s tailored specifically to each digital platform you’re planning on using.

Gen Zers flock to social media for content that’s informational and fun. When it comes to entertaining and informative content, influencers and UGC are huge. If you don’t know where to start when it comes to platform integration, try approaching influencer marketing or promoting UGC that feels authentic and gently push your target audience toward your brand. Give your audience what they want on the platforms they frequent. Whether it’s a particular influencer, food for thought, or trending content, a brand’s presence should seamlessly blend in and avoid blatant marketing tactics.

Gen Z Tip #2

Prioritize Authenticity

To reach Gen Z, be authentic in your messaging. How do you become more authentic? By building a strong brand personality and using your voice!

Crafting a solid brand voice makes you relatable and fun, and prompts more users to engage with your brand. While this can really shine in your branding, having actual conversations with your audience is a great way to project an authentic presence to the masses, and it can even be more entertaining than the content itself. It shows personality — that your brand is more than just a business looking for a quick buck. A great way to do this is to look at the little things — the details — and convey your brand’s personality at every level.

Take Wendy’s, for instance. Wendy’s began strengthening their social presence by crafting a strong, witty brand voice that is particularly apparent on their X (formerly Twitter) account. Roasting other brands, engaging with their following, and clapping back at negative comments on social posts are just a few of the ways Wendy’s has created a more authentic, strong, and downright funny brand voice that has users following their every move. Finding their voice has even led to more user-generated content, a great way to advance brand authenticity even further. Users want to interact with brands that just get it.

This will look different for every brand: While some may find success in humorous, snarky comments, others may choose a different tone. Simply strengthening your copy, incorporating video, and creating fun and interactive content are more ways to highlight your brand identity. Find your brand voice and use it!

Gen Z Tip #3

Be Entertaining

Don’t be boring. Content that falls flat will only blend into the background of the masses of content Gen Z encounters on a daily basis. Instead, find new and creative ways to catch their attention.

Whether it’s humor, aesthetically pleasing content, or a refreshing new perspective, marketing needs to grab the viewer’s attention to make an impression. While this may seem obvious, we’ve all seen the run-of-the-mill advertisements that have nothing impactful to say. So say something! Make people think, laugh, or desire something that goes beyond the obvious.

For example, KFC’s response to the chicken shortage in 2018 or Gillette’s controversial take on what it means to be a man with its #TheBestMenCanBe campaign. While you don’t have to ramp up your strategy to include heavily controversial material, all brands can learn something from these campaigns. Whether people were outraged at the concept or supportive of the messaging, the bottom line was that each campaign sparked conversation. Whether it’s shock factor, comedy, or taking a stance, make it interesting.

Shatter your audience’s expectations — take them by surprise, show them you can take a joke, and they’ll be sure to remember you.

Gen Z Tip #4

Stand for Something

It’s time to take a side. Gen Z is a politically motivated group, and they’re more partial to brands that take responsibility for social issues and actively work hard to make a difference.

With an interest in political issues concerning LGBTQ+ rights, gun control, reproductive
rights, and mental health amongst others, Gen Z is keen to vote with their wallet. Gen Z is also particularly concerned about protecting the environment. With 90% of Gen Z feeling personally concerned about climate change and 73% stating that they’re more inclined to buy from environmentally-conscious companies, it’s no surprise that this generation tends to steer clear of companies that take no action in preventing climate change and other environmental disasters.

The same goes for gender equality, mental health, and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. Gen Z is 84% more likely to buy from socially responsible brands.

But be warned! Brands would do well to stay away from performative activism, or activism that is used to increase social standing rather than actually supporting the movement or cause. The new digital world gives a window into brands like never before, and one way or another people will learn whether your brand truly believes in their messaging or if they’re simply using it to increase sales. Be genuine, and people will take notice.

A great example of a brand that works hard to make a difference is Patagonia. In 2022, Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, sold his $3 billion company to a nonprofit organization to ensure the company’s profits would contribute to combatting climate change and protecting undeveloped land around the world. “Earth is now our only shareholder,” the brand stated.

While brands don’t need to sell their company to prove to others that they’re serious about the causes they support, brands can learn a lot from Chouinard.

This investment proved Patagonia was a company serious about protecting the environment, even if that meant redirecting profits elsewhere. Now, 42% of U.S. adults aware of Patagonia are more likely to buy their products because of the sale.

The lesson? Put your money where your mouth is and create real change around the causes you’re outwardly supporting. Gen Z will rally behind you!

Gen Z is a generation that supports positive change, values brand transparency, and sees the humor in the little things. To reach this generation, think outside the box — don’t settle for traditional routes that may have worked in the past. Strengthen your brand personality, find out what your brand stands for, and create marketing that expresses just that. And if you’re ready to learn more about Generation Alpha and how to reach them, check out our other article Generation Alpha: 5 Things Marketers Know.

With 54% of Gen Z spending four hours a day (or more!) on social platforms, it’s essential to blend in with native content and avoid going straight for the sell.

Gen Z is 84% more likely to buy from socially responsible brands.

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