So You Want to Sell to Gen Z?
Every generation has its stereotypes: Gen X doesn’t want to grow up. Millennials are self-involved and saddled with debt — but they do have great taste in houseplants and color (see: Millennial Pink). Gen Z are digital natives who will save the world with their activism. Baby Boomers might be a bit clueless (“OK, Boomer …”) but they are responsible investors who make up “The Greatest Generation.”
And so goes the prevailing wisdom.
For years, marketers have tried to appeal to a given generation’s perceived traits based on shared historical and cultural events in their lifetimes. For Baby Boomers, it was World War II. Gen X faced the end of the Cold War and the AIDS crisis. The Great Recession and 9/11 were formative events for Millennials. Who knows how the pandemic will shape the generation of kids who just spent a year spinning between distance learning, hybrid schedules and now finally going back into classrooms.
Capturing that generational lightning in a bottle can be a challenge. A recent New York Times story related AARP’s efforts to get Gen X onboard the approaching-retirement train, when many of them (us) are in denial that they (we) are even in middle age — much less approaching senior status. And then there was the recent Gen Z takedown of Millennials’ skinny jeans and side parts, which likely helped boost the market for “Mom Jeans.”
How to Do It Right
There are ways to target age groups effectively: First, marketers should focus on statistics that are backed up by research rather than on broad stereotypes that pigeon-hole an entire generation. No matter how old someone is, no one wants to feel like they’re a generic soldier in a like-minded and -aged army of consumers, and marketing content that strikes them that way will backfire.
That said, there is valid data to consider — and some stereotypes exist for a reason. Take this story from Pew Research on the members of Gen Z, which shows that they are more ethnically diverse than previous generations, they are more likely to go to college and, like Millennials, they believe that an activist government can effectively solve problems.
Marketers need to take a strategic approach to generational marketing. How is age relevant to your brand? Does a campaign aimed at a particular demographic feel authentic and true to your company? Is it smart rather than pandering? These might all seem like obvious questions, but there have been examples of big brands that failed to consider them — or were simply enthralled by their own brilliant idea — before moving forward with a campaign that fell flat, or worse. When considering age, factor in other complementary research and data you have about your actual and target customers.
A Targeted Approach
Creating well-researched personas allows you to accurately aim and test concepts as you develop them. IEN has extensive experience in digital and journalistic research, as well as persona development, that can help you meet your customers where they are — driving content that resonates and builds lasting brand loyalty.
Reach out to learn more about IEN’s unique approach to research, strategy and content production.
Sarah Elbert is Senior Director of Content Strategy at the Informed Engagement Network.