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Generation Z, typically defined as those born after 1997, will have an enormous impact on public relations and marketing strategies as they gain purchasing power. Generation Z surpassed millennials in population in 2019, making up 32% of the world’s 7.7 billion population, according to a Bloomberg analysis.

“Generation Z are the new kids on the block, and you’d be foolish to ignore them,” warns Richard LeCount, managing director of usbmakers.com.  “There’s no doubt that Gen Z is the next big business opportunity, for companies of all shapes and sizes. They have a spending power that will only increase as more of the generation enters the workforce.”

Generation Z may be even more challenging for PR & marketing than older generations. They differ from previous generations and have subtle yet significant difference from slightly older millennials, those born in the 1980s and early 1990s.

How Generation Z Differs

They care about social causes. Gen Z members are aware of social and political issues and are more willing to favor brands that align with their beliefs. More than half say they prefer to buy environmentally friendly products, according to Nielson. Companies that highlight their corporate values and publicize their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs can get on the good side of Gen Z members. Recording and measuring CSR activities helps companies make better decisions about which social initiatives to support. It also helps improve the efficiency of their CSR programs.

They digest content quickly. Attention spans of Generation Z are even shorter than those of millennials. They also bounce quickly between five screens on average while online, compared with three for millennials. With such a short communications window, it’s essential for marketers to eliminate extraneous fluff and get to the point immediately.

They prefer authenticity. Even more so than millennials, Gen Z cares about authenticity. They want to feel like they know the brand or the person behind the camera; they don’t want to feel marketed to, says Deep Patel, an entrepreneur and marketing expert. Marketing campaigns that seem relatable and lifelike win them over. For example, American Eagle saw its sales jump after implementing a “no-Photoshop” policy.

They value independence over loyalty. Unlike millennials, Gen Z is not impressed with brand loyalty programs. According to a study by Ernst & Young, 45% of millennials view loyalty programs favorably, compared to 30% of Generation Z consumers. They want options to get what they want, when they want. “When you take a look at some of these subtle differences between the two consumer groups, you can see how different your marketing strategies need to be, based on who you want to target,” Patel says.

They’re more skeptical of advertising. They skip ads three seconds faster per ad on average than Gen X, and are more likely to install ad blocking software, reveals a study AdReaction: Engaging Gen X, Y and Z from Kantar Millward Brown. Given their skepticism towards advertising, branded content is more attractive to Gen Z. Their distrust of traditional advertising indicates that branded events, celebrity endorsements and earned media can be effective.

Design matters: The generation is extremely design-conscious. Gen Z members note an ad’s aesthetic qualities and appreciate the use of new immersive formats like augmented reality and virtual reality. Innovation in formats like native ads, sponsored lenses and sponsored filters all attract much stronger approval with Gen Z than other age groups.

Don’t apply the same approach globally, experts warn. Gen Z is not homogenous and local insights reveal further nuances. In China, for example, they want music in ads to be upbeat, playful and fun, according to the Kantar Millward Brown research. By contrast in Germany, Gen Z seeks music that helps them to understand the message without listening to a voiceover.

“No generation is a monolith and Gen Z is no exception. Their upbringing, expectations and access to technology, however, have created a range of attitudes and behaviors that will challenge marketers. Only where brands take all this into consideration will they be successful in engaging this increasingly critical and fast-emerging group of consumers,” says Duncan Southgate, global brand director, media and digital at Kantar Millward Brown, in a press release.

Bottom Line: Generation Z is different from older generations, even different than millennials, in distinct and subtle ways. PR and marketing professionals who best understand those differences will be better able to engage with them and win their attention and business.

This article was first published on Jan. 24, 2017, and updated on Aug. 27, 2020.

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