Marketing To Gen-Z: The Ultimate Guide To Winning Generational Trust

Marketing To Gen-Z: The Ultimate Guide To Winning Generational Trust

An inside look at how Gen-Z prefers social search, different media platforms and values, and how to leverage these preferences to market to them.
Marketing to Gen-Z: The Ultimate Guide to Winning Generational Trust

Just when marketers thought they perfected their art, a disruptor shattered the system – and a rather large one at that. Gen-Z has entered the chat, and they have a lot to say.

There’s a lot of debate on who exactly constitutes Gen-Z. You’ll mostly see them categorized between the years 1997-2012, making the youngest members of Gen-Z just about 11 years old. And because of that, you’ll hear the words “digital native” bandied about whenever that age group is discussed. It’s mainly because they grew up during the rise of technology and have never known a world without the internet (with 74% of them spending their free time online) – meaning they’ve acquired extremely specific tastes for pretty much everything. According to Pew Research Center, people in this generation are also “more racially and ethnically diverse than any previous generation” and more educated, which drives them to place a heavier emphasis on social justice and change. 

Which leaves marketers with the same overarching question: how in the world do you reach Gen-Z? They have different expectations and shopping habits from “traditional” target audiences, rendering the usual approach ineffective when it’s time to market to generation. Meaning it’s time to take into account these Gen-Z marketing trends of 2023: 

Gen-Z Prefers Social Search

In fact, 40% of them do. And it influences their purchasing decisions. Google doesn’t feed their need to associate with their peer groups. Gen-Z’s strong desire for connection makes searching for anything – be it recipes, advice, or product reviews – occur primarily on social media platforms like TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram. And smart marketers have taken notice – there’s been an uptick in social media ads to keep up with Gen-Z consumers, where 85% of them utilize platforms to find new brands and products. The first few videos or so on their TikTok “For You Page” might contain Branded Takeover or TopView ads with this in mind. Google continues to be the top contender for search, but social runs a close second and should be observed carefully in the coming years. (If you’d like to hear more about the future of social search, check out our panel at SXSW here!)

Gen-Z Utilizes Different Media Platforms

If Facebook is a brand’s advertising platform of choice, they’re missing out on an entire generation – and with a purchasing power of about $140 million, Gen-Z is not a generation to skip. Gen-Z loves YouTube most (where video content is king), with Instagram and TikTok to follow second and third respectively, which means prioritizing brand presence on those sites is key. Knowing the demographics of each platform will give you an edge – for example, YouTube may be the overall Gen-Z social media platform of choice, but it’s more popular with male users – if your brand catered more to a female audience, it would be a better use of time and resources to invest in Instagram and TikTok ads. 

US GenZ Social Media User, by Platform, 2020-2025 (millions)

Gen-Z Emphasizes Certain Values

If Gen-Z differs from the “traditional” audience, what key things should be kept in mind when marketing to them? There are 3 key things to consider when preparing an ad campaign specifically targeting Gen-Z audiences to appeal to their taste (and high expectations). 

  1. Authenticity. Though it holds the second most popular spot for Gen-Z use, Instagram’s days are numbered – unless marketers can break away from the “Instagram” aesthetic. It reads as presentational to this age group – and boring. When brands refuse to show behind-the-scenes content in favor of perfectly polished feeds, it immediately gives Gen-Z cause to distrust and distance themselves. The same goes for user-generated content – choosing the right people to act as influencers and create content on your brand’s behalf makes a world of difference, as those that lean on the side of “Instagrammable” are not taken seriously. The best influencer marketing content looks and feels exactly like the rest of the content seen on their feeds, rendering ads undetectable – just how Gen-Z likes them. 
  2. Understanding. Each platform Gen-Z frequents is different from the next – but one thing remains consistent – chaos is imminent. Gen-Z has an extremely distinct sense of humor, and they view social networks as entertainment hubs, expecting brands to understand their unique digital language. If advertising campaigns aren’t hitting the mark with storytelling and plot twists, they’re going to fall prey to Gen-Z’s short attention span – or worse, come across as cringy. 
  3. Sustainability. Recommerce is a trend that’s here to stay – with about 80% of Gen-Zers having bought something secondhand (and the resale market estimated to be worth $84 billion in 2030), brands should watch the space for this phenomenon, regardless of whether or not they conduct a resale business. Why? It shows a pattern – Gen-Z appreciates sustainability, which companies like Depop and ThredUp cater to. Keeping that in mind, brands can find ways to include sustainability in their business practices. Be it recycling programs or awareness campaigns, there’s room for green in your business. 
  4. Accountability. An interesting Gen-Z marketing trend almost entirely unique to them. As the most diverse generation yet, Gen-Z is drawn to businesses that have strong beliefs they unflaggingly adhere to. Be it LGBTQ+ visibility, righting racial injustice, or environmental awareness, this age group loves to see brands take a stance – not without condition, of course. Tying back into the authenticity key, Gen-Z can tell when brands suddenly tout activism for clout, and will expose them for it. If you plan to get vocal for a cause, Gen-Z better see that from you year-round. 
Gen Z Values

So keep the following in mind as you create your next campaign for Gen-Z: 

  • Treat them like an actual audience.Their purchase power is strong, and they’re poised to take over for millennials soon. Be sure to back your campaigns with a well-thought-out effort.
  • Put your money where your mouth is. Don’t back causes without believing in them
  • Be real. Not like the popular social app, but with the same concept in mind – Gen-Z wants to see what’s on the front-facing and back-facing camera. Take them backstage to see your processes, show them the unfinished work, and convey humanity always. Authenticity reigns supreme with this group.
  • Partner with folks that care. Genuine reviews from good people mean everything. 
  • Keep it on the DL. If you can’t tell that an ad was even running in the content uploaded, you can consider it done correctly. The more organic you can make Gen-Z marketing campaigns, the better!

And perhaps most importantly, remember that all this is subject to change. As Gen-Z takes the stage from Millennials, Gen Alpha waits in the wings – and with the rise of AI, they’re ready to lead us all into wholly uncharted territory.


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