To Thrive in Tomorrow’s Economy, Businesses Must Engage Gen Z Now

By: Jennifer Williamson
Jun 9, 2016 12:15 PM ET

For a long time the primary focus of marketers has been on reaching Millennials.  But, to get ahead of current trends, companies need to turn their attention to the next generation on the horizon—Generation Z (Gen Z).  Although Gen Z is relatively young – Demographers place its beginning anywhere from the early ’90s to the mid-2000s according to a 2015 article in the New York Times, they already have nearly $44 billion in spending power and make up over a quarter of the U.S.’s population.  This new wave of tech savvy, responsible and authentic individuals calls for a different style of marketing to catch their attention.

With the understanding of Gen Z’s most prominent qualities (independence, frugality, short attention span, concern for the greater good, and entrepreneurship), companies need to approach marketing to this generation in a new and unique way: engagement.  Traditional advertisements will not appeal to these up and coming consumers. Gen Z has grown up with engagement at the center of their lives.  Whether it is through live tweeting, Periscope, SnapChat, or even customized Facebook advertisements, Gen Z assumes that businesses will involve their customers and customize messages to consumers.   Gen Z expects instant access to information.  With the copious amount of information available, it is important to have a clear, simple and engaging messaging to cut through the clutter and catch Gen Z’s attention.

Here are three simple rules to step up your engagement with Gen Z.

1. Utilize Technology

Gen Z, known as the true ‘digital natives’, has not only grown up with technology easily at their fingertips, tech has become part of their identity.  According to a study from the Pew Research Center, almost half of all Gen Zers spend 10 hours or more a day online.  Utilizing technology in your marketing efforts will allow for your brand to be seen in a natural way to these consumers.  Although you probably have already incorporated tech in your marketing strategy, are you making the most of it?

Unlike the Millennial Generation, who may use 3 devices at a time, Gen Z has grown-up using 5 devices!  This means consistency across different devices and channels is imperative.  No longer can your business get away with not having a mobile-friendly website, times have changed.  Now Google will not even allow your company website to show up through search on a mobile device unless your site is mobile –friendly.  In short, your website must be accessible on all devices!  Also, your brand must be consistent across your different social platforms—Website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, Blog, YouTube, Tumblr, etc.

2. Embrace Responsibility

Gen Z cares more about the world, each other, and themselves than any prior generation.  These values can be seen through the multitude of social, earthly and nutritional campaigns targeted to better a cause.  A Mashable article found that 76 percent of Gen Z-er’s are concerned about the human impact on the planet, and 77 percent believe that business should be ‘doing good.’ So how can this translate to an actionable marketing plan? Be transparent.

Be transparent in your values.  Be transparent in your mission.  And most importantly be transparent in what YOU do.  Gen Z cares about business impact and expects business to be responsible in their actions, but what they find most disingenuous is a business’s lack of transparency.

3. Be Real

Growing up in a post 9-11 era, amidst the Great Recession, and seeing school violence on the rise across the nation, Gen Z has become cautious and security-minded.  Whereas Millennials were known for their optimism, Gen Z-er’s are known for their realism according to Generation Play Magazine.

Through their loss of innocence, Gen Z is pragmatic, resilient, and ready to change the world.  They want to embrace the world’s problems to then develop a solution.  Companies who picture an ideal world in their advertisements will not gain Gen Z’s trust—they know the world is far from perfect.  Business should embrace reality and the hardships of life are most likely to resonate with this new generation.

Gen Z’s unique qualities truly sets them apart from any generation prior. Their qualities push business to find new and innovative ways in which to engage this exceptional generation.  Gen Z is quickly taking over the business world with their huge spending power.  To succeed in tomorrow’s economy, companies must look to engage with Gen Z by embracing the qualities and attributes they hold dear. The future of business depends on it.

Jennifer Williamson is Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications for Sodexo North America.  Sodexo’s 133,000 employees in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico provide more than 100 unique services that improve performance for 9,000 client partners and improve Quality of Life for 15 million consumers every day.