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Marketing to Gen Z: What Works and What Doesn’t

Marketing to Generation Z (Gen Z), the cohort born between the mid-1990s and early 2010s, requires a deep understanding of their preferences and behaviors. This tech-savvy, socially conscious generation demands unique strategies that resonate with their values and lifestyles. In this article, we’ll explore what works and what doesn’t when marketing to Gen Z.

What Works:

A. Authenticity

Authenticity is Key: Gen Z values authenticity above all else. They have grown up in a digital world saturated with marketing messages and can quickly spot inauthenticity. To connect with them:

  • Genuine Messaging: Craft messaging that reflects your brand’s real values and personality. Avoid overly polished or scripted content.
  • User-Generated Content (UGC): Encourage your Gen Z consumers to create content related to your brand. This can include reviews, testimonials, or creative content that showcases their experiences. Sharing UGC builds trust as it comes directly from your satisfied customers.

B. Social Responsibility

Social Responsibility: What Works

1. Support Social Causes

Meaningful Alignment: Gen Z is known for its social and environmental consciousness. To resonate with this aspect of their identity, brands can:

  • Select Relevant Causes: Identify social or environmental causes that align with your brand’s values and resonate with Gen Z. For instance, if your brand is in the fashion industry, supporting sustainable and ethical practices can be a compelling choice.
  • Active Involvement: Take active steps to support these causes. This might involve charitable donations, partnerships with nonprofit organizations, or sustainable sourcing and production practices.

2. Ethical Practices

Business Conduct Matters: Beyond just supporting causes, Gen Z values ethical business behavior across the board:

  • Fair Labor Practices: Ensure that your business practices, including labor conditions for employees and suppliers, are ethical and fair. Gen Z is concerned about workers’ rights and fair wages.
  • Sustainable Sourcing: If applicable to your industry, emphasize sustainable sourcing of materials and environmentally friendly production processes. Transparency in these practices can boost consumer trust.

Social Responsibility: What Doesn’t Work

1. Token Gestures

Authenticity Over Tokenism: Gen Z can easily discern between authentic commitment to social responsibility and token gestures:

  • Avoid Greenwashing: Greenwashing is when a brand claims to be environmentally friendly without meaningful actions. Gen Z is quick to spot this and can react negatively to it.
  • Honesty Matters: If you’re taking steps toward social responsibility, be transparent about your efforts. If your brand is still in the early stages of adopting sustainable practices, be honest about your journey and goals.

2. Superficiality

Deeper Engagement is Preferred: Gen Z appreciates brands that engage deeply with social responsibility, rather than just scratching the surface:

  • Sustainable Business Models: Consider ways to integrate social responsibility into your core business model. This might involve creating products or services that address social or environmental challenges.
  • Long-Term Commitment: Show your commitment to social responsibility over the long term. Gen Z values consistency and will be more receptive to brands with a sustained commitment to making a positive impact.

In conclusion, when it comes to social responsibility in marketing to Gen Z, it’s crucial to go beyond token gestures and superficiality. Gen Z appreciates brands that genuinely support meaningful causes and demonstrate ethical business practices. By aligning your brand with relevant causes, actively engaging in ethical practices, and being transparent about your efforts, you can build a positive and lasting relationship with this socially conscious generation.

C. Digital Engagement

Digital Engagement: What Works

1. Leveraging Social Media

Primary Online Hangouts: Gen Z spends a significant amount of their time on social media platforms, making them ideal places for digital engagement:

  • Short-Form Content: Create content that suits the quick-scrolling nature of platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat. Incorporate visually appealing elements such as short videos, animations, and eye-catching graphics.
  • Trend Participation: Keep a close eye on trending topics, hashtags, and challenges within these platforms. Participating in relevant trends can increase your brand’s visibility among Gen Z users.

2. Interactive Content

Engagement Through Interaction: Gen Z prefers interactive content that encourages participation:

  • Polls and Surveys: Use features like polls and surveys to involve Gen Z users in decision-making or to gather their opinions on various topics related to your brand or products.
  • Quizzes: Create quizzes related to your industry or products. These can be entertaining and educational, providing value to Gen Z while engaging them with your brand.

Digital Engagement: What Doesn’t Work

1. Overpromotion

Balanced Content Mix: While digital engagement is important, it’s crucial to avoid overpromotion:

  • Content Diversity: Offer a mix of content that includes informative, entertaining, and promotional posts. Constantly bombarding Gen Z with promotional content can lead to disengagement.
  • Subtle Promotion: When promoting products or services, do so subtly. Instead of direct sales pitches, consider storytelling or showcasing how your offerings address specific Gen Z needs or preferences.

2. Neglecting Privacy and Security

Respecting Online Boundaries: Gen Z is highly conscious of online privacy and security:

  • Data Privacy: Ensure that your digital engagement practices respect user data privacy. Be transparent about data usage and adhere to relevant data protection regulations.
  • Respect Consent: Obtain proper consent for data collection and use, especially for personalized content and marketing communications. Avoid intrusive tactics that can make users feel uncomfortable.

In conclusion, digital engagement when marketing to Gen Z involves leveraging social media, creating interactive content, and maintaining a balance between promotional and informative content. It’s also crucial to respect privacy and security concerns, ensuring that your engagement practices align with Gen Z’s preferences and expectations in the digital landscape.

D. Personalization

Tailor Content: Gen Z appreciates content that feels customized to their interests and preferences. Use data to personalize your marketing efforts:

  • Data Utilization: Leverage customer data to tailor content, product recommendations, and special offers. When Gen Z consumers receive content that resonates with their interests, they are more likely to engage.
  • Segmented Messaging: Segment your Gen Z audience based on factors like age, location, and interests. This allows you to deliver targeted messaging to each segment, increasing the chances of conversions.

E. Mobile Optimization

Mobile Optimization: What Works

1. Mobile-First Approach

Mobile-Centric Design: Given that Gen Z relies heavily on smartphones for their online activities, a mobile-first approach is key:

  • Responsive Design: Ensure that your website is responsive, meaning it adapts seamlessly to various screen sizes, including those of smartphones and tablets. This provides a consistent and user-friendly experience across devices.
  • Mobile-Friendly Content: Create content, including images and videos, that loads quickly and looks appealing on mobile screens. Consider the vertical format for videos, which is better suited to mobile viewing.

2. Text Messaging (SMS)

Direct Communication: SMS marketing can be an effective way to engage with Gen Z:

  • Concise Messages: Keep your SMS messages concise, valuable, and in line with Gen Z’s preferences for direct and succinct communication.
  • Personalization: Utilize personalization in SMS messages whenever possible, addressing recipients by their names and tailoring content based on their preferences and behaviors.

Mobile Optimization: What Doesn’t Work

1. Neglecting Mobile Usability

Mobile User Experience Matters: Neglecting mobile usability can lead to a poor user experience, which Gen Z will likely find frustrating:

  • Slow Loading Times: Ensure that your website and content load quickly on mobile devices. Slow-loading pages can drive Gen Z users away.
  • Non-Responsive Design: Failing to optimize your website for mobile devices can result in a cluttered or unusable appearance, discouraging mobile visitors from engaging with your brand.

2. Intrusive Pop-Ups and Ads

Respect User Experience: Gen Z is more likely to use ad blockers if they encounter intrusive or disruptive mobile ads:

  • Avoid Pop-Ups: Intrusive pop-up ads can be a major turn-off. Use mobile-friendly alternatives like banner ads or native advertising that don’t disrupt the user experience.
  • Opt for Non-Invasive Formats: Choose ad formats that seamlessly blend with mobile content and respect the user’s space and time.

In conclusion, mobile optimization when marketing to Gen Z involves adopting a mobile-first approach, ensuring responsive design, and utilizing SMS marketing for direct communication. It’s essential to prioritize mobile usability, maintain fast loading times, and avoid intrusive pop-ups or ads that can negatively impact the mobile user experience. By doing so, you can effectively engage with Gen Z on their preferred devices and platforms.

What Doesn’t Work:

A. Hard Selling

1. Avoid Pushy Sales Tactics

Building Relationships Over Pushy Sales: Gen Z is turned off by aggressive sales pitches and traditional “hard selling” tactics. Here’s why:

  • Relationship Building: Gen Z values brands that focus on building relationships rather than pushing immediate sales. They prefer brands that take the time to understand their needs and provide value beyond just selling products or services.
  • Trust-Building: Pushy sales tactics can erode trust. Gen Z is more likely to engage with brands they perceive as honest and transparent.

2. Overly Formal Language

Conversational and Relatable Communication: Gen Z prefers communication that is conversational, relatable, and easy to understand:

  • Conversational Tone: Use a conversational tone in your marketing messaging. Avoid overly formal or corporate language that may come across as insincere or distant.
  • Accessible Language: Keep your messaging clear and straightforward. Avoid jargon, complex terminology, or industry-specific language that Gen Z may not be familiar with.

In summary, hard selling, characterized by aggressive sales tactics and overly formal language, doesn’t work when marketing to Gen Z. Instead, focus on building relationships, using a conversational tone, and providing value to this audience, as these approaches align more closely with their preferences and expectations.

B. Lack of Diversity and Inclusivity

Represent Diversity: Gen Z values diversity and inclusivity. To avoid alienating potential customers:

  • Diverse Representation: Ensure that your marketing materials, including images, videos, and messaging, reflect a range of backgrounds, ethnicities, genders, and identities.
  • Avoid Stereotypes: Be mindful of stereotypes and assumptions in your messaging. Gen Z appreciates brands that respect and celebrate diversity in all its forms.

C. Ignoring Social Issues

1. Silence is Not Golden

Expectation of Social Responsibility: Gen Z expects brands to take a stance on relevant social issues, and silence can be perceived negatively:

  • Relevance Matters: Ignoring social issues that are relevant to your target audience or the broader society can lead to disengagement or even backlash. Gen Z appreciates brands that are socially aware and active.
  • Missed Opportunities: By staying silent, you may miss opportunities to connect with Gen Z on a deeper level. Brands that engage with important issues can build stronger emotional connections with this generation.

2. Insensitive Humor

Humor with Care: Gen Z appreciates humor but is highly sensitive to content that may be offensive or insensitive:

  • Avoid Offensive Jokes: Be cautious with humor in your content. What may seem funny to one group can be offensive or hurtful to others. Gen Z values inclusivity and is quick to react to content that crosses boundaries.
  • Be Sensitive: Consider the potential impact of your content on various groups and issues. Avoid humor that may perpetuate stereotypes or make light of serious matters.

In summary, ignoring social issues and failing to engage with them in your marketing doesn’t work when targeting Gen Z. This generation expects brands to be socially responsible and sensitive to important matters. By taking a stance on relevant issues and using humor with care and sensitivity, you can better connect with and resonate with Gen Z consumers.

D. Lengthy Content

Short Attention Span: Gen Z has a short attention span, particularly when consuming digital content. To keep them engaged:

  • Visual Content: Use visuals such as images, videos, and infographics to convey your message quickly and effectively.
  • Concise Messaging: Keep your messaging concise and to the point. Avoid lengthy paragraphs or explanations. Gen Z prefers bite-sized, easily digestible content.

E. Invasive Advertising

Ad Blockers: Gen Z is more likely to use ad blockers if they encounter intrusive or disruptive ads. To maintain their engagement:

  • Non-Disruptive Ads: Focus on non-intrusive advertising methods. Avoid pop-ups, auto-play videos with sound, or excessive ads that disrupt the user experience.
  • Respect Privacy: Respect privacy concerns. Be transparent about data usage, offer opt-out options, and ensure compliance with data protection regulations.

In summary, marketing to Gen Z requires avoiding hard selling, promoting diversity and inclusivity, engaging with social issues, keeping content concise and engaging, and respecting user privacy. By steering clear of these pitfalls, you can create marketing campaigns that resonate positively with this discerning and socially conscious generation.

In conclusion, successfully marketing to Gen Z requires authenticity, social responsibility, digital engagement, personalization, and mobile optimization. Avoid hard selling, lack of diversity, ignoring social issues, lengthy content, and invasive advertising. By understanding and respecting Gen Z’s values and preferences, you can build lasting relationships with this influential consumer group.



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