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Updated: April 24, 2024

How businesses can market to young consumers

I recently spoke to a group of ninth-graders at Lewiston High School, and I was surprised by one revelation. Most of the students have never read a newspaper, or watched broadcast news. Imagine that!

File Photo
Nancy Marshall, Marshall Communications

Newspapers like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal or Portland Press Herald may as well be in a foreign language. Cable news networks like CNN, Fox News or News Center Maine are afterthoughts.

It’s just another reminder: Young consumers are very, very different than the generations who came before, including my own.

Hello, Gen Z

This matters for businesses who are trying to gain new customers or clients. The purchasing power of Generation Z — those born from the late 1990s to the early 2010s — is growing by the day, with millions of new consumers in the fold.

Back in 2021, Gen Z had about $360 billion in disposable income, and that was three years ago.

How do you target Gen Zers this year? How do you market to them over the next five years? The goal is to move them from “prospects” to clients and customers. And, to get there, businesses first need to understand where young people are most active.

When you’re a skier, you follow the snow. When you go fishing, you go where the fish are most likely to bite. The same logic applies to business marketing, whether you’re sharing a recent news story with a target audience, advertising to a particular segment of consumers, or just trying to do market research.

TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram are the most popular social media platforms among Gen Z users. If you’re not active on at least one of those platforms, you’re seriously missing out, and these platforms most likely won’t be going away over the next decade.

As millions of Gen Z consumers continue to use them, they will most likely take those habits with them, even as they hit their 30s and 40s.

So, you never know: If you successfully court a young Instagram user today, they may stay loyal over time. Reach one now, get them to know, like, and trust you, and they may become an important brand ambassador for the long haul. That’s the best kind of branding—the branding that triggers loyalty, standing the test of time.

YouTube is another platform to consider. Short-form video content is extremely popular among teenagers, for example, so creating pitchy messages for YouTube can be incredibly impactful.

Don’t underestimate 30-second or one-minute videos that are short and sweet with their messaging, especially with attention spans dropping (even among older consumers). A single video can matter more than a front-page story in the Washington Post.

Once you figure out where the fish live, what kind of bait do you use? There is more to messaging than just finding the right platform; the message also needs to be on-point. That means understanding young consumers.

Authenticity, transparency

Here’s one consideration: Gen Zers really care about authenticity and transparency, gravitating toward brands that are upfront with their offerings without coming across as shameless advertisers.

Gen Z consumers don’t want to feel like they’re being sold a bag of goods. They want to feel like the bag of goods truly matters — that there is some deeper meaning or higher purpose. To their credit, young people care about the values that brands bring to the table, such as sustainability, technological innovation, or diversity and inclusion.

Many young buyers orientate their purchasing around impactful consumption, ideally in a way that contributes positively to the world around us. Therefore, businesses are better-off positioning themselves as good-faith marketers who are open and honest about their goods and services, while also making the case that those goods and services genuinely make the world a better place.

If you’re trying to sell skis to young shoppers, for instance, it probably makes sense to sell the big-picture ideas of recreation, the value of exercise, and a “connection with nature.”

If a business is struggling to come across as authentic and transparent, brand partnerships often make sense. In other words, even if Gen Zers don’t know that your brand is right for them, connecting that brand to an influencer who is already known, liked, and trusted can make all the difference.

Gen Zers are known to monitor social media influencers on a daily or weekly basis, so finding the right influencer to sell your wares—for a fee, of course — can turn skeptical buyers into willing ones.

There’s a reason why brands hitch their wagons to Kim Kardashian, and there are countless influencers who are less expensive than “Kim K.” Businesses need to keep tabs on influencers in their own space who have resonance with their target audience. If one influencer — let’s say a YouTube skier — can reach 100,000 followers, you could turn 10,000 of them into paying customers.

So yes, marketing to Generation Z is possible, and targeting these young consumers has never been more important for businesses. With a little bit of creativity, the fish will start to nibble.

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Dan Reed
April 25, 2024

Phenomenal article! Nancy does it again. Authenticity is key

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