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5 Things Brands Positively Need to Do When Marketing to Gen Z

By: Matt Hogan
March 2024

Gen Z is in turmoil. They’ve grown up with war, gun violence, political and social unrest, not to mention having their “coming of age” years massively disrupted by a pandemic. So, it’s no wonder, according to HY’s 2023 study on Gen Z, that they’re the generation least optimistic about their future and the future of the country.  

But there’s no disputing the sheer size and buying power of Gen Z, which is now the second largest generation and one that contributes some $360 billion to the economy. So how should marketers approach a generation that’s clearly on edge? 

1. Be part of the solution  
One reason Gen Z is pessimistic about the future is the state of the planet. They’ve grown up in a world of climate change, pollution and plastic waste, and are aware of the impact their actions have on the environment. In fact, 82% of Gen Zers are concerned about these things (source). It’s one of the reasons they’re willing to pay more for environmentally friendly products (75% vs. 61% non-Gen Z), products that use recycled materials (71% vs. 56% non-Gen Z) and organic foods (68% vs. 54% non-Gen Z).  

The brands that do their part to address issues important to Gen Z will win them over. But it must go beyond surface talk. This generation is keenly aware of what is and what isn’t genuine. Simply donating money to a cause is table stakes. Consider taking efforts a step further by making sustainability and environmentalism part of your manufacturing process or establishing programs that combine donations and resources. Not only is this more actionable, but it also makes for great content to share.   

2. Play to their strengths   
Compared to other generations, Gen Z is the least likely to say they are generally happy in life (31% vs. 51% non-Gen Z). And while more than one third of Gen Zers feel their generation is lazy and entitled, they also see themselves as innovative (41%), intelligent (43%), entrepreneurial (35%) and charitable (32%).  

So, instead of focusing on the negativity, one thing marketers should do is lean into Gen Z’s positives. How? Help them envision a future full of potential. This could include finding Gen Z customers who are successfully using your product or service in an innovative or entrepreneurial way and sharing their stories.  

3. Entertain them  
We all need a distraction from negative thoughts and things happening to us and around us, and Zoomers are no exception. In fact, based on their negative views of themselves and their future, this is the generation that needs it the most. The good news—Gen Zers love to be entertained. They’re the biggest users of social media and watch content on an average of eight streaming services.  

Not in the entertainment business? Most brands aren’t. But that doesn’t stop companies like Duolingo, which specializes in helping people learn a new language, from having a little fun. They’re a prime example of how brands that aren’t inherently entertaining are winning Gen Zers by letting loose. To do this right, it pays to find a core truth that aligns with your brand and convey it in an entertaining way. This is where bringing in an agency can help. 

4. Think mental health  
Mental health is a national crisis, but something Gen Z especially struggles with. While social media is part of the problem (nearly one in three Zoomers feel it negatively impacts theirs), other contributors include the many changes happening to and around them. 

Brands can lean into Gen Z’s need for mindfulness by either supporting mental health causes or communicating with this generation in a way that eases their fears and anxiety about life. This can be done by promoting how your brand, product or service helps reduce stress and/or contributes to a healthy mind.

5. Make things easy  
The last thing any brand wants is to be one more frustration in the life of a customer, especially Gen Zers. Compared to other generations, they are the most likely to say a premium driver when buying things is that it’s easy/no assembly required (73% vs. 65% non-Gen Z). Easy also means personalized. Nearly half (45%) of Zoomers will leave a retailer’s or brand’s website if it doesn’t predict what they like or need (source).  

But too often our experiences finding and buying things add to our stresses: shipping delays, poor customer service and receiving something that looks nothing like the picture. These are all things that should be addressed if you want to get into Gen Z’s good graces. And once you have a smooth-running machine, make sure Gen Z knows it. 

Understanding how Gen Z thinks about themselves and the world around them is pivotal to crafting a strategy to engage them. It’s important that brands embrace this generation’s challenges and take an empathetic approach to communicating with them. Every generation has their ups and downs but recognizing what motivates Gen Zers and what you can do to be a solution to their problems will pay dividends now and in the future.  

Need assistance? Hoffman York can help. 
Download our full report: Gen Z Unraveled: A marketer’s guide to understanding the misunderstood generation.  

About the Author

Matt Hogan is the Director of Insights for Hoffman York. With over a decade of experience in data analysis, consumer research and brand planning, Matt focuses his time on understanding consumer attitudes and behaviors to help brands create deep connections with their audiences. His broad experience includes tourism, packaged goods, home products, healthcare, and more for both B2B and B2C clients. 

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