SELLING TO ALIENS

(7 in a series of 16)

Please forgive the ageist cynicism in our headline – we mean selling to consumers under 20. You know, people who dress strangely and have terrible taste in music. And don’t tidy their bedrooms. Generation Z, in other words.

And there we go, making one of the most common mistakes in marketing to this group – thinking of it as one cohort when it can be 2 or 3 different subsets, all with slightly different tastes, language and media consumption habits.

You’ll know, of course, that social is the key to reaching and influencing these people, but how do you choose between Snapchat and Instagram? Tumblr and Facebook?

You’ll also know that these are net savvy folks – they have never known a world that wasn’t hyper-connected – but do they search like you do? Probably not. Youtube is their search engine of choice, not Google.

Oh, and for most teen subgroups, Youtube is also where their heroes can be found. Forget movie stars, musicians or sports personalities and look instead at influencers like Zoella, KSI or Caspar Lee.

According to US figures, half of generation Z spends 10 hours a day on the internet and fewer than 18% say that TV advertising has much influence on their buying choices. The older ones suffer greatly from nomophobia (anxiety when separated from their phones)

They’re generally a bit pessimistic about the future, they’ve never known a time when you didn’t have to pay for university education, and they’ll probably save more and spend less than millennials.

In the West, most don’t expect to be better off than their parents, but they’re not about to take this sitting down, so they study harder. Saturday jobs are almost a thing of the past – time at home with schoolbooks is more important.

Compared to millennials, teens are a little less concerned with material things and more engaged with social issues. And they are angry about the climate crisis. Global heating and their elders’ lack of action really gets them riled. Mostly, they’re with Greta Thunberg and may often be inclined to think (or even shout) “How dare you?”

They’re also important. Globally, they’re already a bigger cohort than millennials and, as they grow, they’ll become the largest consumer group of all.

So how to understand them? Deliver value to them? Sell to them?

Start by listening to them.

Don’t even try to create a strategy or campaign for teens without first talking to lots of them. Use focus groups and discussion forums. Attach Gen Z advisers to your marketing department, include them in brainstorms about products, messaging, promotions and events.

Have a look at the successful influencer-led campaigns that, say, Walmart, Subaru and Tinder have mounted in the last few years and, even if your brand isn’t right or ready to do the same just yet, think about how these campaigns use language and humour, and how they avoid selling traditionally or directly.

Yes, it’s true that Generation Z are complex consumers, with attitudes and viewpoints that are sometimes surprising. But it’s also true that you understand them the same way you would with any other group.

Walk a mile in their moccasins. Live in their lives awhile. Experience their days. Empathise with their doubts and delights.

And listen. Always listen!

Steve Yelland

Steve Yelland

Writer and brand strategist. A writer since 1978, Steve Yelland’s work has built share and sold product for some of the world’s top brands. His writing has appeared in the D&AD Annual three times and has won awards in the UK, Europe and the USA.