In depth: The art of dealing with Generation Z

5 brand experts reveal how to survive and thrive when marketing to the emerging generation coming after millennials

The generation after Millennials, Generation Z - defined as people born from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s - represents a dominant and powerful group. And given they’re considered to become a larger cohort than both the Baby Boomers and Millennials, brands must increasingly craft an approach that relates to this ‘powerhouse’ consumer group.  

CMO reached out to five experts to ask how brands need to market to Generation Z. First up, we asked how the industry defines Gen Z and what’s unique to that particular generation. We then deep dived into tips and strategies brands need to consider and deploy in order to win over this lucrative customer segment.

What makes Gen Z tick  

Ogilvy head of strategy, Ryan O’Connell, said technology is in the blood of Gen Z as an all-encompassing part of their lives, and marketers should recognise this.

“Certainly, the most defining aspect of this particular generation is that they have no concept of what the world was like before the Internet. ‘Pre-internet’ is their equivalent of ‘Before Christ’: It’s unfathomable, ancient and archaic to them,” he told CMO. “Considering the role the Internet inherently plays in their life, the notion of ‘digital’ is completely foreign; that is simply not language they use. ‘Digital’ is just their life. They’re hardly ever offline and a mobile phone may as well have been placed in their hand at birth.

“It’s vital brands, ideas and messages recognise this. Though this has a number of implications for marketers, the most important one is the most obvious: Channel selection when speaking to this audience.”

Ryan O'Connell
Ryan O'Connell

For VML strategy director, Dave Di Veroli, Gen Z represents the “age of abundance”.

“Gen Z, like any other generation, is shaped by the culture and the technology that surrounds them. They are the first generation to grow up with computers in their pockets, delivering new ways to communicate, access information and be entertained. Their expectation is everything is in abundance and on-demand, making it a much more competitive landscape for brands to compete in,” he commented.

Di Veroli also labelled Gen Z the “generation of choice” and said it’s never been more difficult to capture attention.

“In an age of unparalleled choice - of content, channels and ways of communicating - the balance of power is firmly in their hands,” he said. “They no longer have to put up with ads to get to great content; they can skip over them on YouTube, fast forward them on TV or avoid them all together streaming Netflix. So where does that leave brands?

“Marketers need to shift from creating ads to creating experiences.”

Dave Di Veroli
Dave Di Veroli


Di Veroli noted Snapchat as one platform that pioneered augmented reality to deliver fun interactive experiences. “It’s a different way of engaging audiences, through pull instead of push. We have seen first-hand how McDonald’s enticed 3.5 million users to turn their heads into Big Macs, voluntarily engaging with the brand for over 20 seconds,” he continued.

Where prior generations see function or utility,  Gen Z sees fun, connection and emotion, WP Engine CMO, Mary Ellen Dugan, said. She pointed out Gen Z influence tens of billions of dollars in annual spending and will soon be the driver of every major consumer trend. In fact, it’s predicted that by 2020, Gen Z will be 40 per cent of all consumers.

“Gen Z doesn’t distinguish whether they are online, on an app, in a social network’s platform or walking around with their smartphone. For them, the digital world is ubiquitous and blends seamlessly with the real world,” Dugan said. “Their digital experience is their human experience. Unlike their predecessors, who use the Internet mainly to source information, our research has found 86 per cent of Gen Z rely on it primarily for social media and entertainment, demonstrating a marked shift from ‘inform me’ to ‘entertain me’."

Up next: Clear steps towards better Gen Z engagement

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