Born between 1997 and 2012, Gen Z isn’t just extremely online; they’ve been raised on the internet. As the generation of so-called “digital natives” comes of age — and assumes more buying power — it’s become essential to effectively target and engage with them. But for many news-media brands, often focused on previous demographics, adapting to the preferences and digital savvy of Gen Z can be challenging. In this article, we unpack the trends, behaviors, and values associated with Gen Z, and explore effective strategies for reaching this increasingly critical demographic.
Understanding what drives Gen Z audiences
It’s clear Gen Z is online and in-app. Pew Research reports a study of 1,316 U.S. teenagers found 95% have a smartphone and 97% access the internet on a daily basis (a usage rate that’s increased from 92% in 2014-2015). But reaching them in a way that resonates is much murkier territory. Understanding user behavior is no longer enough. To effectively target Gen Z, you need to understand their values.
For Gen Z audiences, the value to rule all values is authenticity (see last month's post) . They believe in climate change, and they know all about greenwashing. They recognize tweeting a picture of a rainbow for Pride Month is not a substitute for meaningful support. No doubt fatigued by the endless shilling of paid influencers on social media, Gen Z has even started de-influencing. The common thread here is Gen Z’s sense for sniffing out inauthentic messaging and eschewing those brands who attempt to co-opt their values with marketing gimmicks.
If you’re trying to shoehorn a sales pitch into the latest meme, Gen Z won’t be afraid to call you “cheugy.” And if you look up the definition of “cheugy” (essentially a try-hard) and try to incorporate it into your brand’s latest social caption, be prepared for even more backlash. As Inc. points out, “To the typical Z, anyone older than they are is an old person. So, if you're not one of them, don't try using their lingo to appeal to them.” Your brand’s authentic voice might not be laced with modern slang or topical references, but at least Gen Z won’t be turned off by awkward attempts to parrot them.
Inc. also notes that Gen Z is tired of being lumped in with Millennials, many of whom are far closer in age to their parents than their peers. “If you call them Millennials, they won't assume it's an honest mistake; they'll assume you should have known better; then they'll find someone better to buy from.”
Gen Z isn’t even keen on being lumped together with other Gen Zs. As Raptor Digital Marketing explained to The Drum, “brands are grouping all gen Zers together into a single stereotype, failing to recognize sub-cultural nuances between different groups. In 2023, gen Zers are hoping that brands start to recognize them as individuals.”
Social responsibility and sustainability
Gen Z likes to see a brand’s authentic values in action — and they’re willing to pay more for the assurance of certain values, like sustainability. In an article covering the role Millennials and Gen Z play in the growth of ESG, Nasdaq reports, “The majority of Generation Z shoppers prefer to buy sustainable brands, and most are willing to spend 10% more on sustainable products.” They also plan to continue putting their money where their values are; 40% of Gen Z say “their investments decisions are driven by ‘companies with a purpose’ as their expected income rises.”
Digitally conscious (and data-protective)
Gen Z hasn’t come out of their digital upbringing unscathed. They know companies are tracking their behavior and using the data to sell them things — and, understandably, they aren’t thrilled about it. According to Insider Intelligence, “Gen Zers are increasingly uncomfortable with how companies use their personal information and are becoming savvier and more cautious about what they divulge.” Just 39% of Gen Z “trusted brands to protect their information once they opted to share it” — while 59% believe “they’ve lost control over how companies use their personal information.”
Leveraging Gen Z’s digital media habits
Understanding how Gen Z’s values inform its digital media habits is just the precursor to effectively targeting them. To really reach Gen Z, it’s essential to create content that is relevant, accessible, genuinely useful, informative, or entertaining. Here are four tips for how news media brands can make use of Gen Z-driven trends without sacrificing authenticity:
- Putting the news in newsfeed. A 2022 Statista study found “Gen Z news consumers most frequently get their news from social media, with 50 percent of respondents reporting they used social networks as their news source on a daily basis.” Savvy news organizations are responding in kind;
- Video reigns supreme. One need look no further than the astronomic rise of TikTok for evidence of Gen Z’s affinity for video content. YouTube is even more ubiquitous, with Pew Research reporting 95% of U.S. teenagers aged 13-17 used the video-sharing platform in 2022. But before your marketing team starts turning every long-form article and op-ed into a video, remember the golden rule of contemporary content: keep it short. Hootsuite reports 61% of Gen Z and Millennials prefer videos to be under one minute long.
- Social as a search engine. Gen Z is also rewriting the rules of search, frequently turning to social media instead of the standard search engines. TechCrunch shares that Google’s own SVP told audiences at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference “something like almost 40% of young people” don’t use Google for queries like picking a place for lunch. Instead, they turn to TikTok or Instagram. By adopting social media as a distribution channel — and with some savvy keyword placement — news media organizations can leverage this penchant for social searching to draw in new Gen Z audiences.
- Hire Gen Z. Covering Instagram’s 2022 Trend Report, Mashable reported “nearly two thirds of Gen Z plan to use social media to make money in 2023” by turning their innate social media experience into lucrative side hustles. Attracting this upcoming generation of talent is quite possibly the edge news organizations need to stay relevant. Gen Z not only know how to reach their peers in the authentic voice they crave, they are also naturally equipped to navigate the fluid future of social media and web3. With the eldest Gen Z now in their mid-twenties, it feels like high time to bring these digital natives into the fold.
The future of Gen Z and digital marketing
The world might be getting wiser to the increasingly data-driven demands of modern marketing, but as a whole, the digital ecosystem is thriving with over 5.16 billion internet users and 4.76 billion social media users at the start of 2023. Needless to say, news media companies should continue targeting Gen Z users online and in-app — and also look ahead to their future in the workforce.