10 Gen Z Marketing Trends: What Works and What Doesn't

It feels like yesterday our Gen Z kids were born, but make no mistake– these ‘kids’ are quickly becoming one of the most important segments of the consumer market. This generation, born between the mid-1990s and the early 2010s, is unlike any other. If you’re a digital marketer, you’ll need to understand how to communicate effectively with Gen Z, and more importantly, how to connect with them.

Understanding Gen Z

wooden tiles with the letters GEN Z against a colorful blue and pink background

Generation Z: True Digital Natives

"Gen Z has learned to think, learn, and communicate in an environment defined by wireless internet ubiquity, wholesale technology integration, infinite content, and immediacy." (Forbes)

To understand any generation, you’ll need to know the historical context that surrounded their upbringing. For Gen Z, this includes the digital revolution. Gen Z individuals have grown up in the digital age. Many of them have owned iPhones, tablets, and screens since preschool age. They are ‘native speakers’ of the languages of Instagram and TikTok, and are the first generation to grow up completely immersed (or inundated) in the online world. 

These individuals have also grown up with access to information and news covering every corner of the globe, making them highly informed and empathetic to international issues. The average Gen Zer is highly empathetic, values diversity, and is concerned about issues caused by previous generations (such as climate change and gun control). They’re used to a fast-moving and efficient world, as they grew up in a time of many transformative technological advancements.

Research from Stanford also shows that the Gen Z cohort values “flexibility, relevance, authenticity, and non-hierarchical leadership.” All of these factors influence what sort of marketing will resonate. In this guide, we'll explore ten Gen Z marketing trends that can help you connect with this demographic effectively. We'll also highlight some common pitfalls to avoid.

1. TikTok Marketing

Gen Z lives and breathes TikTok. The platform has 1 billion active users globally, and of these users, 60% are a part of Gen Z. TikTok is their digital playground– it’s also how millions of Gen Zers shop, learn information, check product reviews, follow international news, share stories, and connect with their peers. To tap into the TikTok market, your brand must become well-versed in the language of the platform. 

To start, try creating fun, engaging, and authentic short-form video content. Many major companies have hired Gen Z marketing consultants to create relevant content for them! The key is virality. With TikTok, you’ll want to keep it short and sweet, leveraging popular TikTok features like duets, challenges, and trending audios. If your brand's message aligns with TikTok's playful spirit, you're on the right track. Honing in on your TikTok strategy is perhaps the most important way to reach the Gen Z market in digital advertising. 

2. Influencer Collaborations

Smaller influencers are the trusted voices for Gen Z. Collaborate with influencers who share your values and resonate with your audience. Gen Zers have a finely-tuned radar for genuine endorsements, often favoring micro-influencers who align closely with their values rather than mega-celebrities. 

Many modern influencers represent their niche with pride, advocating for relevant issues and honestly reviewing products relating to their daily lives. Authenticity is the main key here. Encourage influencers to create content that doesn't feel like a sales pitch. Let them tell your brand's story in their unique way. 

3. Interactive Content

Gen Z expects engagement, and they tend to have little patience for outdated tech. Quizzes, polls, and interactive stories are your friends. Your brand’s website should visually represent the time we’re living in by including some interactive content. Involve customers in your brand's narrative by showcasing their interaction with your brand– whether it be user-generated content or frequent polls and surveys. When Gen Z customers can actively participate, they're more likely to remember your message and share it with their peers.

The concept of "phygital" experiences refers to blending the physical and digital worlds. Gen Z expects integration between online and offline interactions. Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) experiences, along with interactive in-store and online touchpoints, can strengthen the interactive relationship between brand and consumer.

4. Social Activism and Purpose-Driven Marketing

Gen Z cares about social issues, but when it comes to purpose-driven marketing, aim for something genuine. Align your brand with a cause because it’s a lovely and sustainable thing to do– not simply because you’d like to attract Gen Z clients. It's not just about saying the right things; it's about doing the right things.

Avoid inauthentic virtue signaling by examining how to improve the sustainability of your brand or assessing the ethicalities of your supply chain. Taking real action to make the world a better place with your business will naturally attract tons of Gen Zers who appreciate the work you’re doing. Be transparent about your contributions and show real commitment to making a difference. 

Don’t know where to begin? A carbon emissions assessment or a waste audit of your entire business is a great start. 

5. Short-form Video and Micro-Content

Thanks to apps like Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube, Gen Z's attention span is shorter than ever. Boring long-from content will struggle to engage even the oldest of Gen Zers. They’re expecting fun content and are accustomed to absorbing information very quickly. 

Create concise, visually appealing content that can deliver your message within seconds. Platforms like Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts are ideal for this. Make your videos eye-catching and snackable, with excellent hooks and clear calls to action. Again, because of the short attention span, you’ll have to say your piece as quickly as possible to stay relevant on social media. 

6. User-Generated Content (UGC)

User-generated content is a goldmine for Gen Z marketing. Members of Gen Z value honesty and transparency over everything, and are likely to trust their peers’ reviews of a product over any advertised features. Encourage your customers to create content related to your brand and products. Feature UGC on your social media and website. Show your audience that their voices matter.

7. Sustainability and Ethical Branding

Sustainability matters to Gen Z. This generation is deeply committed to environmental and social responsibility. Gen Zers want to see corporations that care about their future and invest in it by reducing their carbon emissions, using eco-friendly materials, supporting ethical labor practices, and reducing waste. This “tip” requires a lot more investment into the processes and structures of your brand. It may even require an overhaul of some of your products, ingredients, manufacturers, or teams. Yet, incorporating sustainability into the ethos of your business can have a lot more payoff than only connecting with Gen Z customers. 

8. Authenticity and Transparency

Gen Z can spot inauthenticity from a mile away. Be genuine in your communications by showing the real human side of your brand. Admit your mistakes and any errors as a brand, and explain how you’ll try to learn from them. Transparency builds trust, which is essential for any Gen Z marketing strategy.

9. Mobile-First Approach

This generation is not just accustomed to mobile devices; they practically live on them. As a brand looking to capture their attention, it's crucial to adapt and embrace a mobile-first approach. This means going beyond mere mobile compatibility and fully optimizing your website and content for smartphones and tablets. 

The user experience on these devices should be seamless, smooth, and intuitive. By investing in a mobile-first approach, you meet the basic expectations of this tech-savvy generation and connect with them in a way that resonates with their on-the-go, always-connected lifestyle. 

10. Emerging Trends to Watch

This dynamic demographic's preferences are in a constant state of evolution, and what resonates with them today might not necessarily hold their attention tomorrow. The key to success in Gen Z marketing is staying flexible and readily adapting to new platforms and technologies as they emerge. 

Stagnation is the arch-nemesis of Gen Z marketers. To truly connect with this generation, marketers must be agile, continuously seeking fresh approaches and embracing innovation.

Pitfalls to Avoid

Lack of Authenticity

This generation has an uncanny ability to detect inauthenticity from a mile away. When your marketing efforts lack sincerity, it can turn Gen Z consumers off. They appreciate brands that are honest, vulnerable, and real. Avoid trying to be something you're not. Don't sugarcoat your brand's imperfections or history, and acknowledge any mistakes or shortcomings transparently. Authenticity builds trust, which is invaluable in forging a lasting connection with Gen Z.

Assuming Homogeneity

Gen Z is an incredibly diverse generation in terms of backgrounds, interests, and beliefs. Avoid making the mistake of thinking that what works for one segment of Gen Z will work for all. Don't rely on stereotypes or generalizations about this generation. Take the time to conduct research and gain a deep understanding of your specific Gen Z audience. Tailor your marketing strategies to their unique characteristics and preferences, as one size does not fit all in the Gen Z world.

Ignoring Social Issues

Gen Z is passionate about social and political issues. They actively engage in discussions about topics like climate change, racial justice, and gender equality. Brands that stay silent or indifferent to these matters may be perceived as out of touch or apathetic. However, it's crucial to tread carefully here. Avoid the trap of virtue signaling, where your brand appears to take a stand solely for the sake of marketing. Gen Z appreciates genuine commitment to these issues. If your brand chooses to get involved, ensure that your actions align with your values and are backed by concrete efforts to make a difference.

Overlooking Privacy Concerns

Privacy is a significant concern for Gen Z, given their digital upbringing. Privacy breaches or misuse of personal data can result in reputation damage. Clearly communicate your data usage and security policies. Allow them to control their privacy settings and permissions when interacting with your brand. Remember that data breaches can have severe consequences, so safeguard their information diligently.

Failure to Adapt

The digital landscape evolves rapidly, and Gen Z is at the forefront of these changes. If your marketing strategies and content fail to evolve with the times, you risk becoming obsolete in the eyes of Gen Z. Stay agile and keep a close eye on emerging trends, technologies, and platforms. Be open to experimentation and innovation. Be willing to shift your approach and embrace new technologies, like augmented reality, virtual reality, or the metaverse, if they resonate with Gen Z. Stagnation in a dynamic digital world is a pitfall you should avoid at all costs.

Successfully Reaching Gen Z 

This generation is reshaping the marketing landscape in unprecedented ways. Beyond their tech-savvy nature, Gen Z represents a dynamic group that values social responsibility, inclusivity, and sustainability. Gen Z's influence is bound to grow, and those who adapt to their changing needs and aspirations will undoubtedly be at the forefront of the digital marketing landscape.

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