Reaching the Right Audience: Marketing to Gen Z

by | Jul 28, 2021 | Digital Marketing, Marketing Strategy

One of the biggest challenges that businesses must overcome is marketing to Gen Z. These digital natives have been immersed in technology from their earliest days: The way in which they experience the world is dramatically different from every generation that came before them.

For this reason, marketing to Gen Z audiences can feel a lot like throwing spaghetti at a wall until something sticks — messy and ineffective.

The advertising world is no stranger to the disruptive impact of new generations on the market. In order to resonate with this audience effectively, marketers must meet Gen Z consumers where they are and gain a holistic understanding of how they experience and interact with advertisers.

Advertising To Gen Z: Why We Are Getting It Wrong

When we conceptualize marketing campaigns, it’s only natural to gravitate towards ideas that we feel would persuade us into making a purchase.

The problem with this approach appears when generational divides make themselves more apparent: If the advertisers do not belong to the same generation as their target audience, then they will have a harder time connecting to what’s most important to them.

Mad Men perfectly captures the importance of identifying with different generations’ consumer behaviors in the episode titled: The Gold Violin. In an effort to appeal to Don Draper’s better senses, the young, up-and-coming advertiser says, “We don’t want to be told what to do. That’s over. We want to find things for ourselves. We want to feel.”

The same shift in attitude seen with Boomers in the ‘60s can be felt in advertising today. In order to reach and resonate with Gen Z, marketing teams will need to identify in great detail exactly who this audience is and what matters to them.

Reaching Gen Z the Right Way

Born between 1995 and 2010, Gen Zers are defined by a deep dependency on digital devices. With information readily at their fingertips from the moment they could crawl, this generation is driven by a desire to find truth, or something real. For this reason, the following consumer behaviors are typically seen by this audience segment:


Gen Zers do not want to pigeonhole themselves into one stereotype or label. Instead, they value individualism and like to experiment with different ways of being themselves. Generation Z relishes in going against the mainstream and are the generation most open to themes and concepts that may not be considered traditional. This is probably why they are so passionate about defending causes related to identity, demonstrating fierce advocacy for things like human rights, racial equality, LGBT issues, and feminism.


While individualism ranks high for Gen Zers, they also strongly believe in accepting and understanding everyone else’s styles. This group is incredibly inclusive, especially when it comes to including different economic backgrounds. For this reason, they value online communities that allow them to connect with people who share their interests and causes. They see no problem with being part of various different groups: In fact, this is considered normal.


Generation Z is passionate about the importance of community dialogue and accepting differences in opinion. Extremely pragmatic, Gen Zers are comfortable interacting with the traditional without abandoning their personal convictions. Rather than breaking with a long-held institution and starting over to enact change, Gen Z believes that real change comes from dialogue.


Having vast amounts of information at their disposal from their earliest recollections, 65% of Gen Zers value knowing what is happening around them and being in control. They are eager to absorb knowledge, especially in online settings. Because this generation was born during a time of economic turmoil, they are much less idealistic than the Millennials who came before them. They value consistency, practicality, and realism.

What Does This Mean for Marketing to Gen Z

Understanding this generation’s behavior is critical to developing a marketing strategy that will resonate with them. This generation doesn’t want to be marketed to. You need to lay your cards out in the right places and let them come to you and decide how they want to experience your brand.

How do you do that?

Give them Access to Information

Because Gen Zers are pragmatic in nature, they expect brands to provide a broad range of informational resources before they can make a purchase.

Gen Zers have incredible access to information with the ability to research and dive into a brand in minutes. ‘Winning at the shelf’ or ‘clever slogans’ in marketing won’t work with this group. A hard focus on reputation is crucial to making an impact with a Gen Z consumer.

Focus on Experience

Not only does this generation evaluate products and services, but they also analyze the very act of consuming. For Gen Zers, consumption is more about having access to products or services rather than possessing them. This is why mobile apps for car-riding services, video streaming, and subscriptions hold a higher market value with this generation. Transforming your consumer experience into one that values access can go a long way in resonating with this audience.

Be Yourself and Let them Experience Your Brand

With so much value placed on individual identity, marketers will also need to find ways to make products and services more personalized. In fact, not only is this generation eager for more personalized products, but they are also willing to pay more for goods that accentuate their individuality.

This can be challenging in the changing digital marketing landscape — especially with the forthcoming iOS 15 update and Gen Z’s inherent distrust of data sharing. Marketing teams will need to have a strategy in place that will allow them to personalize products and services while protecting data privacy.

Be small in a big Way

This is the first generation that would rather not buy from the big brand. This group of consumers would rather purchase from a local provider on Etsy than the name brand at a big box store.

Believe it or not, this generation would also rather do things locally face to face than deal strictly online.

To market to this generation you will need to be grass roots and down to earth. Meet the consumer where they are and be small in a big way. Find ways to be the local vendor next door.

Stand for something

Finally, businesses hoping to resonate with Gen Z consumers will no longer be able to afford to remain unbiased. Increasingly, this audience wants their brands to “take a stand” that makes sense for its product and service offerings while offering something valuable to add to the overarching conversation.

Additionally, brands will need to prioritize ethics in their business practices with about 80% of Gen Z consumers refusing to buy goods from companies they deem unethical.

Audience Development Takes Marketing Know-How

Later in the same episode of Mad Men, Don Draper introduces the young new advertiser to the client. He knows that marketing to the younger generation needs a new approach. He prefaces the pitch with: “When one is in Indian Country, one needs a man who knows Indians.”

Even after attempting to understand Gen Z, the ability to create an impactful campaign that resonates with this latest generation can be difficult.

Audience development takes a great deal of marketing expertise, and without the right team or tools to help, you’ll be left with nothing but spaghetti strands to pluck from the floor.

The best digital marketing agencies use sophisticated audience development tools, like Spark Toro, to create a robust consumer profile and use demographic insights to drive campaign success

By taking the time to get to know your audience at the granular level, you’ll be able to resonate with an entirely new generation of loyalists to your brand!

Bill Reinhart

Bill has been an active marketer for over 15 years with experience leading teams in web development, SEO, and lead generation. Bill founded Signature W Studio in 2018 in Charlotte, NC. Bill's goal with Signature W Studio is to create lasting partnerships with his clients.

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