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Marketers: Don’t treat Gen Z and Millennials as if they were the same

For some more senior marketers, it may seem easy enough to put into the “under 41 years of age” category and hope for the best. Dig down deeper and you’ll see that there are some clear distinctions between American consumers aged 26-41 (millennials, or Gen Y) and those aged 10-25 (Gen Z). I mean even those brackets are ridiculously wide. Do you think I, as a 23 year old, consume media the same way someone born in 2010 does? Hell no!

Depending on your product and targeting methods, defining those niches can make the world of a difference. Here are five differentiation points that performance marketers should factor in when creating advertising and content for millennial and Gen Z consumers:

While millennials came of age along with technology (my ex, 33, remembers dial up internet, I don’t), most Gen Zers have been using it since they were infants or toddlers (I was 8 years old when the first adult I knew had an iPhone whereas my ex lived an entire school existence before they even launched). “Phones have transformed from a way to communicate with friends and family from a distance into a doorway giving people and companies 24/7 access to each other—and all the information in the world—with the tap of a finger,” writes Stefan Pollack in Forbes.

However, just because we are more native to its language, doesn’t mean that that’s all that we crave. We’re still human! In reality, Gen Z do enjoy talking face-to-face: “It seems that while using technology can provide an escape for millennials and older generations, the escape for digitally native Gen Zers is to disconnect and be in real life,” according to Pollack.

According to Relative Insight, Gen Z finds value in the connectivity of social media. They use Snapchat and TikTok to keep up with what’s going on with family, friends and colleagues. They’re also using newer platforms like BeReal, which has been downloaded more than 43 million times since its launch in December 2019 and has grown its user base by 315% as of August 2022. Not to be left out of the party, TikTok recently rolled out TikTok Now, which emulates some of the core features of BeReal’s platform.

Unlike Gen Z, millennials view social media as a place to scroll through their feeds to stave off boredom and kill time. I’ve noticed pub conversations with those only a few years older than me, 26 or 27 to my 23-24 for example, literally express this diversion quite clearly. 

The way Gen Z and Millennials spend money is entirely different. Gen Z is more apt to put a small financial windfall in the bank or purchase gifts for loved ones, Relative Insight says, and tends to place a lower value on pricey items and material possessions. Millennials think differently and are more apt to invest in a fun vacation or a designer bag.

“This could imply that, because they have greater financial security in their daily lives, they think they deserve a treat,” the report points out, “or that they put less cultural emphasis on the importance of saving money, and they really are the entitled generation.”

Along those lines, our shopping habits are totally different. Millennials prefer to shop online while Gen Z enjoys browsing and buying in physical stores. “If you’re targeting Gen Z,” advises Jennifer Herrity of Indeed, “consider ways you can bring more people this age into your stores with social media-worthy experiences.” Keeping both the generational similarities and differentiation points in mind will only become more important for marketers as they work to reach and engage with younger consumers. As you plan your next campaign, try to avoid blurring the lines between these two distinct consumer groups.

Here’s that buzz word again: authenticity!

Citing recent CM Group research, Alexandra Pastore of Women’s Wear Daily writes that Gen Z buyers are practical, ambitious and focused on education. They like to buy from companies that are authentic—right down to their designs, brands, products and social impacts.

“In the past, the images people saw in the media were aspirational and out of reach for many of them,” Allison McDuffee writes in Adweek. “More recently, consumers have become wary of meticulously curated and perfectly polished content. Consumers are now searching for genuine, human connections and the accompanying imperfections: A selfie without makeup, a look behind the screen or a vulnerable moment with fans.”

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