There was a time when marketing was about having a good product, sold at a competitive price. It was about men like Don Draper hymning its virtues in a way that made it stand out from the other products trying to do the same. Catchphrases such as Timex” took a licking, but it kept on ticking,” and “America ran on Bulova time,” coupled with a slick billboard and an endorsement from someone you knew were enough to get buy-in.

Fast forward to today and it’s a tougher crowd all around. The marketplace is more saturated, online reviews make it hard for a product, service, or brand to hide, and younger generations, particularly those in Gens Y and Z, are far more discerning and mistrustful of conventional marketing efforts. So what are they looking for and how can you reach them? In this post, we’ll unpack what speaks to these generations most and outline some key considerations to inform your marketing approach.

Two generations defined 

Before we look at how marketing needs to adapt, let’s define who falls into these categories. Generally speaking, if you’re a member of Gen Y (aka a millennial), you were born between 1980 and the mid-nineties. If you were born after the mid-nineties, then you’re a member of Gen Z (aka post-millennial).

Research suggests there are around 83 million Gen Y in the U.S. and 65 million Gen Z. To put that into context, among the estimated 327 million people in the U.S., these generations make up 43% of the population and more than half the workforce. What they’re able to spend is just as eye-opening. For Gen Y, who are said to be entering the years of peak spending power, it’s predicted to be $1.4 trillion for this year. For Gen Z, it’s said to be $143 billion.

In terms of buying behavior, both generations are increasingly driven by values rather than price alone, with Deloitte pointing out that both will walk away from brands if they disagree with business practices, values, or politics. Deloitte also reports that both groups have low trust in business leaders, running at about 25%.

Both generations are early adopters of things that simplify their lives. Climate change, unemployment, and wealth distribution are key concerns and there’s a strong desire to make positive impacts on the community and broader society. Levels of smartphone ownership vary, as do a preference for laptops or PCs over smartphones and the amount of time spent on each device, but there are broad similarities.

A study by the Center for Generational Kinetics suggested that Gen Z spent as much as five hours a day on their phones, a total thought to be similar for Gen Y. Both use social media, albeit on different platforms, to interact with and follow brands they like. Research by the McCarthy Group, among others, has noted that 84% of Gen Y don’t trust advertising. Instead, a huge weight is given by both generations to online reviews. 

With all that in mind, here are 5 tips to help you capture their attention: 

1. Know where your products come from 

Nielsen found that 73% of Gen Y are prepared to pay more for sustainable goods, and First Insight found that Gen Z was prepared to pay a 10% premium for them. Finding a provider who’s prepared to source products that are better for the environment could reap major dividends. You’ll need to be able to say where products come from in the certain knowledge it will be researched.

That said, proving a product is environmentally friendly is only part of the battle. McKinsey found that 65% of Gen Z members will want to learn about the origins of a product, including where it’s made, what it’s made from, and production processes. 

2. Think beyond the garment

According to UNiDAYS, 43% of Gen Z responders work at home, 65% use a fitness app, and 28% have wearable tech to help them. The Nielsen Global Health and Wellness Survey also said they’ll pay more for healthy products.

What this means is there’s a large wellness market waiting for a Generation Z provider to find a way to speak to it. While a promotional exercise bike might be a little too much to expect, a vacuum insulated water bottle that can be taken to the gym or used at home might prove to be ideal, and would keep working long after the pen with a scratchy logo had stopped, meeting the sustainability criterion.

Providing a fitness tracker might feel perilously close to the exercise bike, but not every device needs to be a Fitbit. Limited functionality and a more comfortable unit price make these ideal for keeping a brand on the wrist and in the mind of the target market. Similarly, people who find themselves wedded to their phones might be grateful for a phone case that holds their cards or a charger giving them power when a battery dies.

3. Leverage social media

Every major brand has the financial muscle to employ a team of social media consultants or to outsource it to a PR company, making sure the images and tone of voice fits with values the brand wants to portray. Smaller businesses don’t always have a dedicated social media team on-hand to post slick videos and images, but that shouldn’t keep you out of the game.

These generations are often drawn to short-form visuals (Snapchat, Instagram stories, and TikTok) and interactive posts that include a call-to-action, whether it’s a button to click, or a question to answer. Creating these types of posts with the plethora of social media marketing apps and tools out there, and doing so on a regularly cadence, with fun and relevant messaging can help attract the attention of these generations. 

4. Reviews are everything

Both Gens Y and Z are highly likely to listen to reviews that have been left online by their peers. There are a plethora of online review sites, many of which say their reviews have been independently verified, so don’t give in to the temptation to write them all off as fake. By encouraging customers to leave reviews and incentivizing them with discounts and related offers, you can help build your reputation.

You’ll also need to have someone on-hand who can reply to the reviews, give feedback, and open a dialog when necessary. A company that doesn’t respond to reviews runs the risk of looking indifferent, while a company that responds intelligently to feedback, apologizes where necessary, and makes amends will start to command the trust and respect of potential customers.

Building a virtual reputation takes time. Don’t expect to start work at nine, log off at five, and have your small business in the Fortune 500. You don’t need to be. Having a good reputation with customers and potential customers is an investment in the future.

5. Create a social footprint

This is much harder to understand than the profit or loss figures on a balance sheet, but how your business conducts itself can count for a lot. If you have a certain amount of volunteering days each year, it’s worth talking about. A post on the blog about how you helped out at a school or worked on a community garden can do wonders for your reputation.

Volunteer days might not be possible, especially if the company is small or particularly busy, but it might be possible to offer discounts to charities or other social enterprises that are doing good in the community that would benefit from your services. The discounts involved don’t have to be huge, but they make a great way of improving the goodwill towards you in the community and boosting your visibility.

 Final thoughts

Just as no medium of mass communication has ever replaced another, with newspapers still existing alongside radio, radio existing alongside TV, and TV living happily with the Internet, perhaps no type of marketing will ever replace another. The A board outside the store doesn’t need to move, just as the sign in your window can stay. But by using some good old-fashioned understanding of your customer, you can boost your success. As Don Draper used to say, “change is neither good nor bad – it just is.”

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