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The Younger Generation: Marketers Shift From Millennials to Gen Z

Millennials — we love to hate them. From overpriced avocado toast to killing the (insert industry of choice here) industry, we’re the scapegoat for just about everything because we’re the youngest generation, right? Wrong. Millennials are no longer occupying the coveted 18-24 demographic, and the new kids on the block require some different tactics for marketers to get their attention. The next generation is coming of age and it’s time to start officially separating them from their more established generational older sibling *hair flip*. Enter Generation Z or Gen Z.

Gen Z consists of everyone born between 1995 (or 1996 depending on who you ask) and 2015. They grew up with mobile technology and social media. The first iPhone came out when the oldest Gen Zers were around 10 or 11 years old and nothing has slowed down for them since. Millennials, on the other hand, were born between 1980 and 1994/1995 and grew up during the internet boom. They understand the struggle of mom yelling to get off the internet so she could make a phone call, and they know what a floppy disk is. While both of these might seem nebulously related, the technology gap has impacted the way each generation thinks very differently. We'll outline a few key differences between Gen Z and Millennials to help your brand truly maximize your strategies to tap into both of these younger generations.

Growing Up

Millennials were kids during an economic boom. This is when their parents filled their heads with ideas that they could do anything they wanted and that going to college would help them get there. Then, they went into thousands of dollars of debt to get that very important education and graduated in the midst of a terrible recession. Getting a job was hard, and paying off debt was harder. This makes Millennials less likely to make big purchases until later in life. Most Millennials aren’t buying houses or getting married until their late 20s or early 30s, however, their smaller day-to-day expenses are more impulsive and sparked by that optimism they experienced as kids. Flash sales, free shipping, and loyalty programs are great ways to tap into the Millennial optimism.

Gen Z grew up during the Great Recession and watched their parents saving money and only spending it on absolute necessities. They are more versed in saving techniques and are much less likely to be inspired by things like free shipping and flash sales. For Gen Z, the trend or the product has to be worth the money they’re going to spend, and they’re less likely to be impulsive buyers. Rather than focusing on sales, focus on making your product financially competitive, or highlight the reasons why it’s worth the extra money.

Brand Loyalty

Millennials love to show off their brands. Being able to see the label or logo on your clothing counts as a status symbol for this generation, and they’re more likely to stick with the brands they know and love (i.e. Patagonia, Vineyard Vines, and Nike). Gen Z, on the other hand, is more about chasing the trend, not the brand. If overalls are trendy this summer, they’ll get them from wherever they can. Bonus points if they’re “vintage” (aka from their mother’s closet or a thrift store). Of course, there are outliers to the no-brand preference including streetwear brands like Supreme or low stock series of Air Jordans or YEEZYs. The hype and low stock drop releases of big-brand products make them trendy and unique on their own accord, and thus very appealing to Gen Z.


The conversation on brand authenticity is starting to get a little repetitive. Millennials brought the topic to the table, and have forced brands to start putting their money where their mouths are. They’re more likely to support brands with strong CSR initiatives and values that go beyond the borders of the brand. Gen Z takes these ideas a step further with their intensity of boycotts or “cancel culture”. If your brand isn’t living up to the standard you have set for yourselves or a minimal standard that Gen Z has set, they will find out, and you will likely get “canceled”. This is currently happening with Victoria’s Secret. After their most recent fashion show, their CMO  came out with some fatphobic and transphobic comments, causing a social media uproar and calls for boycotting. Recently, the brand announced that they will be shutting down an additional 53 stores this year, on top of 2018’s 30 closed doors. Coincidence? I think not.

The conversation about authenticity also relates to social strategy. Gen Z responds best to influencers of all levels up until celebrity. They feel a connection to the people they choose to follow and are more likely to trust the recommendations they get from those they view as more like themselves. Celebrities feel too polished and too disconnected from reality, or the brands they’re promoting feel too out of line with their public persona, which sends out the idea that they’re only doing it for the money. Gen Z is more likely to buy from someone who is insta-famous than someone who is actually famous.

Each generation has their own nuances that need to be tapped into in order to fully reap the benefits of marketing to each of them, and we have to start recognizing the youngest generation as their own entity. Us Millennials have enough to deal with, we don’t need the older generations thinking we’re the ones eating Tide Pods *bites into overpriced slice of avocado toast*.

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