17 minute read time
As a digital marketer, you’re probably familiar with the doomsday warnings about marketing to the upcoming generation, Generation Z, which includes anyone born after 1995: They don’t check their email, they have the attention span of a gnat, and they’re killing any business that isn’t online.
Maybe you’re even feeling pressure—from your own metrics or from your C-suite—to start reaching out to Instagram influencers or explore ways to start marketing on Snapchat in order to engage these new customers.
In marketing, someone’s always waiting to proclaim “the end is nigh” with every new technology or culture shift, but don’t worry. Every generation introduces challenges, but marketers adapt well. Evolving is as much a part of the industry as any key performance indicators or data.
For instance, you’ve probably heard that Gen Z has the attention span of about 8 seconds—compared to the millennials’ 12—when, in reality, they actually possess a sophisticated filter that comes from growing up surrounded by a deluge of information.
You’ll only have a few seconds to convince Gen Z consumers that your ad, blog post, etc. is worth their time—but if you do, they can focus (the word “binge” comes to mind) long enough to complete in-depth research on any topic.
So next time someone tells you Gen Z will kill your marketing strategy, have no fear. Gen Z—just like millennials, Gen X, and even the baby boomers before them—will be no different than any other generation. And to help quell the panic, we did our own research to demystify marketing to a new group of consumers.
By 2020, Gen Z is expected to account for 40% of all customers. Even more astounding, one expert says “Generation Z is one of the most powerful consumer forces in the market today. Their buying power is $44 billion and expands to $600 billion when considering the influence they have on their parents’ spending.”
Here’s everything you need to know about marketing to Gen Z.
Marketers who want to learn more about the ways Generation Z interacts with email and other digital marketing platforms and how you can better engage them.
How Gen Z interacts with email marketing and what they expect and want from their favorite brands. Specifically,
We reached out to 300 respondents, ranging from 14 to 26 years of age, to hear their thoughts on marketing. The majority of our respondents—96.39%—ranged from 18 to 24 years of age.
In this guide, we’ll share the information we gathered along with everything else you need to know to target and engage with Generation Z.
Let’s dive in!
If you’re one of the 65% of marketers who intend to increase their spending on marketing to Gen Z, you’ll want to know which channels deserve the majority of your marketing dollars.
While most marketers think Gen Z only cares about social media and thus focus their marketing efforts there, our study shows that Gen Zers remain active email users.
Gen Z is spending more time online than ever before—45% of teens say they’re online “almost constantly” combined with the 44% that say they’re online multiple times a day—and while a large portion of this time is spent on social media, they still rely on email.
All this time online provides digital marketers with an opportunity to connect with Gen Zers personally and, as we know, it’s important for brands to treat these consumers as individuals and not as one homogenous group.
According to our results, 58% of Gen Z respondents check their email multiple times a day. Furthermore, 23% say they check their email at least once a day, 12.1% report checking their email a couple times a week, and 5.2% check their email only once a week. And finally, 0.98% of our respondents say they never check their email.
As you can see, a majority of our respondents check email regularly, with 81% saying they check their email at least once a day. Clearly, Gen Z continues to value email as a valid and important method of communication.
Since the majority of Gen Zers, 66.9%, receive 20 emails or less a day, marketers have less competition for their messages to get through than they might on other digital platforms.
When asked specifically how often Gen Zers like to receive emails from brands, the largest group—31.8%—says they like to hear from brands a couple times a week. The next largest group—27.5%—says they want to hear from brands once a day. Furthermore, 19% say they prefer once a week and 18.4% say once a month.
A whopping 64.9% of respondents say they use email for their personal communication, while only 14.4% use email for work and 19.3% use email for school. While many use email for official communications, clearly a majority of Gen Zers prefer to use email even when they have other available channels.
Our results prove Gen Z isn’t killing email. In fact, the majority of our respondents choose to use email of their own accord and for their own personal use. Email remains an effective way to engage with Gen Z, and the number of email users will continue to increase as they get older and enter the workforce.
All this information is great, but it won’t improve your KPIs unless you know what to do with it. So, here are a few ways to leverage the above information to directly improve your marketing efforts:
It turns out the Gen Zers are—gasp!—just like the rest of us: Some want to hear from companies daily, but most say weekly, which is consistent with most studies on email frequency, regardless of the age of the respondents. A preference center enables you to ask your email subscribers how frequently they want to hear from you, allowing them to self-segment into the appropriate list.
This welcome email from Pinewood Social immediately sets the tone for the considerate relationship they want to build with their subscribers by establishing what new subscribers can expect and offering the chance to establish their email preferences:
Add a preference center to allow your subscribers to self-segment according to frequency as well as interests, hobbies, and activity and you’ll be able to deliver the most relevant content directly into your subscribers’ inboxes.
Gen Z has grown up in the age of data collection and they expect brands to use this data to deliver exactly what they want into their inboxes. Using data to tailor content to fit their preferences will show your Gen Z consumers your brand views them as an individual and cares about what each one wants.
Because the majority of marketers target Gen Z through social media, their inboxes actually have less competition than their millennial or Gen X counterparts. Less noise means more space for your message to grab their attention, pass their 8 second filter mentioned earlier, and engage your audience.
This email from Refinery29 uses email marketing to drive traffic to their site:
As a direct line of communication that doesn’t rely on algorithms to get your message in front of your intended audience, email continues to be a powerful tool to engage and connect with your audience.
Yes, even Gen Z.
Gen Z doesn’t have one preferred platform. Instead, they’re more likely than preceding generations to utilize multiple digital channels across multiple devices.
But they aren’t posting or consuming the same type of content on each platform: According to a study recently conducted by Response Media, “On Instagram, they showcase their aspirational selves; on Snapchat, they share real-life moments; on Twitter, they get the news; and on Facebook, they glean information.”
It’s important you choose the right channel to deliver each and every message you want to send in order for your digital marketing to yield the best results possible for your brand and industry.
The most common response at 36.4% is that respondents have never bought something as result of an email. Meanwhile, 28.5% of respondents say they’ve made a purchase 2-5 times in the past month because of an email. 27.9% say once, 5.9% say 6-10 times, and 1% say 11+ times.
Email marketers have plenty of room to improve when it comes to getting Gen Z customers to convert as a result of email and email marketing.
Even though over a fourth of respondents haven’t ever purchased because of email, plenty of their peers have made numerous purchases.
A full 33% of respondents report buying something after seeing it on social media once in the past month. 29.8% say never, followed closely by the 29.5% who say they’ve bought something 2-5 times. 5.2% say 6-10 and 1.6% say they’ve made more than 11 purchases.
The respondents ranked social media first (with 1,591 votes), then email (1,515 votes), in-person (1,453 votes), ads (1,268), chat (1,159), and finally through a company’s blog (970).
These results might surprise a lot of marketers, or at least they might’ve before this survey. While our respondents rank social media as their number one choice for engaging with brands, email comes in a close second, only 76 votes behind. In-person lands the third spot, another possible surprise for a generation that already has the reputation of preferring digital to in-person interactions.
Your Gen Z audience will likely connect with you on social media as well as through email, so don’t send the same message on every single platform you use.
Instead, consider how different digital marketing platforms work together to augment the effectiveness of one digital marketing campaign, instead of considering each channel individually.
This means maintaining the right branding and message across every individual platform and its own nuances. Though you might switch up the tone of your message to coincide with the way Gen Z uses each platform, your overall message should stay the same. If not, you risk being misunderstood.
This means you’ll need to use every platform effectively.
Gen Z feels confident making purchases after seeing an item on social media. Though not all of your prospects view social media as a place to shop and gather information before making a purchase, Gen Z certainly does.
Ensure that your social profiles are optimized for conversions. You should also optimize your conversion process for mobile devices so that Gen Zers can click through a link directly to your site and follow through your sales process without ever having to leave their smartphones.
You’ve probably noticed an uptick in teens speaking up on important issues, especially those that affect them. They’ve been involved in social activism since a much younger age. People take a brand’s values into consideration more than ever before and socially-conscious brands find huge success in today’s market.
In this email from Warby Parker, a well-known socially driven company, their story is front and center. They share what makes their company stand out in their industry:
In order to cultivate a personal connection with Gen Z, share your brand’s story and values.
Your story makes your company unique and connects with your audience on a personal level, so don’t let your brand’s mission statement get buried on an obscure web page that no one visits. Keep it top of mind by featuring your story frequently on your social media as well as in your email marketing
But be warned: Gen Z has little patience for companies who pander. If your company claims to support a cause, be prepared to defend those claims with proof.
With Gen Z consuming content at a rate that was unheard of only a few years ago, how do you stay on top of trends and deliver the content they actually want, that doesn’t fall flat?
Lisa Box of WP Engine, Inc. recommends, “To win with Gen Z, marketers have to evolve from informing to delighting, from celebrity to authenticity and from generic to predictive.”
This means you can no longer simply tell Gen Z what you believe they need to know about your products, your services, or your company. Instead, focus on delighting them by delivering an experience straight to their email.
Because your relationship with your customers, Gen Z or otherwise, isn’t about you. You should always craft your marketing and especially email marketing to deliver value straight to your subscribers.
This becomes even more true with Gen Z, who we know place a high value on identity. Gen Z wants to know whether or not your brand will fit with their own unique identity. This includes but isn’t limited to your company values.
Remember, this generation has grown up on social media and has a better understanding of branding than some marketers.
When asked why they open emails, 68% of respondents report opening emails for sales or offers and 60% say they open emails for relevant content, the two most popular reasons by far. Additionally, 36.1% say they open emails based on a personalized subject line and 35.1% say they open because of the graphics, images, or branding in the email.
As might be expected, 82.3% of respondents claim they prefer to receive promos and special discounts through their email while 44.3% want product recommendations, 26.6% want company updates, and only 20.3% want links to blogs or resources.
Despite the fact that many of our respondents reported having never bought anything from an email, note that the two most popular responses refer to sales: Gen Z wants to receive discounts and promos in their emails along with products that will work for them.
Only 20-26% want to hear about the company or want links to blog posts. This might be because Gen Z expects to hear company updates through other mediums, such as Twitter or Instagram.
When asked what adjectives come to mind, our respondents provide a slew of descriptions, but most of them revolve around how annoying and spammy pushy sales emails can be. They also use the word boring.
Of the positive descriptions, respondents describe exciting promos and great offers, as well as cool, interesting, and helpful.
While the reactions to email marketing run the gamut, one thing that comes across clearly is that Gen Z doesn’t appreciate irrelevant, spammy emails. Emails that contain a hard sell will be a hard no from your younger customers.
But don’t worry, these answers and this aversion to traditional sales methods support what we know about Gen Z: They don’t want or trust companies trying to sell to them.
They trust one another and they trust influencers who promise products or services or brands can and will make their lives easier.
Including incentives in your emails leads to better open rates, as does including personalization from names in subject lines to the relevant content contained within the email. Gen Z, like the rest of us, enjoys a good sale and making our money go as far as it can.
This email from Madewell offers an incentive to get their subscribers to make that conversion:
You probably noticed that, according to our survey, even though your subscribers like to receive promotions via email, not many of them are moving through your sales funnel and eventually converting. Clearly, there’s a disconnect between what Gen Z wants and what marketers are currently delivering.
Maybe this disconnect formed because many marketers target Gen Z through social media—which is also effective—but clearly, there’s an opportunity to capture more Gen Z conversions through email.
Currently, these potential customers are slipping through the cracks in your sales funnel.
Focus your emails on the sales process, keeping in mind that Gen Z shops differently than millennials or Gen Xers or baby boomers: Having grown up in the age of Amazon, Gen Z crowdsources their decisions to buy by regarding reviews of friends, strangers, and influencers.
This email from Nisolo includes user reviews alongside pictures of the shoe being featured as a way to show their customers will vouch for the quality of their products:
In fact, Ali Fazal emphasizes the need for user-generated reviews and lots of them: “Forget one or two sad reviews from some free plugin. I’m talking hundreds of reviews, user-generated photos and more. This is the new standard — not a ‘nice to have when we get big enough,’ but a must.”
When suggesting products or offering discounts, add user-generated content, feedback, and reviews to encourage Gen Zers to convert.
In order to keep your email marketing from boring your Gen Z subscribers, include visually stimulating graphics, images, and video where you can.
According to the Pew Research Institute, the platform Gen Zers use the most is YouTube (85% of Gen Zers say they use the platform and 32% say they use YouTube more than any other social media site), followed by Instagram (72% say they use the platform though only 15% say they use it most) then Snapchat (69% use the platform while 35% say they use it most).
All of these three top brands share common characteristics: They’re all visually stimulating.
Though not all email clients allow videos in email, there are ways to get around these limitations to include YouTube videos or gifs. Another option is to include a preview of the video and include a call to action that links to the YouTube video itself.
Where most traditional marketing centers around monologue, you speaking at your audience, email encourages dialogue, an open conversation between you and your subscribers.
Most of your audience, but Gen Z in particular, craves authentic connection with you. These days, consumers seek out brands that appear human.
The great news is that when your subscribers feel this connection, they don’t just convert: They become lifelong brand advocates. In fact, 42% of Gen Z respondents claim to be brand conscious and 55% claim they’ll stick to a brand they like in a survey conducted at the end of 2017.
Email newsletters provide the ideal opportunity for personal interactions with your brand, allowing you to showcase your human side.
The largest portion of our respondents, 39%, say they subscribe to only 1-5 email newsletters. The next highest portion, 37.5%, subscribe to no newsletters. 17.4% of respondents subscribe to 6-20 newsletters, 3.9% to 21-50, 1.6% to 51-100, and less than 1% subscribe to more than 100 newsletters.
Let’s be honest: These are low numbers. But don’t sweat it! These low numbers just mean there’s plenty of whitespace in your audience’s inboxes. Unlike with millennials or older consumers, you won’t have to fight for a tiny slice of the pie.
The most popular response was The New York Times, and in fact many news sites showed up in their responses, such as ABC, NBC, Fox, and other daily news updates.
They also mention sports (specifically ESPN) and Vogue as some of the most popular. In fact, most of the newsletters are from various publishers, whether the publishers feature news, fashion, celebrity gossip, gaming information, etc.
The respondents also report subscribing to newsletters about specific hobbies, such as cooking, DIY projects, and saving money.
It’s interesting to note that very few Gen Zers in our study report subscribing to newsletters from their favorite brands. But this lack doesn’t mean these types of newsletters are bound to fail, but rather it highlights an opportunity for brands to break into a new demographic and expand their reach.
If you can tap into the interests of your Gen Z audience and deliver the authentic connection this generation craves, you have the opportunity to grow your audience with a speed and magnitude you haven’t seen from any other demographic.
When you design your emails, aim to create a kind of cult loyalty. A cult following doesn’t just like your products; instead, they like everything about you: your products, your people, even your philosophies. Customers will go out of their way to buy your products and they’ll bring their friends with them.
In order to develop this kind of cult loyalty from your Gen Z customers, foster a personal relationship with your audience by
You don’t want your customers to convert and forget about you. Instead, you want them to come back to your brand over and over again and this means you need to stay top of mind. You’re not just making customers—you’re building relationships.
Use your newsletter as a tool to invite Gen Z into a collaborative relationship with you and showcase the results. Regardless of what industry you’re in, find ways to allow your audience to become a part of the conversation and emphasize co-creation.
Dannijo’s Instagram profile features a lot of user-generated content. In fact, they even include their branded hashtag as a way to be featured on their page:
Source: Dannijo’s Instagram profile
You don’t have to go far to see this in action. This type of collaboration is a key piece of influencer marketing, and we already know influencers resonate with Gen Z.
However, especially when it comes to influencers, remember Gen Z doesn’t appreciate the hard sell and plenty of brands have experienced backlash for posts that are highly scripted and thus, inauthentic.
In order to keep your influencer marketing on track and reach more Gen Z-ers, follow these three tips:
In addition to influencer marketing, tactics like user-generated content and honest reviews work well because they invite Gen Z consumers to market with you. You’ll see better results when they’re involved and you’ll save yourself some work as well.
Now you know the truth about Gen Z and digital marketing, and there’s no reason to listen next time the naysayers say “kids these days” are doomed to ruin digital marketing for the rest of us. Every new generation of consumers means shifting our marketing tactics and best practices in order to continue driving revenue and growing as a brand.
When you execute your digital marketing strategy correctly, Gen Z can bring in major revenue, their own as well as revenue from their parents. You have the opportunity to engage a socially active, motivated group of young people who want to connect with your company and maybe even cultivate a cult following of brand ambassadors who will be loyal to your brand for life.
In the end, these young consumers aren’t that different from the rest of us. They want the same thing we all want: to build lifelong relationships with companies and people who care about us and bring value to our everyday lives.
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