Marketing to Gen Z: The Rules for Reaching This Vast--and Very Different--Generation of Influencers

by Jeff Fromm, Angie Read



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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780814439272
Publisher: AMACOM
Publication date: 03/06/2018
Edition description: Special ed.
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 389,486
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

JEFF FROMM is Executive Vice President at Barkley, with over 25 years' experience working with major brands including Hallmark, Sears, and PayLess.

Angie Read is vice president for growth insight for the advertising agency Barkley, and is known as "Gen Z Mom" based on her blog of the same name.

Read an Excerpt



Nobody can agree on exactly when the Millennial generation stops and Gen Z starts. Demographers generally say the first Gen Zers were born in the early to mid-1990s through the mid-2000s. For the sake of this book, based on our research, we're using birth years 1996 to 2010 as our parameters.

Speaking of birth years, we've developed a general timeline of modern generations (birth year ranges vary, depending on source). As we discuss commonalities and differences between Gen Z and other generations, this will serve as a handy reference:

* Silent Generation: 1925–1945

* Boomers: 1946–1964

* Gen X: 1965–1978

* Millennials (sometimes called Gen Y): 1979–1995

* Gen Z: 1996–2010


Besides birth years, generations are defined by other factors, including the most impactful moments of their early lives. Generations develop strong emotional connections to these formative experiences, which impact how they view themselves and the world around them.

For example, while some were alive on 9/11, most Gen Zers can't recall the tragedy. For Millennials, however, the terror and destruction of the event left a definitive mark in their memory. For them, emotional conversations spring up at the mention of the day, many recalling where they were, what they were doing, and how they felt when the first plane hit. For some, this is one of their earliest memories of fear. The news reports and precautions against terror alerted their developing minds to the harsh realities of a broken world.

For Gen Z, progress, not fear, is spurring this generation into action. As Barack Obama was sworn into office as the first black president of the United States of America, Generation Z watched in wonder and internalized a deep sense of progress. The battle cry for racial equality reached a climax that day — and again following his reelection — with Gen Z stepping up to carry the torch.

Let's look at a breakdown of the generations again, only this time showcasing a few of their most defining moments. (See Figure 1-1.)

Based on similarities in their defining moments and how these moments subsequently shaped their view of the world, some say Gen Z has more in common with the Silent Generation and Boomers than with Millennials. Whereas Millennials evince a story of "innocence lost," Gen Z has never known a world without war and the threat of domestic terrorism. Like their grandparents and great-grandparents who grew up in the wake of World War II and the Great Depression, Gen Z is growing up in a post-9/11 world marked by the Great Recession.

While many describe Gen Z as "Millennials on steroids," we not only disagree but will illustrate clear proof otherwise.

In fact, based on what we learned in our 2017 research study with Barkley, "Getting to Know Gen Z: How the Pivotal Generation Is Different from Millennials," we think the most fitting term for members of this generation is "Pivotals." They are pivoting away from common Millennial behaviors and attitudes and veering toward a socially conscious and diverse era reminiscent of the no-nonsense consumers of yesteryear.

Every generation makes its own strides. Whether it's civil liberties, technological advances, environmentalism, or artistic revivals, each decade brings about a new era. But the Pivotal Generation, overachievers that they are, accomplished a progressive goal hundreds of years in the making.

Grace Masback is a Pivotal and activist who wrote a book on the social consciousness of her generation. In her book The Voice of Gen Z: Understanding the Attitudes & Attributes of America's Next "Greatest Generation," Grace passionately promotes the values of her peer group. She believes that, "although we certainly 'see' race, we have grown up in a world where anyone and everyone can be our friend."

Powered by her writing talent and passion for political activism, Grace represents just one of many Pivotal individuals who takes pride in diversity and inclusivity. The origin of this ethnic embrace? The steady decline of the white majority.

Pivotals will be the last white-majority generation. To help put this in perspective, since the early 1700s, the most common last names in the United States have been Smith, Johnson, and Williams. Today, Garcia, Martinez, and Rodriguez are inching closer to the top.

Let's take a closer look:

* Fifty-five percent of Pivotals are white, 24 percent are Hispanic, 14 percent are African American, and 4 percent percent are Asian. On the other hand, 70 percent of Boomers are white. (See Figure 1-2.)

* In 2013, 10 percent of births were multiracial. This is a stark contrast from 1970, when only 1 percent of births yielded a child of more than one race. (See Figure 1-3.)

* In the last 30 years, we have seen a 400 percent increase in multiracial marriages (with a 1,000 percent increase in Asian-white marriages).

? There also has been a 134 percent increase of people who self-identify as mixed white-and-black biracial and an 87 percent increase of mixed white-and-Asian descent.

Considering these stats, it is no surprise that Pivotals are ready to fight the battle for diversity and multiculturalism. They possess a racial wisdom far beyond their years.

It's not difficult to see why President Obama, among others, recognized this 18-year-old for his passion and contributions to further equality. Ziad is the founder and president of Redefy, a youth organization created to challenge prejudice and sexism. He also cofounded Juv Consulting to give teenage consultants a voice in the business world.

Typical myths surrounding the young are that they're restless and reckless. You know, like, "Kids these days ... they're out of control!"

But Pivotals are hardworking, financially responsible, independent, and determined — characteristics not usually assigned to teenagers. They also are less likely than previous generations to engage in risky behaviors like underage drinking, drugs, or smoking. Because they tend to exhibit more conservative behaviors, it's understandable that they also maintain more traditional attitudes regarding honesty, loyalty, and achievement.

It is important to note that, while the pendulum may swing backward in some ways, the world we live in today differs from the one that existed 50 years ago. While we continue to see teens follow a more traditional path, we cannot expect the exact behavior of their elders. Like Millennials, Pivotals operate in a market guided by technological advancements and a social landscape spanning the physical and digital worlds.

Of course, not comparing the two generations is easier said than done, considering the decade-long and continuing effort to understand and market to Millennials. It's impossible to differentiate the generations without making some side-by-side comparisons.

So, let's dig in.

Some of the most obvious similarities include both generations' familiarity with technology and expectations for 24/7 digital access. They share a love of social media, extensive friend networks, and visibility into the lives of others. They both desire active participation and cocreation with brands, and pledge to make a difference in the world.

But don't let the similarities mislead you. Treating Pivotals like younger Millennials — rather than approaching them as a separate consumer group with their own views, ideas, need states, and expectations of brands — is a huge mistake, one that they do not take lightly.

Let's do a quick side-by-side comparison of Pivotals to Millennials. For instance, Pivotals can multitask across five screens at once (TV, phone, laptop, desktop, and either a tablet or handheld gaming device), while Millennials typically stick to maneuvering two screens simultaneously (TV and phone, or phone and laptop, etc.).

Thanks to the continued uptick in technological advancements, Pivotals think in 4D versus 3D. They have grown up with hi-def, surround sound, and now 360-degree photography and film (i.e., virtual reality). Even with so many entertainment luxuries, Pivotals are more realistic about things like jobs and finances than Millennials, as a result of having grown up in a time of great turmoil. (See Figure 1-4.)

Pivotals want to change the world, and if we're placing bets, our money's on them to do it.

Everything we see and experience growing up — music, food, fashion, family, cultural values — shapes our generation. The same goes for Pivotals. The list of influences driving the Pivotal mind, aka the motivation behind what makes them tick, isn't short. However, to understand this generation, a broad overview is key.

Today's teens are the first generation of consumers to have grown up in an entirely postdigital era. Pivotals have never known a world without smartphones and social media. To them, it's just the way the world works — a normal part of their daily lives. For those who classify Millennial in this category, authors Thomas Koulopoulos and Dan Keldsen in of The Gen Z Effect, clarify: "We view Millennials as beta testers for the true digital natives of Gen Z."

To connect with Pivotals, technology should be invisible. User experiences should be seamless. Speeds should be fast — preferably imperceptible. And, of course, everything needs to work flawlessly on mobile. If Pivotals notice the technology, you're doing something wrong.

Pivotals sometimes get a bad rap for having the attention span of goldfish. But it's not that they lack focus — their brains are actually adapting to their digital environment faster than the brains of previous generations. They are used to having massive amounts of information thrown at them at lightning speed, so they have become used to processing it just as quickly.

Pivotals have the ability to filter out content within an eight-second window (or less) and can decide very quickly what brings value or interests them.

Short attention spans aside, talk to the parent of any teenager, and you'll hear tales of mind-blowing multitasking skills. Writing a book report on their laptop while playing online video games with one group of friends and Face Timing another group of friends — they are masters at moving between tasks with ease.


Go ahead, call them nerds. They don't care. In fact, it's a badge of honor. Pivotals pride themselves on their intelligence, work ethic, and creativity. According to a study conducted by Adobe, 56 percent of Pivotal students have a dream job in mind, and 88 percent plan on attending college. These goals point to students who not only possess the capacity to dream of a future but the grit to do the work.

The drive to succeed doesn't stop when the bell rings. Per a recent Cassandra Report, 89 percent of Pivotals spend their free time engaging in productive activities instead of merely hanging out. Among Pivotals, in the 2015 Nielsen survey "Global Generational Lifestyles: How We Live, Eat, Play, Work and Save for Our Futures," more respondents selected reading as an activity favored over watching TV.

And check out what they're reading. Teen Vogue's December 2016 op-ed piece "Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America" caught the attention of Twitter and mainstream media. Teen girl magazines certainly didn't cover such deep and controversial political topics 10 years ago. Not only are important national (and international) issues topof-mind for today's teens, but they want to discuss these issues and make their voices heard.

So, smart? Yes. But also more mature than teens of yesteryear. Some say that's because they've been forced to grow up too fast. Whether that's due to the reality of the world we live in today, parents who want to prepare their kids for the "real world," or the media — or a combination of the three — being a kid and teenager today is a tougher business.

Social Media

Around 2010 (when the oldest Pivotal was about 14 years old), social media became mainstream, and subsequently so did the platforms Pinterest, Instagram, and Snapchat. Close to the same time, Facebook and Twitter (already considered seniors in the space) hit one billion and 500 million users, respectively. Teens today truly can't recall a life without social media.

As such, Pivotals lead when it comes to usage of traditional social media platforms, if such a term applies. However, we see a shift in social media usage away from the oversharing Millennial mentality to the current mentality of broadcasting only specific stories to specific people on specific channels. When we look at teens' most used platforms, it's evident Pivotals prefer selective broadcasting rather than broadly sharing the minutiae of their lives. (See Figure 1-5.)

Perceptive and savvy, Pivotals learned from the mistakes of the previous generation and are much more careful about what and where they post online. However, they don't want to walk on eggshells. They're still looking for ways to let their hair down and show their "unfiltered" selves — but they're smart enough to limit anything potentially questionable to a small circle of friends in specific social platforms.

Brands must tread lightly when trying to reach Pivotals on social media. Unless a brand knows its editorial authority — what it has permission to talk about based on the true beliefs of the brand — it won't resonate with this consumer group. Brands should avoid "marketing" in social media and instead focus on conversations.

If you try to sell, you will fail.

The best approach is to listen to Pivotals and then engage in an authentic, meaningful way. More on this in Chapter 2.


Growing up in an uncertain world, Pivotals crave safety. In a recent Forbes article, author Ryan Scott said they are more cautious than Gen X and Millennials were as teens, steering away from risky behaviors and toward more sensible careers and choices. Also, they're getting into less trouble than teens of previous generations. Underage drinking is on the decline, and always wearing seatbelts is a no-brainer. Teen births have also declined, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation's 2016 KIDS COUNT Data Book.

And as previously mentioned, unlike Millennials, Pivotals are less interested in sharing their lives for the entire world to see. They much prefer not to leave a permanent record with ephemeral social media platforms like Snapchat.

Most of us can remember the pre-9/11 days of lax airport security, when schools, movie theaters, and music concerts felt safe. Unfortunately, Pivotals have hardly known a world free from random violence. Tragedies like the Manchester bombing, the Boston Marathon attack, and the Orlando nightclub shooting deeply upset Pivotals, but sadly, they are not surprised by them.

Perhaps that's why terror and violence are the top concerns of the world's youth. Varkey Foundation, a group dedicated to global education, conducted a survey to measure the impact of terror on this generation. According to their findings, 82 percent of young Americans find the rise in violence and terror a serious, if not a dire concern.

Pivotals are a serious bunch who know the world is an imperfect, scary place. One of the biggest mistakes a brand can make is portraying idealistic or fake narratives in their marketing that say otherwise. Pivotals are realistic and expect authentic stories shared by real people, content more in line with their day-to-day life. No longer do our teens want content designed for the unattainable ideal. They demand advertising serve as a reflection of their lifestyle, not a crystal ball of what could be.

The Economy

The biggest financial event of Pivotals' lifetime (so far) has been the Great Recession, which is widely considered the worst global economic downturn since World War II. They might be too young to remember specifics, but they've lived in the aftermath of the recession for most of their lives.

However, there is a silver lining. Life coach and author Christine Hassler says, "Growing up in an uncertain economy and being raised by more frugal and skeptical Gen Xers has shaped a less entitled, more money-conscious generational cohort."

Financial stability is important to Pivotals, and they aren't waiting to do something about it. The Lincoln Financial Group says that the average age of opening a savings account is now 13. Thirteen! Not only are these teens saving for college, as you would expect, but they also are prioritizing finding well-paying jobs and planning for retirement someday. Many are seeking formal training in financial planning; high schools and colleges are responding by offering financial-planning courses.


Excerpted from "Marketing to Gen Z"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Jeff Fromm and Angie Read.
Excerpted by permission of AMACOM.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Foreword xiii

Introduction xv

Methodology xix

Chapter 1 Who Is Gen Z? 1

Chapter 2 Mobile and Social from Birth 23

Chapter 3 New Communication Rules 49

Chapter 6 A Matter of Influence 71

Chapter 5 Brand Me 91

Chapter 6 New Kids on the Shopping Block 111

Chapter 7 Hot Brands and Cool Ideas 129

Chapter 8 What's Next? 165

Appendix: Maintain COPPA Compliance 177

Afterword 179

Endnotes 181

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