Don’t Blur the Lines When Marketing to Millennials and Gen Z

Smart performance marketers are making the distinction
between these two generations of consumers

Adweek

Gen Z is standing apart from millennials more than ever.
Getty Images: RGStudio

When developing marketing plans, it’s all too easy to lump different generations of buyers into similar categories, hoping to hit them both effectively with broader messages. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work with millennials and Gen Z which, on the surface at least, 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). Here are five differentiation points that performance marketers should factor in when creating advertising and content for millennial and Gen Z consumers:

Gen Z likes to disconnect

While millennials came of age along with technology, most Gen Zers have been using it since they were infants or toddlers. “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.

This might indicate a love of digital interaction on the part of younger consumers, but in reality they 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.

Social media: Boredom killer or connectivity tool?

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.

They spend differently

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 pricy 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.”

Authenticity is a must-have for Gen Z

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 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.”

Online versus in-person

Shopping habits are another major differentiating factor between these two generations. 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.