Who is Gen Z and How Do You Best Engage Them?

By Valerie Dennis  |  November 17, 2017

gen z

Generation Z—those born between 1995 and 2012—is seeing its oldest members come into the marketplace. With that comes more buying power—already at $44 billion—but to be successful, marketers must understand the mindset of a new generation. Knowing who Gen Z is and how they communicate will help target marketing to them.

Father-son duo David (a Gen Xer) and Jonah (a Gen Zer) Stillman are Gen Z gurus who understand what makes this younger generation different. Frequent speakers, they have also written a book, Gen Z @ Work, on the topic. Their unique perspectives can help marketers reach their next big audience.

The first mistake to avoid is thinking Gen Zers are millennials. “We’re here to tell you that we work differently, we act differently, we consume differently and, therefore, we need to be treated differently,” Jonah advises.

Each generation is shaped by its own events and conditions that occurred during its formative years. Because of these experiences, members of specific generations adopt a lens that they’re looking at the world through, David explains. While millennials grew up in a time of economic expansion of the 2000s when the economy was thriving, Gen Z grew up during the Great Recession, witnessing the struggle as their parents navigated tough times.

Hardest to Engage 

Because of these events and conditions, their generation is giving rise to the social entrepreneur, a trait marked by looking for quality first and cause second. They want to have a personalized experience, and that extends to marketing and social media.

Authenticity is critical in communication to Gen Zers. Jonah notes that Gen Z is the easiest generation to reach—they are on every platform, either currently or previously—but the hardest to engage because they have become accustomed to authenticity. “We’ve been trained to skip over messages that say promoted, sponsored, targeted, boosted, because we say, ‘That isn’t authentic and that isn’t really meant for me and that’s somebody trying to reach me.’” The more personal and authentic a message feels, the more attractive it is to a Gen Zer.




With endless options and opportunities to be reached, Gen Zers will move on quickly if they don’t like what they see. They are, what Jonah calls, task switchers. While they can’t juggle multiple tasks at once, they often bounce between items, giving short attention to each task.

This generation is known for having an eight-second attention span, David notes. In that time, Gen Zers can look at something, process it, file it, categorize it and move on to the next thing, he says. Eight seconds is all the time a marketer has to attract and hook a Gen Z consumer.

Be Relatable and Conversational

To reach Gen Z: Engage with them, Jonah says. He’s starting to see companies inviting teenagers in to help with marketing and decision-making. With time at a premium, the message must be flashy, colorful and quick, because they think, act and learn in sound bites, he adds.

That’s why YouTube is thriving, with 95 percent of Gen Z on the platform. Gen Zers also prefer Instagram and Snapchat, which are also platforms where video—often in snippet format—is popular. With these platforms and mobile devices, real people can create and distribute content, which Jonah notes is appealing to young viewers. This lets Gen Zers feel like they are getting a real, authentic behind-the-scenes view, he says.

Social media platforms are introducing new features that can help marketers get in front of a Gen Z audience while maintaining the authentic feel and voice of the generation, including:

  • Allowing users to link their own content more easily
  • Leveraging Instagram voting to get immediate input from viewers
  • Displaying ads in Snapchat among stories


The more produced something looks and feels, the less attractive it will be to Gen Z, David explains. Authenticity keeps Gen Zers trusting and engaged. They need to see it to believe it to really trust someone or something, he notes. Anyone can make media today, so it has to strike an emotional chord to resonate with the new generation.


In part two of this blog series—How Marketers Can Reach Gen Z—we’ll examine the seven distinguishing traits of Gen Zers that the Stillmans highlight in their book, and discuss how you can leverage these traits in your marketing plan.

Read next: Content Marketing vs. Advertising: What’s the Difference, Again?

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