The social landscape has changed. Not only have social media demographics shifted over the years, but also, how people use social platforms is different. User behavior has evolved on channels such as Instagram and TikTok and younger consumers are increasingly likely to turn to social for purchasing decisions. Figuring out the nuances of marketing to Gen Z vs Millennials has quickly become a critical part of any leading brand’s omnichannel strategy.
In this article, we explore the unique characteristics, preferences, and strategies required to grab the attention of these two key demographics in the following sections:
Although many brands take a more general approach to targeting younger audiences on social media channels, marketing to Gen Z and marketing to Millennials requires different approaches. These distinct generations are segmented based on the influence of major cultural events moreso than age, which helped shape their unique preferences. Each generation tends to use social media channels for different purposes.
Researchers and media characterize Gen Z as being born in the late 1990s to the early 2010s (1997-2012). The first generation from an early age to have grown up with access to the Internet and mobile digital technologies. Gen Z typically values authenticity and diversity. They have entrepreneurial spirits and embrace individuality while prioritizing social causes. These defining traits can be attributed to growing up immersed in a highly connected world via social media and technology. They speak out on social justice movements such as Black Lives Matter and Schools Strike for Climate (previously known as Fridays for Future, aka when the world was introduced to Greta Thunberg) and are early adopters of emerging trends and technologies.
Millennials, on the other hand, are categorized as being born in the early 1980s to late 1990s (1981-1996). This generation falls between Gen X and Gen Z, also known as Generation Y and is described as the first global generation thanks to growing up with rapid technological advancements such as the days of the early internet. Because of this, Millennials are often tech-savvy and socially conscious. Much like Gen Z, this generation is influenced by the rise of social media and mobile devices during their teen and early adult years.
Success in marketing to Gen Z and Millennials hinges on a brand’s ability to understand the values, characteristics, behaviors and general defining trait differences of each generation. By using this intel, brands can help inform content creation and adopt new tactics and techniques to drive engagement and conversions with each generation. Let’s explore a few key defining characteristics.
Millennials were born into a relatively stable economy but, in their early adult years, felt the impact of the Great Recession, which would shape their financial attitudes. Many Gen Z were born during this period and, from a very early age, are familiar with economic instability. These two distinct upbringings have impacted each generation differently and influenced their purchasing decisions. Brands should pay attention to the differences in financial outlook and tailor marketing messages accordingly.
Both generations being digital natives, are tech-savvy. But the social media platforms they prefer can differ slightly. Millennials tend to be more active on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, while Gen Z prefers more video and visual-driven platforms like TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube. Marketers must understand the nuances and user behaviors of each platform to tailor content that captures and drives engagement from each demographic.
To effectively reach Millennials and Gen Z, marketers need to understand the messaging and channels that will resonate most with them. When marketing to Gen Z, remember their values. Content must be authentic, genuine and should be visually appealing in short form format. Millennials value informative content that explains product benefits and speaks to solving pain points.
Marketing to Millennials is not easy; historically, this generation can quickly change their mind or opinion of a brand. Because of this, brands should aim for a strategy that fosters and creates a sense of brand loyalty and community. This means a lot of authentic storytelling, social proof and personalized experiences to help create lasting customers. If you don’t show up authentically and take actions that contradict your brand's core values — you can kiss the Millennial market goodbye.
An excellent way to effectively speak to Millennials about your brand or product is through the power of UGC and influencer content. These two powerhouse social media strategies work on multiple levels as UGC is content created by customers, so it’s highly trusted and authentic, while influencer content can be educational and demonstrative. UGC is great for marketing to existing customers and fostering a community where Influencer content is created to introduce your brand to their audience. This is why it’s important to conduct thorough research and make sure the audience of any influencer you consider working with fits your target market to ensure a good ROI on your campaign and positive KPIs when it comes to measuring Influencer marketing.
Millennials are avid Instagram users and are driving the adoption of social media e-commerce as they prioritize convenience and frictionless digital experiences. Their spending power as of 2023 is $2.5 trillion, with interest in online shopping only increasing. Millennial-focused brands like Our Place and TOMS add shoppable tags to visually appealing posts creating a seamless, integrated storytelling and e-commerce experience. To take full advantage of the revenue opportunities that social media channels have to offer, marketers need to define, bridge and optimize the touchpoint handoffs that exist along the customer journey. Many marketers leverage Dash Hudson’s link in bio solution, LikeShop, to achieve this.
Although the spending power of Gen Z might not be as high as Millennials, as many are just starting to enter adulthood, marketing to Gen Z should not be overlooked. Cracking the code on successful Gen Z marketing can be boiled down to one major tactic. Serve them a message in an entertaining way formatted to their preference on the channels they frequent most. Brands should strive to always be authentic, value-focused and aware of their real-world impact, as these pillars can greatly determine the success of not only marketing campaigns but the overall brand itself.
The rise of short-form video content on social media has been one of the fastest-growing marketing trends of the decade. Brands can now tap into different opportunities, such as Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts, to increase engagement. In a Dash Hudson case study with food brand, Talenti, the brand was able to grow their organic video views by +366% through leveraging insights to identify what resonates with their audience. Putting short-form video at the forefront of your strategy will capture the attention of Gen Z and beyond. While it’s no secret that Gen Z consumers gravitate towards authentic lo-fi video styles, all video content, on average, will outperform static content when posted from a brand perspective.
Creator culture refers to the impact influencers, UGC and content creators have in shaping audience preference for consuming content and interacting with brands. If you want to speak directly to Gen Z, incorporating creators into your strategy is the way to go. When marketing to Gen Z using creators, it’s important to focus on working with individuals that align with brand values and have an engaged audience — the aim is to build trust for your brand by leveraging the trust followers have in a creator. On the flip side, brands can adapt these styles within their own marketing campaigns by tapping into the power of influencers, UGC, authentic storytelling and co-creation to build a strong brand presence among Gen Z. This approach enables you to adapt to the evolving digital landscape and create meaningful connections with your target audience.
It is important to take a step back and evaluate your target audiences and get granular when it comes to their channel of choice, preferences and values. This should inform not only your approach to social media but also your larger marketing strategy, as marketing to Gen Z and Millennials will be critical for a brand’s long-term growth in the future. Dash Hudson has the tools brands need to be successful in the area of social entertainment and creator culture. Guide cross-channel strategy, measure campaign performance, gauge audience sentiment, and gain social media insights all in one easy-to-use dashboard.
Although marketing to Gen Z does have some cross-over with marketing to Millennials, emphasis should be placed on authenticity and transparency, building trust and the personalization of any marketing efforts. Leverage platforms like TikTok, YouTube and Instagram that are video focused and aim to entertain and connect instead of inform and educate. Gen Z values real connections, social responsibility and brands that align with their values.
Gen Z and Millennial marketing share a lot of core similarities. Both look for personalization in the way they are marketed to, both generations are socially conscious, value authenticity and prefer visual content. Gen Z and Millennials are shaped by creator culture and influencer marketing.
Marketers are interested in Gen Z due to their expanding consumer power and long-term customer value potential. They will remain brand loyal as long as the brand has quality products and matches their values and core beliefs. There is also much to be said about their influence on family spending decisions.