Don’t Fall into the Generation Gap Trap

Gen Z is not the Millennial mirror image you might think it is.

“Wait, what? We just figured out how to market to Millennials! You’re telling us we now need a Gen Z instruction manual as well?”

Yes. Even though Gen Z follows right on the recycled-rubber heels of Millennials, the cohorts couldn’t be further apart in how they see themselves and use social media. Plus, it’s estimated that Gen Z will account for one-third of the U.S. population by 2020, so you better know your stuff.

First, a quick primer. Millennials are the consumer group that reached adulthood around the year 2000. Gen Z’ers made their world debut in 1995 or later, so many are just now becoming adults but were using mobile devices long before they were using Clearasil. While our research has given us a lot of insight into this group it’s important not to put them all in one bucket or rely on research evangelists who paint them all with the same brush. This a point well made in a recent article published by Entrepreneur who underscores the importance of thinking of the Millennial demographic not as a demographic at all but as individuals.

Now that we cleared that up, let’s talk about these individuals who make up Gen Z and how to reach them – which is something we’ve become quite adept at doing at 160over90.

It’s not surprising to learn that Gen Z cares deeply about social issues and wants the brands it aligns with to not only care as well, but to truly mean it. Remember, this is the generation raised in a post-9/11 world and is sometimes referred to as, “the Homeland Generation.” What might be unexpected to hear is how hard these individuals want to work as they chart their own paths. “The difference is that Gen Z wants to work hard for their success. They are not counting on any trophies or ribbons for participation,” said Jeff Fromm, president of FutureCast, which co-published a free and readily available study of Generation Z that was recently featured in Adweek, and substantiates much of what we’ve learned working with some of the most notable colleges and universities on the planet.

Like FutureCast, which partnered with ad agency Barkley on the study, we recommend that your think and behave more like a facilitator when helping Gen Z; a big adjustment when you’re so accustomed to playing the lead role. One of the most effective ways to do this is by meeting them on their turf, which of course means social media. The key is knowing which platform and how to add value to the experience. We recently had a great deal of success with an Instagram campaign we created for Kent State University.

At 160over90, research is the foundation of everything we do. We leverage the consumer insights and data analytics curated for higher education clients like UCLA, Notre Dame and University of Florida, and adapt them to consumer brands like American Eagle Outfitters, Nike and Under Armour. And vice versa. So, when Kent State needed to communicate its brand promise to high school seniors sooner, we knew just where to turn: Instagram, the site Gen Z’ers use to create the most optimistic representations of their curated selves.


We took advantage of Instagram’s features and flipped the standard campus tour on its head by creating a choose-your-own adventure campaign that allowed prospective students to build their own Kent State experience and discover what kind of students they could be. The campaign resulted in nearly 200,000 web visits, a record number of campus tour bookings, and a 20% increase in admissions.



Is Instagram now our go-to platform for reaching Gen Z? Not necessarily. They are also heavy users of Snapchat and YouTube. And who knows what new mobile platform will be winning their attention tomorrow. Whatever it is, we’ll be able to discern which individual we’re talking to, as should you. As they advise in the London Underground, “Mind the Gap.”

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