Gen Z: A Coveted Audience But Where Are They?

group selfie of multiracial friends

By Sara Luckow Callanan, Sr. Director, Global Strategic Marketing & Research, Channel Factory

Gen Z has become an increasingly important audience to brands and marketers as they are getting older, entering the workforce and making their own purchasing decisions. With that in mind, Gen Z remains elusive and one of the hardest generations of consumers to please according to this Qualtrics article, leaving marketers scratching their heads on where and how to reach Gen Z.

According to data recently collected by Channel Factory, Gen Z and other generations have one thing in common: they are using social media more than they were at the start of the pandemic and going there for entertainment and relaxation. In fact, Gen Z is a generation of explorers who aren’t afraid to mix it up and use social media video content as a way to discover something new outside of their core interests. They are increasingly going to social media to search and find information on products in a new, creative and interactive way. Gen Z wants new and exciting and marketers should be taking note.

Gen Z’s Relationship With Social Media

Gen Z is first generation digital natives. They’ve grown up with the Internet and have lived through the evolution of Apple, Twitter and Meta. As a result, social media has become a part of Gen Z’s life, according to this Axios article, and the line of where real life and online life begins and ends is blurred. So it’s not really all that surprising that Gen Z is at home and comfortable online.

What makes Gen Z difficult to target is that there are so many options to choose from when it comes to a world online. Are they on YouTube? Instagram? TikTok? Gen Z is everywhere and depending on where they are, their priorities are changing. So maybe marketers shouldn’t be asking where Gen Z is but rather, what do they want? Maybe the answer is diving deeper into what exactly Gen Z is watching online and understanding how brands can authentically connect with their Gen Z audience through the content they find interesting and entertaining across platforms.

Channel Factory recently conducted a study that examined how consumer behaviors have changed over the past two years, how people are using social platforms, shopping patterns, and the types of content that are being consumed on social video platforms YouTube, Meta, Snapchat and TikTok. The study found that the number one reason people are going to social video networks is to consume entertainment and comedy content. 43% of Gen Z specifically watch video games with 35% watching videos around technology. Not to mention, 35% noted an increase in their mood after watching the content they enjoy online, an increase compared to early in the pandemic. Gen Z is stepping “out of the neutral zone” away from feeling indifferent towards social media to actually noticing a change in mood.

So Gen Z’s relationship with social media is actually one that might not be all that difficult to understand after all. They like going to social media to watch content that boosts their mood and gives them an escape from everyday life. But they’re also a generation of exploration, and that is reflected in their habits online.

The TikTok Effect

TikTok has taken the world by storm. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the app has exploded, with a whopping 850 million downloads in 2020 alone according to this Business of Apps article and over 1 billion monthly users to date, according to this Wallaroo article. The app has revolutionized the way users consume content.

What has made TikTok so popular is its algorithm that allows users to see videos related to their interests in addition to videos that the TikTok algorithm thinks they will be interested in. Craving an element of discovery, users are experiencing a ‘TikTok Effect’ in which they now “expect the unexpected” and look forward to viewing unexpected content customized to them based on their personal engagement algorithm. Rather than being confined to only watching content related to their core interests, Gen Z consumers lean on platforms to serve a wide variety of interesting content unique to themselves. And this effect has expanded outside of just one app. Across the board, according to data collected by Channel Factory, users are branching out on social media seeing a rise in mixing up the type of content they watch across YouTube, Meta and Snap.

Consumers want something different when they’re online in every aspect of the content they consume.

Meeting Gen Z Where They Are

Perhaps the marketing industry has overcomplicated Gen Z by asking where to find Gen Z rather than understanding what they need and want.

Gen Z wants content that boosts their mood, is cool enough to share with their friends and gives them a sense of escape. But they also don’t want to be pigeonholed. They want to explore and discover new content when they are on social media. So how does that translate to marketing strategies?

Firstly, be open to appearing in different content types. The same way Gen Z doesn’t want to be put into a box, marketing campaigns and ads shouldn’t be either. Marketers and brands should take the TikTok effect into consideration and run ads alongside different content verticals. Marketers should also be considering the endgame and thinking about why Gen Z shares ads. Gen Z is more likely to share content if they think it is going to gain them “clout” among other Gen Zers. When creating ads, think about the audience and consider what motivates them.

Marketers should also consider what kind of content Gen Z is consuming. People go online for entertainment, comfort, or relaxation. Marketers should be aligning brands with conscious and positive content. Finally, it’s imperative to remember that ad placement is everything. Delivering content Gen Z finds enjoyable is not going to do a brand or marketer any good if it isn’t showing up alongside content that is appropriate and aligned with brand values.

Gen Z has proven to be a generation that knows what it wants and won’t settle for anything less. Marketers need to change their way of thinking, shifting from a mindset of where is Gen Z to a mindset that reflects understanding the generation and the content they want to see. Gen Z are explorers and want to discover new interests while simultaneously still appreciating what they already have. Finding a place in that delicate balance will set brands and marketers up for success when it comes to reaching Gen Z where they are.