Sales & Marketing

How to market to a generation that just won’t listen

9 min read

27 July 2016

Marketing is the lifeblood of our business as entrepreneurs, something we do daily to make sure the money flows in, but what happens when you’re marketing to young people and they are no longer listening?

As a youth expert I spend most of my days finding out what they like, don’t like, the plans they have for the future and what they think of the world in general. As a consequence I often get asked how to engage and market to them. After laughing and telling them that you don’t, here is what I tell them: You form a relationship with them. 

They will only buy, no let me rephrase that, they will only communicate with people they think they have a relationship with. While marketing has always been about forming relationships, marketing to modern day youth is all about the relationship. The brands that do well with them are the ones who talk to them at their level, show they care and make them feel they have their best interests in mind. 

Say for example you sell post-it notes; rather than making yourself a cool (well you think it’s cool) advert or offering a discount to students ( which they love), you might do better off making an infographic or a snap on the seven ways you use post-it notes to increase your grades (useful to them). Then offer to take any questions they have about studying for exams on a social media platform (give them emotional help) and then offer them a discount if they want to buy (make them feel special), but at no time can you push this in their face; it must all feel like a normal conversation or an idea you would offer up to a friend. 

Be inspirational yet real

This generation are very savvy and more to the point one of the most emotionally intelligent generation we have ever seen. They spot inspirational fake messages a mile off and have no real desire to meet an ideal that someone else decides is right for them (despite what we think). They are achievers and want to reach dizzy heights in their life but, unlike the generation above, Generation Z are plagued with doubt and fear and are a very anxious, self-deprecating cohort of people. They know about wanting to get the best grade in the exam, studying hard then having it all fall apart because they have a panic attack. 

So while you must serve inspirational messages to them, make sure they understand that you know how challenged they feel day in a day out. They want to look their best but they also want that mascara to be able to not leave streaks down their face if they have a panic attack, they want a certain bag for school but is it tamper proof, they want those shoes for school but do they meet the required school standards? After all, they don’t want to get in trouble. If you want to get the attention of this generation, you had better serve your inspiration up with a side of reality. 

Read more on millennials in the workplace:

Gender, sexuality, race, size

All these things are of no consequence to them; to this generation, everyone is the same and in your marketing they will expect to see every type of person represented, not because it is good practice but because it is the way of the world for them. They just expect that everyone is equal and that is the end of that. So every size, shape, race, gender and type of sexuality should be expressed and acknowledged in your marketing.

Don’t put them in boxes

If there is one thing this generation won’t do it is be defined; they don’t want to be defined by colour, gender or sexuality as the labels we have lived with as a society for so long mean very little, hence the shift to such terms as “gender neutral” and “sexually fluid”. If you try and put them in any box they will flee from your product like their life depended on it. I was listening to something from a youth marketing conference the other day, they had split young people into tribes and I was left banging my head on the desk. 

Putting youth in tribes for marketing misses the point entirely, because by the very nature of this generation they won’t be categorised and worse than that, often they spot it a mile off and are likely to tell all their other friends about the fast one you are pulling on them. You would be better off by asking what the people who buy your product care about as they are a caring generation. They want to do good and love to buy things if they think it is helping others. So don’t put them in boxes, ask what they care about and start there. Treat them as individuals and make your offering feel as individual as they feel as a person. Graze boxes are a good example of a product that fits all the boxes (pardon the pun) when it comes to this. 

Tap into their health-conscious nature

They are a health-conscious cohort of young people. I know we are led to believe they are layabouts who eat junk food, but that are not the case. A lot of them care about their physical, mental and emotional well-being, often opting for the healthy option. There is a reason that some of the fast food restaurants now look and feel a little healthier. Try and find the mental, emotional or physical benefits of your product and tell them. If what you can offer eases stress or if it improves mental clarity, tell them. 

They are more likely to purchase a product that has a health benefit to them over one that doesn’t. Brownies made with avocado and coconut sugar may win the fight over a typical sugar- and fat-laden variety. We have been telling young people for years that they need to eat healthier and get fitter; it seems that they may be finally listening to us, even if they may not yet be doing it they are at least thinking about it. 

Oh and of course, have fun.

Sarah Newton is a teen coach at theyouthexpert.com.

While there has been much insight about how companies need to brace for impact when Generation Z hits the workforce, it’s been revealed that, actually, firms are already offering what they want – and current perceptions are highly contradictory.

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