Stop Selling to Gen Z
Entrepreneur|June 2021
Traditional marketing doesn’t work on this discerning, coveted demo. If you can’t sell to them? Join them.
LIZ BRODY

The minute you start trying too hard, that’s when Gen Z is like, Bye.”

That’s the advice of Dahye Jung, a strategy analyst at Sid Lee, the global creative agency that works with businesses like Dos Equis and The North Face. Every day, at least one of Jung’s clients wants to know, “How do we reach Gen Z?”

It’s a good question.

Generation Z—the 20 percent of the U.S. population ages 9 to 24 with annual buying power estimated at nearly $300 billion—is a coveted yet elusive demographic. It’s the first generation to never know a world without the internet, growing up on cellphones, with virtual lives no less real than their IRL ones.

While no generation can be uniformly summarized (much as marketers will try), Gen Z has a few well-earned stereotypes: They’re socially conscious, tech-savvy, and quick to sniff out BS. “They don’t want to ‘buy’ from a brand,” says Eric Jones, who tracks Gen Z’s behavior as VP of corporate marketing at WP Engine. “Instead, they want to partner with their brands. They want a relationship; they want honesty.”

Because of all that, the conventional wisdom is that Gen Z wants community. More than buying, they want to belong. Perhaps it’s why 80 percent of tech founders believe community is “the new moat,” according to a 2019 report from First Round Capital. But this misses an important distinction because building a community around a brand doesn’t cut it for Gen Z. Companies must come to them—and that’s a fundamental mindset shift.

“You should be looking at a community that’s already doing its own thing,” Jung says. “And you say, ‘Hey, what do you guys need? Let me give you the resources to amplify it a little bit further.’” It’s hard for brands to let go of control and simply trust their community to boost sales for them, she acknowledges. “But that’s the new way of thinking.”

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