Thought Leadership

5 Tips to Effectively Engage Generation Z

Salty, Nugget, Spill the Tea, Woke — if you and your clients are not speaking the language of Generation Z, then you need to become fluent fast.

By 2020, Gen Z will account for 40 percent of all consumers according to an Accenture report, and some experts estimate their current spending power to be as much as $140 billion.

As Gen Z, individuals born starting in 1997 as defined by the Pew Research Center, replaces millennials as the primary consumer target for many corporations, organizations and brands, PR practitioners must delve into this consumer segment and understand how to effectively engage them for the next 15-20 years. Gen Z can’t be ignored now or in the future.

In interviewing Gen Zers, ages 13-22, nationwide for my book, “Decoding Gen Z: 101 Lessons Generation Z Will Teach Corporate America, Marketers & Media,” I detail six degrees of Gen Z which reinforce the comment of the MTV chief marketer. They are digital natives, tech smart, entrepreneurial- spirited, community-minded, socially conscious and purpose driven.  

These six degrees of Gen Z are what I believe should inspire five priorities for practitioners when developing campaigns and content intended to engage Gen Z across earned owned, paid and shared media channels — speed, immediacy, efficiency, personalization and purpose.  

It is also critical to understand that Gen Z’s preferred media consumption channels are unlike any previous consumer segment. They do not read newspapers and magazines or watch traditional television. They don’t tune-in to “Good Morning America” or the 6 p.m. news. Instead, they are gravitating to Netflix, YouTube, Twitch and Instagram to consume media.

As PR practitioners attempt to strategically market to and engage Gen Z in 2020 and beyond — a generation that does not want to be marketed to in the traditional manner as past generations — here are five tips to effectively engage this all-important consumer segment.

Tip 1: Innovate with an incubator.

Target was the first brand in 2018 to create a Gen Z incubator comprised of teens and college students by investing in Gen Z entrepreneurs across music, fashion and pop culture. On the professional sports front, the National Hockey League also skated their way into an incubator of Gen Zers in early 2019. I have even witnessed at least one agency who has taken this approach.

Once a week, they have a dedicated group of college-age Gen Zers visit their firm and share the latest trends and insights with agency employees. My recommendation to all companies, brands, organizations and agencies who plan to engage Gen Z is to launch and formalize a Gen incubator to inform and inspire content and campaigns intended for this generation. 

Tip 2: Escalate engagement with Instagrammable experiences.

Brands that create Instagrammable experiences like Refinery 29’s “29 Rooms” which offers 29 installations in one interactive house of style, culture, and technology, will engage Gen Z and lend themselves well to social media content that is highly sharable.

 “Pop-up events fulfill our social media need and appetite to capture and share content from unique settings and experiences,” said Brooke Stern, a member of the Cornell University class of 2019. “Brands should prioritize events and experiences, especially pop-up interactions, if they are looking to engage Gen Zers.”

Shelby Fong, a member of the Rutgers University class of 2019, added, “brands that are going to be most successful with Gen Z are those that activate through pop-up shows and events like the Museum of Ice Cream and the Pint Shop that allow Gen Zers to be engaged and immersed in interactive experiences that they can capture and share on their social media channels, primarily Instagram and Instagram Stories.” Gen Z is eager to engage with brands via unique experiences.

Tip 3: Collaborate with nano-influencers.

According to a Gen Z survey by the student-run PR agency at Montclair State University, Hawk Communications, when it comes to content on social media, friends and family (27 percent) have the greatest influence on Gen Z more than social media influencers (23 percent), subject matter experts (14 percent) and celebrities (12 percent.

Katelyn Woebse, a member of the Montclair State University class of 2020 commented, “When Gen Zers consider a brand or making a purchase, we conduct extensive research, and our friends and family are by far our greatest influence. Social media enables us to crowdsource friends and family about their experience with a certain brand or product to help us gain a better understanding before we invest what limited budget we may have.”

Marketers should take notice as social media influencers, subject matter experts and celebrities may have greater reach, but wield less influence than nano-influencers like family and friends when it comes to Gen Z.

Tip 4: Prioritize purpose.

Gen Z is looking to engage with brands and organizations that have a higher purpose that goes well beyond a simple transaction.

“Brands need to stand for something that is not only important in today’s culture and society if they want to have a long-term relationship with Gen Z, but the brand’s purpose must be sharable with our way of living,” said Stephanie Michael, a member of the Montclair State University of 2019.

Before marketing to Gen Z, practitioners should take quality time to listen to Gen Zers and understand what causes are most important and determine how they can authentically align with their clients.

“One of the most effective ways a brand can engage with Gen Z is to truly join our movement around social and community causes,” said Sabrina Araullo, a member of the Montclair State University class of 2018. “Brands can’t simply pander to us. They need to demonstrate that they authentically think like us and believe in causes that are important in our Gen Z world, society and culture, today, tomorrow and for many years ahead.”

Tip 5: Give your media mix a makeover.

Move over newspapers, magazines and television. If PR practitioners plan to engage Gen Z via content whether earned, paid, shared or sponsored media, then they will need to throw away their traditional media targets and take an innovative approach in making over a media mix customized for Gen Z.

On social media, Gen Z is investing most of their time viewing content, including branded content, on Instagram with the growing popularity of Instagram Stories, and Snapchat is a close second. YouTube and Netflix as well as streaming channels, specifically Twitch and Hulu, are the preferred video platforms.

According to the Hawk Communications survey, more than 85 percent have a subscription to Netflix, and 43 percent prefer Netflix over all other sources including cable and network television for watching video content. 

Finally, Instagrammable experiences as noted earlier should be strongly considered a part of a Gen Z media mix even though it may deliver media in a nontraditional way.


Mark Beal recently authored his third book, Decoding Gen Z: 101 Lessons Generation Z Will Teach Corporate America, Marketers & Media. A veteran public relations practitioner, he is the first ever full-time professor of professional practice in public relations at Rutgers University. Mark shares more insights about Gen Z on his website, www.markbeal.media

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