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The Do’s and Don’ts of Marketing to Gen Z

By collegemktgrp | September 23, 2021 | Brands/Advertisers

In an ever-growing and competitive marketplace, you can’t afford to overlook Gen Z in your advertising.

Gen Z makes up the majority of today’s college students. It’s one of the largest and most ethnically diverse generations, making up 20.35% of the U.S. population.

For brands looking to increase their sales and expand their reach, Gen Z consumers are an irresistible audience. They hold a reported spending power of over $140 billion and a massive influence on household spending.

But just like any audience persona, it’s important to understand the values, interests, and challenges of Gen Z before you can advertise to them effectively. Here are our top tips and strategies for effectively converting Generation Z students in your brand’s marketing campaigns.

What Age Is Gen Z?

While there’s some debate about where Gen Z starts and their millennial predecessors end, Gen Z are generally considered to be born between the late 1990s and early 2000s, capping off around 2010.

Generation Z buying characteristics differ from their predecessor generations —this young and tech-savvy generation has grown up in an era of social media, smartphones, the internet, and a digital landscape. Marketing to Gen Z requires that you understand not only current Gen Z trends but also the “do’s and don’ts” to apply in your advertisements.

From cause marketing to UGC (user-generated content), here are our top do’s and don’ts to help maximize your college student advertising strategy.

Do: Be Transparent and Accountable

Generation Z loves transparency. They expect your brand to be authentic and accountable in all your dealings without attempting to hide any vital information about your brand mission and values.

Gen Z respects brand honesty over anything else. That’s because they want real value for their money, prompting the need to be “real” with them.

If you want to earn their trust, always portray transparency, credibility, and accountability in your actions.

Don’t: Lie

Since brand trust is vital when marketing to Gen Z, this “don’t” should be fairly obvious.

It’s unethical to send promotional messages to consumers with statements and claims that your product or brand can’t back up.

Being a tech-savvy generation, Gen Z consumers will always conduct research before making a purchase — including recommendations from friends and family, social media comments, and online reviews. Don’t underestimate this generation’s power to verify and confirm details about your brand’s products and promotions.

Do: Take Part in Social Responsibility

Corporate social responsibility is one of the most popular Gen Z marketing trends in 2021.

College students genuinely cares about making an impact and inspiring change with their dollars. From being eco-friendly to fighting for equality, Generation Z wants to know that when they buy from your brand, they aren’t just getting the best product at a great price. They want to know their purchase means something.

4 out of 5 consumers think businesses have a responsibility to address social issues. And a majority will stop buying from a company outright if they believe the company is unethical.

So taking your brand’s social responsibility seriously isn’t just good for the planet — it’s key for building brand loyalty with college students.

Don’t: Exaggerate Your Involvement in Social Responsibility

If you’re still figuring out which social campaigns make sense for your brand, that’s okay. But what you shouldn’t do is stretch the truth about your brand’s social impact.

Remember that Gen Z consumers are experts at doing their research and verifying information. That means they won’t hesitate to avoid your brand if your honesty is questionable — including stretching the truth about your brand’s involvement in social causes.

Do: Capitalize on UGC

One of the most powerful Gen Z advertising strategies is user-generated content (UGC).

The fact that UGC comes from your audience shows interested buyers that other people authentically love your products and services. College students are more likely to trust your brand with peer endorsements via UGC.

Images, videos, articles — make sure this UGC is front and center on your website, shared with your email list, on your organic social platforms, and more.

Influencer marketing is another powerful form of UGC with today’s college students. But micro-influencers who are well-known to Gen Z are a more effective choice than celebrities.

Learn more about how to leverage influencer marketing with college students >

College student brand ambassador can also go a long way to market your products to their fellow classmates and expand your brand’s reach.

Discover how to get college student brand ambassadors and evangelists >

Don’t: Overlook “Less Popular” Tactics

With seemingly endless marketing options to reach Gen Z, it’s important to use more than just the most popular marketing channels.

Gen Z students have diverse marketing preferences. Even on social media, some are active on Facebook, while others prefer TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram, and YouTube.

Don’t pigeonhole your brand with only one marketing tactic. From sponsoring campus football games to paid advertising, email marketing to influencer marketing, the more variety you can include in your brands’ marketing strategy to reach Gen Z, the better.

Do: Leverage Mobile User Experience

Offering the best mobile user experience is paramount to your Gen Z advertising strategy.

Nearly 100% of Gen Z students own a smartphone. And research finds that more than half of site traffic is generated by mobile users.

The majority of college students do their shopping and socializing on their smartphones. To convert Gen Z shoppers, first and foremost your website and digital ads must be responsive and compatible with mobile users.

Cause Marketing and College Students

Just like all the generations before them, Gen Z is an ever-evolving demographic.

Every few months, new trends relating to Gen Z’s marketing habits emerge. From politics to sporting events to social issues, it’s important to stay nimble and educated on what drives, inspires, and turns away the interest of today’s college students.

Learn how to effectively cause market to Gen Z (and why you should) >


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