Youth marketing
min read

Reaching Gen Z during back to school and freshers week

Written by
Izzy Hall
Published on
July 13, 2023
Last updated
January 22, 2024

What this article covers

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Marketing to Gen Z, especially during the bustling Freshers Week and Back to School season, is tough. This well-informed, tech-savvy group demands authenticity, relevance, and a genuine reason to engage. But at a time of year when every brand is vying for their attention, how do you cut through all the noise?

In our recent webinar, we explored the complexities of Gen Z consumer behaviour during these crucial shopping periods, analysed the mechanics of successful campaigns, and revealed innovative approaches that are truly making an impact.

Here's what we learned.

Who are Gen Z?

Generation Z, born between the mid-1990s to the early 2010s, are not just another demographic. They are digital natives who have grown up with smartphones in their hands and social media at their fingertips. They're a generation that is globally connected, environmentally conscious, socially progressive, and fiercely independent. Their buying behaviours, expectations, and values are unique. We've never seen anything like them before.

However, reaching Gen Z is no small feat. They've lived through the impacts of the financial crisis, a global pandemic, and a severe disruption to their education and social lives. Their youthful years have been marked by uncertainty and change. These experiences have forged a demographic that values authenticity and practicality over aspirational branding. But they're also a generation suffering a mental health crisis, with 84% reporting poor mental health. As such, the needle of their bullshit detector is razor sharp, and not only are they wary of marketing ploys, but they're ready to fight back against brands that seek easy wins with tricks like greenwashing.

But despite being the most well-connected generation, they're also harder to reach. They move seamlessly between different platforms, making it harder for brands to catch their attention. And during busy periods like Freshers Week and Back to School, where there's an onslaught of marketing directed at them, you need a finely crafted, multi-channel approach that understands their lived experiences, speaks their language, and aligns with their values. In short - you need to have something to say.

Navigating the complexities of marketing to Gen Z may be challenging, but it's not impossible. With a clear understanding of who they are, what they value, and how they interact with the world, brands can successfully build long-lasting relationships with this generation.

Why Back to School matters

Freshers Week and Back to School periods are milestone moments in the lives of Gen Z students. This time symbolises a new chapter of independence and exploration, filled with a variety of first-time experiences and decisions. It's here that students are actively seeking products, services, and experiences that can support their journey into this new phase of life.

So, why is this important for marketers? Because these life-changing moments shape their preferences and consumption habits, often setting the pattern for their spending behaviour for years to come. It's a critical window of opportunity for brands to make a lasting impression, to not just sell a product but to position themselves as allies in this pivotal journey.

Consider the immense spending power of students during this period. In the UK, students have an estimated annual spending power of around £23 billion, with a substantial portion allocated for the Back to School period. In the US, it's even higher. Brands that can effectively communicate their value proposition during this time have the opportunity to gain a loyal customer base.

Moreover, during these transitional periods, students are actively searching for solutions to new challenges – from managing studies to setting up their new living spaces, from maintaining their health to keeping up with the latest fashion trends. Brands that position themselves as solutions to these challenges stand to gain the most.

Whichever way you look at it, Freshers Week and Back to School represent a unique and time-sensitive opportunity for brands to establish a connection with Gen Z students. Leveraging this opportunity requires a nuanced understanding of the Gen Z mindset and a strategy that goes beyond transactional marketing.

The importance of multi-channel touchpoints

From traditional media to social platforms, personal blogs to review websites, these digital natives engage with brands across multiple channels, creating a dynamic and intricate network of interactions that marketers need to navigate. This is where the concept of multi-channel touchpoints comes into play.

Multi-channel touchpoints refer to all the various points of interaction between a brand and its consumers across different channels. These channels could be anything from a social media post, an email campaign, an influencer endorsement, or even a word-of-mouth recommendation. They are the individual steps of a customer's journey with your brand, where each interaction shapes their perception and decision-making process.

So why are multi-channel touchpoints critical when marketing to Gen Z? They don't just want to hear about your brand - they want to experience it in a way that feels real, personal, and relevant to their lives. By engaging them through various channels, you can create a more holistic and authentic brand experience that resonates with their diverse interests and needs.

Moreover, leveraging multi-channel touchpoints can enhance the reach and effectiveness of your marketing efforts. This is because Gen Z uses different platforms for different purposes - Instagram for inspiration, YouTube for tutorials, Snapchat for casual interactions, and so forth. By understanding the role of each channel in their lives, you can tailor your messaging and engage them in ways that feel natural and compelling to them.

However, leveraging multi-channel touchpoints doesn't mean putting the same content out across platforms. It's about delivering a cohesive and consistent brand message across all channels. It's about understanding the unique strengths and limitations of each channel and adapting your approach accordingly. It's about creating a seamless brand experience that moves with them, wherever they go. By doing so, you can effectively cut through the noise and capture the attention of the elusive Gen Z consumer.

Best practices for marketing to Gen Z

Successfully marketing to Gen Z requires an understanding of their habits, preferences, and the environment they navigate. They are, after all, a generation born into an age of innovation, with technology embedded into every aspect of their lives. Here are some essential practices to bear in mind when developing your Gen Z marketing strategy.

1. Be where they are

It's essential to establish a presence across multiple platforms, as Gen Z's digital behaviour is increasingly dispersed. They might discover your brand on Instagram, research your products on your website, seek reviews on YouTube, and interact with your customer service on Twitter.

2. Understand the power of content specificity

Each social platform has its own unspoken rules about what type of content works best. Instagram is ideal for visually appealing images and short videos, TikTok thrives on creativity and trends, while YouTube is great for longer, informative content. Tailoring your content to each platform's unique ecosystem can significantly boost your brand's relevance and resonance among Gen Z.

3. Authenticity cannot be understated

Gen Z has a finely tuned radar for insincerity and despises "corporate" speak. They prefer brands that communicate transparently and honestly, that show rather than tell, and that are unafraid to admit their mistakes. So ditch the sales talk and communicate like a human - they'll appreciate it.

4. Don't greenwash!

Gen Z is deeply concerned about societal and environmental issues, but they're also savvy to brands that pay lip service to causes for the sake of appearance. Genuine commitment to sustainability and social responsibility is crucial. This means going beyond mere claims and showcasing real, measurable actions that your brand is taking to make a positive impact. This will not only win the approval of Gen Z but will also future-proof your brand for generations to come.

Follow these steps and you'll be well-equipped to engage Gen Z in meaningful ways, foster their trust, and, ultimately, win their loyalty.

Want more like this? The full webinar, Reaching Gen Z During Freshers Week and Back to School Season, is available to watch on demand, now.

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