Millennials and Gen Z customers are notoriously hard to please. They grew up with endless options for entertainment, countless career paths, and perhaps a bit too much freedom for their own good.
Now, brands are competing for the attention of this constituency that is finally making big money and carving out a place for themselves in the world.
But getting attention on social media and playing the clout game isn’t the hard part, it turns out.
The biggest challenge for brands now is winning the trust of Millennials and Zoomers, which has proven fleeting and difficult to secure.
At this point, brands have no choice but to shift gears and appeal to this next generation of buyers, not just for one-time purchases, but for lifetime loyalty.
We sat down with twelve business owners navigating the new realities of marketing and interfacing with Millennials, Gen Zers, and the new frontier of commerce that is changing before our eyes.
1. Creating Culture
What is the common thread that connects the brands that have dominated Millennial and Gen Z demographics in the past few years? They are all on the cutting edge of culture, creating their own legacies and sharing them with the world. Innovations like customer loyalty apps are one way to keep customers engaged through technology and ensure that businesses have a new way of building a loyal (and more accessible) audience.
“Art, culture, and commerce are now all one in the same thanks to social media and the fluid nature of the economy. Legacy media and education used to be more central to culture, but now it’s more about what people buy and what they do for work. This is a big shift in favor of markets and the brands leading the charge. Loyalty will be earned by generating positive and appealing cultural movements defined by fashion, lifestyle, and other factors.” – Melissa Rhodes, CEO of Psychics1on1
2. Real Connections
Despite the prevalence of social media, young people are hungry for connection and identity in the modern world. Brands have the chance to provide that and profit tremendously.
“People are living in their own bubbles, complete with unique ways of talking, interacting, and moving in the world. It’s no surprise that young folks are building their identities based on the things they buy and how they present themselves online and in real life. This is not a new phenomenon, but it has grown far stronger with the web. The brands that offer this sense of community will inevitably build broader audiences and last for the long haul.” – Jason Reposa, Founder and CEO of Good Feels
3. Support and Service
For members of Gen Z and even elder Millennials, expectations for customer service are sky-high. Remember, brands now must compete with giants like Amazon and be ready to step up service on all levels.
“Small brands might feel that they stand no chance in terms of providing customer support to shoppers, but they actually have a distinct advantage. Younger shoppers are looking for that personalized experience and real interactions. It’s a big part of the experience that huge corporations can’t provide. So long as the service is quick and consistent, that can take a small company quite far.” – Boye Fajinmi, Co-Founder and President at TheFutureParty
4. Status for Sale (Exclusivity Factor)
It doesn’t matter what generation your business is targeting – status symbols are always in demand. Even younger people are prepared to pay a premium for exclusive products and services.
“You don’t need to look far to see that Millennials and Gen Z are quick to spend big money on apparel, technology, travel, and other non-necessities that exist only to elevate their status and make them appear more important. The value comes from other people wanting the same thing, not just the quality of the goods or the materials used to make them. This proves just how important marketing and hype are for this generation.” – Tyler Read, Founder and Senior Editor of Personal Trainer Pioneer
5. The Power of Personalization
A personalized shopping experience is vital to the Millennial or Zoomer shopper. Whether it’s a new t-shirt or a new car, they expect the shopping journey to be tailored to their needs.
“If there’s one thing that young buyers want most of all, it’s the feeling of doing things their own way. Everyone uses different channels to browse and research, curate social media to fuel their interest, use various payment types, and even buy and sell products in aftermarket environments. It’s all about turning commerce into a sandbox for customization that does away with the old-school rules.” – Caleb Ulffers, CEO of Haven Athletic
6. Multi-Channel Mastery
Most young people agree that traditional forms of marketing seem invasive and annoying. This should convince brands to pursue multi-channel marketing that is far more appealing and effective.
“The modern marketing dynamic is all about attracting shoppers to your page and your store, not jumping in front of people with intrusive messaging and ads. This is the essence of inbound marketing, and Millennials are highly attuned to this trend. Use it to your advantage because it makes a difference for brand loyalty.” – Ari Evans, CEO of Maestro
7. Authenticity Matters Most
To the average young shopper, there’s nothing worse than being fake. They can smell inauthentic marketing and branding from a mile away, and brands that commit this mistake won’t stand a chance in years to come.
“As soon as a brand is perceived as try-hard or fake, that’s the beginning of the end. It’s fine to hop on trends and try to ride the wave, but ultimately, brands need to be true to their own mission and avoid chasing the latest hype cycle. This will serve them well in the long term, and they’ll outlast competitors.” – Brittany Harrer-Dolin, Co-Founder of Pocketbook Agency
8. Incentives to Stick Around
With so many options to choose from in the current marketplace, young consumers need a reason to stay loyal to a brand. This is where creative incentive strategies can come into play and make a huge impact on customer retention.
“More companies are using things like membership programs and clubs that give shoppers a reason to come back. Discounts and exclusive offers are always effective, even if it means losing a bit of money in the short term. Loyalty is about playing the long game, so brands must be willing to take some early losses to make major gains later.” – Natália Sadowski, Director of Aesthetics at Nourishing Biologicals
9. Activism and Diversity
Social causes are a top priority for Millennials and Gen Z buyers, and brands need to acknowledge this – then step up with plans of action.
“Gen Z are savvy when it comes to brands paying lip service to diversity and inclusion,” said Gregg Brown, Speaker and Consultant with Change Ready Leadership. “To truly appeal to Gen Z, a brand must demonstrate that it is doing more than using the right language and images in advertising, though that is important. What charities do they support? Do their HR practices, procurement policies, benefits and providers align with diversity and inclusion issues? The depth needs to be there.”
10. Innovative Business Models
It wasn’t long ago that the only business model was to “buy once and move along”. Nowadays, young consumers are open to new business model ideas, which can benefit everyone with higher volumes and lower price points.
“We can look at the rise of subscription services to see that this appeals massively to Millennial and Gen Z audiences. It allows people to ‘set and forget’ the ordering process for things like clothes, health products, and household necessities. Brands that offer more ways to buy will always have the advantage.” – Anamika Goyal, Head of Architecture and Design at Cottage
11. Embrace Competitive Edge
Shying away from the competition is a sign of weakness that modern brands can’t afford to show. Going head-to-head with rival brands is what Millennials and Gen Z buyers want to see, so it’s time to lean into some friendly competition.
“It’s a constant battle of the brands on social media, and young customers love to see it. It taps into that tribal phenomenon that has people picking sides and forming alliances. Of course, it’s mostly about having fun and not taking things seriously. But when you look at the bottom lines, it does affect business outcomes, and customer loyalty is a big component in that.” – Cody Candee, Founder and CEO of Bounce
12. Influencers and Endorsements
The celebrity endorsements of the 90s and 2000s just don’t pack the same punch anymore. Younger shoppers put way more faith in online influencers who they know and trust.
“Influencers have even greater appeal than yesterday’s celebrities,” said Erik Huberman, Founder and CEO of Hawke Media. “They are considered more relatable – making their promotions feel more like a friend giving you a recommendation than a hard sell. This unique mix of relatability and aspiration is highly powerful and has proven to resonate with young consumers. In fact, Gen Z is almost twice as likely as millennials to make a purchase based on a recommendation of an influencer.”
Trust is Earned, but Never Guaranteed
Brands that implement all these tips will be leagues ahead of the competition when it comes to attracting and keeping the business of Millennial and Gen Z shoppers.
Even still, the standards of commerce are always shifting and rising, and no brand can afford to remain stagnant as the wheels of change keep turning.
As Millennials and Zoomers increase their spending power and prominence, the opportunities for small and upcoming brands are boundless.