Move Over, Millennials and Make Room for Gen Z

Meet Gen Z, the first generation of truly digital natives born after 1995. At 26 percent of the population, they wield $44 billion in spending power and don’t remember a time without internet or mobile phones. By 2020, they will represent 40 percent of the population.

You might be thinking, “Gen Z? We just cracked the millennial code.” But it would be a mistake to think your homework (or strategy) is done. Millennials were a tough code to crack. They demanded a sea change in marketing strategy, with their love for texting, social media, and online shopping. They posted on Facebook and Instagram and opined on Twitter, and thanks to their heavy digital media usage, they produced reams of data—and generated plenty of headlines.

Gen Zers share some similarities with their millennial counterparts, but they present unique challenges, too. For one thing, they expect experiences to be instant, easy, and just a few taps (not clicks) away. And with so many of them in college and developing their brand loyalties, now is the time for brands to strike with a strategy that reaches them.

So how can brands get ready for these mobile-first digital natives? To find out, we surveyed 1,800+ American Gen Zers who are currently members of UNiDAYS’ exclusive student affinity network.

Get Personal

With the sheer volume of choices available to them, this generation relies on friends, influencers, reviews, and trusted platforms to help them vet where they spend their money. Social media networks are the best source for 20 percent of respondents, followed by friends (19 percent). When it comes to communities, student groups, organizations, clubs and trusted affinity networks, such as UNiDAYS, count among those they already trust and access regularly.

It’s not all virtual though. Sure, Gen Zers spend an average of 74 percent of their free time online, according to a study cited in Forbes. But, 41 percent of our respondents said they learn about new menu items when they are in the restaurant. And the digital marketing firm sparks & honey found that Gen Zers love to meet up in person when the opportunity arises. They love to take photos and videos that they can share on social media. Meals are a chance to socialize, whether in person or online.

Speak Visually

With an attention span of eight seconds, Gen Z responds well to visuals. This is a generation that grew up using emojis, videos and GIFs, consuming media in shorter, more frequent servings. Marketing experts call this style of bite-size digital communication “snacking.”

Yet Gen Zers visual language can present a challenge for advertisers, given what we know about their broadcast TV and movie-watching habits. Only eight percent of our survey respondents find out about new menu items from TV advertising, which means that solely trying to reach them through traditional media won’t really work.

This is also a generation that proactively blocks digital ads. In fact, an overwhelming majority(69 percent) of Gen Z says the best ads are the ones they can skip.

So, what’s a restaurant to do? Present food and dining experiences and events that are photo-Instagram-ready. By posting appealing photos and fun, experiential videos, brands can reach Gen Z where they live—on social media. According to Sprout Social, Gen Z wants to create (not just curate), and engage with smart brands that treat them as equals, collaborators and even brand ambassadors.

 Be Spontaneous

Gen Z lives in an on-demand world, whether they’re watching shows on Netflix and YouTube, or ordering food delivery online. Only five percent said they plan their meals in advance, and nearly half try a new quick-service restaurant chain every month. That presents a major opportunity for restaurants hoping to break through to this growing demographic.

Gen Z also has a tendency to make impulse-driven purchases. Brands can take advantage of Gen Z’s spontaneity and openness with pricing geared toward Gen Z’s penchant for value and discounts, and tactics such as mobile push alerts to promote menu or specialty items. Playful food campaigns can engage Gen Zers visually with the menu and help attract new customers – but it’s the special offers and deals exclusively created with Gen Z in mind that will pay off big in the future. Think of it as quirk, with a side of thrift.

Think Beyond 9-to-5

Seventy-eight percent of students shared that they are willing to eat at an off-peak time if it means they will get a better value or offer. UNiDAYS is working with national operators to create exclusive incentives for young people that drive off-peak traffic and fill seats in restaurants that would have otherwise sat empty. By helping to make the lives of young people more affordable, it creates a ripple effect. Individual operators see greater incremental revenue during times that are normally quiet. The brand makes a positive impact with perks that win over new customers with the greatest lifetime potential and reflects values of corporate social responsibility. And Gen Z-ers then share the message with their friends, family, and contacts on social media to spread the word about the promotion and the brand.