The most successful marketing strategies are fueled by a deep understanding of the people they are designed to reach. And, considering age is one of the most common predictors of differences in attitudes and behaviors, looking through a generational lens has long been a useful way for marketers to establish empathy for their audiences.
Today, forward-leaning corporate decision makers are focusing in on Gen Z, born after 1996, and rightfully so. This generation will shape the future and it is estimated they already have as much as $143 billion in spending power. However, the unprecedented amount of primary and secondary research being conducted on this cohort isn’t seemingly going far enough.
While it is widely known that Gen Z represents the first true digital natives, conventional approaches taken to discover their needs and aspirations don’t tell us their true digital activities. Pinpointing marketing strategies into the future that resonate will hinge heavily upon a holistic understanding of these individuals, which introduces an imperative: Brands should expand their purview of empathy building to account for the substantially digital aspects of this generation’s identity.
Gen Z at Face Value
We think we know Gen Z. That they are the most diverse generation yet. That they are resilient, hopeful, ambitious, and career-oriented. That they want peace and acceptance for all, and to make the world better. That they have an entrepreneurial spirit and don’t like to be placed in a box. And, of course, that they were practically born with a smartphone in their hand. The list goes on, including the indisputable imprint that coming of age during the COVID-19 crisis will leave on this generation.
However, our existing level of understanding only scratches the surface for two key reasons:
- Historically, insights on generations – and several other consumer segments—are largely gleaned through projected trends and survey responses. While stated behaviors and sentiments are critical inputs, humans often struggle to recall their past activities and can’t always accurately articulate their emotions.
- The truth of the matter is that Gen Z doesn’t even know who they are yet. Their identity is a moving target as they are in the midst of the most formative stage of their lives. Their characterization of themselves will change over time—significantly more so than older, established generations.
If we look to Millennials and how we’ve gotten it wrong before, the flaws in legacy approaches to learning about generations are apparent. Remember, they were initially labeled as having bad work ethic and lacking loyalty, which we now know not to be true.
Digging Deeper With Digital Behavioral Data
Dimensionalizing Gen Z exists at the intersection of digital and behavioral. And thanks to technological advancement, for the first time since generations have been studied, marketers have access to rich behavioral data that provides a window into the actual online activities of Gen Z in intricate detail. Today, thousands of people’s 24/7 digital behaviors are passively, yet permissibly, tracked.
Digital behavioral data, when integrated with offline and stated data, creates a complete, cross-channel picture of these individuals spanning the what and the why. And when you gain this holistic view, you gain truly actionable intelligence from which to shape marketing strategies.
Here are a few ways digital behavioral data can help elevate understanding and accuracy of predictions regarding Gen Z—or any consumer segment—no matter what knowledge base you are starting from.
- A reality check: Gain insight into an audience you know nothing about, and a gut check on whether to explore them further. For example, you can investigate category and brand intenders. And you can learn how digitally lapsed customers are behaving.
- A new dimension: Add layers to an audience you already know something, but not enough, about. If you have key segments and personas already established, knowing what they do online can unveil unsuspected areas of opportunity.
- Rectification: Uncover divergence from stated responses—critical in cases where individuals fail to accurately recall their past activities.
Knowing with certainty how consumers engage within the vast digital landscape is powerful, particularly for digital marketing. Exposure to common sites visited, search behaviors, app ownership, purchase history, and more can be indicative of who a person is, what they care about, what they are struggling with, and major life events. Armed with this stronger sense of Gen Z in all their nuances, marketers can place promotions, target media buys, refine messaging, and tailor content—among other things—with the utmost confidence.
The Way Forward
To know this data exists and not leverage it is to willfully choose not to understand consumers. That said, not all sources of digital behavioral data are created equal. The best are:
- Opt-in, meaning a panel of participants knowingly agrees to have their behaviors observed, and there is fair value exchange between the researcher and consumer.
- Longitudinal, in that activities are monitored around the clock and over time, which can shed light on loyalty or lack thereof along with other trends.
- Robust, constituting a behavioral panel sufficient in size to deliver a representative sample of consumers’ digital activities and ample data for your brand to activate on.
- Device agnostic, providing the ability to observe desktop and mobile behaviors.
- Cookie-proof, meaning not reliant on cookies, which will become a requirement in the near future.
As Gen Z continues to evolve, their interactions with the digital realm will play an important part in educating marketers on how to evolve with them, earn their trust, and build lasting relationships. The best brands will embrace this new dimension of data as a new dimension of competitive advantage, not only in sharpening strategies that face Gen Z, but any target audience.