Marketing And Selling To Gen Z And Millennials: The Do’s And Don’ts

Milan Jooste
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Originally printed in the November 2020 issue of Produce Business.

In February 2020, my father Nic Jooste wrote a column on Generation Z and Millennials, called ‘Keep it simple, for goodness sake’, in which he wrote the following sentence: “Generation Z grew up in a globalised world packed full of information. For them, ignoring major social issues like climate change and social inequality is impossible. For Gen Z, three dominant social themes dominate: inclusiveness, sustainability and openness”.

Now, eight months later, the state of brand marketing is complicated to say the least. More than ever before – in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic – companies are constantly being torn between trying to sell their products to the generations that have always bought them, or to the generations that will soon be the only ones who are buying.

Reading my father’s opinion for the second time spurred me to write this column. It is intended to help business leaders understand what it takes to market to these new generations: Millennials, Gen Z and now even Generation Alpha. And by this, I mean marketing your product and your brand, but most importantly for us as young consumers: yourself. For us, YOU as owner of the business or the brand are responsible. We want to see YOUR face, and hear YOU speak.

There is an old saying that goes: forewarned is forearmed. When running anything, whether it is a business, a brand or a sports team, it is strongly recommended, even crucial to survival, to be forward-thinking at all times. I am here to warn you: do not underestimate the future power of these consumers!

Millennials and Gen Z have such vast differences in their behavioral patterns that it makes it incredibly hard to market to both at the same time. The one common denominator is that both generations share one singular thought: we are inheriting this planet from generations that, according to us, have not treated it with sufficient respect. For us, it is crucial that we, together with the brands we support, make up for lost time.

You will find a great many online articles loosely called, ‘The Greatest Guide to Gen Z’s Mind’, or something along these lines. You will find lots of recommendations about how to engage with these elusive individuals. Believe it or not, neither Generation Z nor Millennials check their e-mails every day for brand marketing purposes. They don’t care that much about deals, events or a quiz that tells them ‘We can tell which fruit your character is based on purely by looking at your zodiac sign!’. The only thing they care about is that a company is honest and earnest. And I should know, because I was born on the fine line between Millennials and Gen Z.

You see, for us it all boils down to the three pillars of sustainability: economy, society and the environment. From my personal experience, I have been noticing that the concern of most people who fall into my generation is spreading out to every facet of consumerism. The ever-so-growing interest in sustainable or second-hand clothing, as opposed to fast fashion, embraces economic factors, social factors and environmental factors. The same applies to the rise of veganism (which is three times higher in Gen Z and Millennials than in any other generation).

We were both mobile pioneers and mobile natives, so we see everything as soon as it happens. If you want to stand out as a brand or a business, you must give it everything you’ve got on social media and be honest about it. Every business can say that they are ‘doing community work’. But we want to see tangible and clear proof that what you are doing is being done in an ethical and sustainable manner. Many people of my generation may not know what CSR (corporate social responsibility) is, but I do know that the majority does care if the companies they are loyal to are working in a way that is socially and environmentally responsible.

Another aspect that is of utmost importance to consider when breaking through the wall that surrounds my generation’s brains is that our attention span is only eight seconds long. What you do and what you say have to be explosive, yet to the point. What we see and hear has to get your story across in 8 seconds. The online abbreviation tl;dr, which stands for ‘too long, didn’t read’, was started by my generation. Even though it is not used as much anymore, the mentality still holds up. We do not want to spend our time reading paragraph after paragraph of yet another brand telling us how good they are; we want to see for ourselves how good you are: pictures, not graphics: actions, not words.

It is absolutely impossible to condense the mindset of these two generations into an article of this size, but here is your key: you can start by listening. Observe consumer behavior, talk to the youngsters, use them as your advisors. And then assess how you can adapt your marketing strategy, brand and processes toward building a business or brand that seamlessly integrates the thinking patterns of Generation Z and Millennials into the way your company does sustainability and brand marketing.

Milan Jooste is a 23-year-old musician and writer who, thanks to his father, has been immersed in every aspect of fresh produce ever since he was a child. His exposure to the thought process of both Gen Z and Millennials provides him with unique insights about how to communicate with and market to these new generations.”

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