Traditional Marketing Doesn't Work on Gen-Z and Millennials. Here's What to Do Instead.

Businesses need to change their marketing tactics if they want to sell to Gen Z and millennials. In this article, I share four tips for businesses to implement.

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By Sabrina Philipp

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The world has changed a lot in the past few years, and buying behaviors have too. Although the whole world has felt the financial effects of recession, social and political unrest and a global pandemic, millennials and Gen Zers have been hit particularly hard — one survey found that a whopping 61% of millennial and Gen Z respondents worry that they will never be able to afford what they want in life — which means selling to younger generations isn't always easy.

These new generations of consumers are not only smart and financially savvy, but they're also exposed to hundreds of investment options and opportunities with the click of a button. Add in weighty economic concerns, and it becomes obvious that much of the traditional advice marketers and entrepreneurs have relied on for years simply doesn't work in this hyperconnected age of social media.

Now more than ever, consumers are looking for a reason to invest. With millennials representing the largest group of consumers — and Gen-Z possessing an astonishing $360 billion of disposable income — if you want younger generations to buy from you, then it's your job as a business owner to show them why your product or service is not only a want but a need.

What does that mean for your marketing?

For starters, it's important to look at the psychology behind buying behavior.

Buying behavior, just like any other kind of human behavior, is influenced by a set of core psychological needs. We've all seen a diagram of Maslow's hierarchy, but the most successful marketers know how to put it into practice to strengthen and humanize their messaging.

If you need a quick recap, let's look at the five levels of universal psychological needs that every human strives to fulfill, according to Maslow:

  • Physiological needs, such as air, water and shelter
  • Safety needs, such as health, security and employment
  • Love and belonging needs, including friendships, connections and intimacy
  • Esteem needs, such as respect, status and recognition
  • Self-actualization needs, or the desire to realize one's full potential

In its own way, each set of needs speaks to survival.

Almost every product or service can respond in some way to this deeply-rooted desire for survival — and it should do so if it's going to win hearts, minds and market share.

If your marketing relates to those desires and shows you care for your consumers, you stand a much higher chance of demonstrating the necessity and getting millennials and Gen Zers past the checkout point.

Here are a few fail-safe ways to make that happen:

1. Distill your message down to its essence

When marketing isn't working to bring in new leads and customers, the default response for many entrepreneurs is to do more — whether that means trying your hand at a new social media platform or thinking up a new offer. A much better use of your time would be to reevaluate your existing content and make sure it responds to one core desire.

It's time we shift away from the belief that more is better and remember that better is better. Younger generations are constantly inundated with advertisements — digital ad spend increased by 35% in 2022, its highest increase since 2006 — which means there's a lot of competition out there. Instead of outperforming them by volume, focus on outperforming them by quality.

Related: The Time for Diversity in Advertising Is Now

2. Don't neglect the basics

The most universal desires surround our most precious and often wasted resources: time and money. If your brand helps millennials and Gen-Z save or make better use of either, you've already tapped into the most powerful survival mechanisms out there.

We're already seeing this happen in the workplace. Both millennials and Gen-Z cite low pay and workplaces that negatively impact their mental health as the top two reasons why they left their jobs, and they're not afraid to walk away if they aren't getting those basic needs met.

3. Don't be afraid to wear your values on your sleeve

Brand neutrality is no longer the safe way out as experts are seeing a shift toward value-driven spending. Across every industry, millennials and Gen Zers are backing brands they believe in. These generations have an increased desire for sustainability, innovation and transparency from the organizations they choose to invest in — and they're willing to pay more for it. According to one survey, 73% of Gen Z consumers are willing to pay as much as 10% more for sustainable products.

Related: Why Millennials and Generation Z Love Impact Investing

As a business owner, actively (and authentically) support causes you care about. Millennials and Gen Z demonstrate lower rates of brand loyalty compared to previous generations, which means if you're not meeting their expectations and values, they're not afraid to take their business elsewhere.

4. Invest in content experts

If your products or services help people achieve their top-tier needs — esteem and self-actualization — then your ideal clients have already fulfilled their basic needs and are now hungry for more. It takes skill to sell the luxuries of life (especially at high-ticket prices), which is why I always recommend working with experienced copywriters and content strategists to make sure you're nailing your message across every touchpoint.

Younger generations aren't afraid to make luxury purchases, with millennials and Gen-Z outpacing Gen X and Baby Boomers in buying luxury goods and services, but it's important to make sure those luxury items still speak to their values — which means content experts are essential for communicating those values.

Related: Why All Entrepreneurs Need a Content Strategist For Their Business

If your marketing doesn't speak in some way to a sense of survival — or show care for your consumers and their values — you may be missing the mark. Now is the time to reevaluate your brand's positioning and tweak your messaging strategy to ensure you're reaching millennials and Gen-Z. If you don't, you risk falling behind.

Sabrina Philipp

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Business Growth Strategist

Sabrina Philipp is an online business expert who has been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, Cosmopolitan, and more. She helps entrepreneurs build intentional, manageable, and profitable online businesses so they can experience personal and financial freedom.

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