Members of Generation Z — loosely defined as people born between the years of 1995 and 2010 — are true digital natives, according to McKinsey & Company. From the time they could walk, they’ve been exposed to the Internet; they’ve hardly known a world without social media; and just like the rest of us, they’re dependent on their smartphones. Gen Z can’t relate to conversations about the “good old days” of CD players, TV without DVR and events lacking apps. It’s obvious this generation differs in many ways from the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Gen X and even Millennials — and with Gen Z expected to reach 82 million (the largest U.S. consumer population) by the year 2026, it’s clear that corporate event planners must evolve their marketing tactics to reach this group.
However, it might not be in the exact way that you think. “One of the interesting findings is that [members of Gen Z] are old souls in young bodies, so while they’re digital, social and mobile to the bone, their values look like someone who’s older,” says Jeff Fromm, president of FutureCast, a Kansas City-based division of the ad agency Barkley, and author of the 2018 book “Marketing to Gen Z: The Rules for Reaching This Vast and Very Different Generation of Influencers.”
To reach Gen Z, event marketers are going to be tasked with creating best-in-class mobile registration and content marketing in a variety of formats, from written to video, says Fromm. However, they’re also going to have to look for opportunities to connect with them in an old-school way. “In some ways, I look at it as a boomerang — some things will be remarkably similar [to marketing to previous generations],” Fromm adds. That said, others will be remarkably different. Here are a few tips from Fromm on marketing events to Gen Z:
Gen Zers grew up in an area of unprecedented transparency, and they expect full disclosure when it comes to events. For example, if you have a speaker who’s sponsored by a software company, “you better disclose that,” says Fromm. He emphasizes that this generation doesn’t see a problem with endorsements, unless they’re not apparent from the start.
There’s a big purpose gene for this generation, says Fromm. Brands, conference and institutions that serve a higher mission will be more relevant to this cohort than anything that’s come before. However, “that doesn't [mean that if you have a greater purpose], you don't need great content, great networking and great speakers —all of that still matters.” (Fromm has a book on this topic, “The Purpose Advantage: How to Unlock New Ways of Doing Business,” coming out in September.)
It’s not enough to market your event on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter and hope it sticks. Today, Gen Zers are forming more and more micronetworks, says Fromm, which means that event marketers who have historically used macronetworks (like the Big Four: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn) will have to think harder about how they engage on social. Start by thinking about the topics presented at your conference and consider where your audience is getting information currently on those currently.
Furthermore, don’t just think about your social strategy; incorporate social into your content strategy. “Social is changing so rapidly, any strategy you have today will need to evolve in a year anyway,” says Fromm.
Believe it or not, this digital-native group of Gen Z doesn’t want to live online or in an app. They enjoy everything from cocktail parties with nice wine to breakfast meetups when it comes to networking opportunities. They want both social and digital interaction, as well as physical engagement, says Fromm. “Strong brands are going to get a lot better at the intersection of those three environments,” he notes.
If your organization has a lot of equity in old models, it can be hard to convince Gen Z to come to an event: “This group will do the mental math to assess the costs versus the benefits, instead of just assuming it will be a win,” unlike older “joiner” generations, says Fromm. However, the good news is that Gen Z is willing to join in groups and events, and even pay a modest premium to do so, if the benefits are clear and obvious.
Fromm points to a tip that event managers can borrow from many mattress companies today: offering an unconditional money-back guarantee. “It’s the ‘sleep on this mattress from my direct-to-consumer company and return after 100 days if you’re not happy’ [policy] — that’s where the consumer expectation is,” says Fromm. “Event organizers must stand behind their goods and services.”
At the end of the day, treat Gen Z attendees with the same respect you’d have for any other generation. Know that they are competitive, focused, financially savvy, invested in their careers and consistent with old souls, says Fromm. And most importantly, focus on communicating the value your event brings before, during and after. “If the only part where [value is] conferred is during your event,” says Fromm, “it will be much harder.”