Marketing to The Next Generation: How Gen Z will Impact B2B Marketing Strategy

April 30th, 2021 17 min read

Generation Z is currently entering the workforce for the first time. This hasn’t stopped some older Gen Zers from participating in buying committees for their business’s technology. This generation of buyers will only become more impactful in buying committees. 

Generation Z enters the workforce and buying process with distinct life experiences and values from Millennials. These differences can pose new challenges for B2B marketers. They also offer new opportunities for engagement with the next generation of buyers. 

While Gen Z’s current buyer footprint is small, early investment in this generation will pay off in the long run. We’ll show you 2 key steps of understanding  Generation Z. The first step is identifying the events that mold the generation. The second step is understanding  how those factors impact Gen Z values and personalities. We’ll also give concrete guidance on how marketers can better engage with Gen Z buyers in the coming years. 

What Is a Gen Z Buyer?

There is a range of defining features and traits that separate Gen Z from prior generations. There are also important factors to a group beyond their generation. Savvy marketers should exercise some caution when generalizing across an entire generation. Race, gender, income, education, and a host of other factors shape how a given individual’s or group’s lives. There are still some high-level commonalities worth calling out among Gen Zers. To do so, it’s important to establish just who we’re talking about here. 

Gen Z Identifiers

The borders and definitions of generations are somewhat arbitrary at the margins. There are generally two ways of defining a generation. Surveys will choose a birth date range. Others may define a generation by formative life experiences. 

The specific year that Gen Z was first born is usually set at around 1995-97 (TrustRadius’s research usually places it at 1996). This places the Gen Z workforce at roughly 25 and younger. 

The more informative criteria can be which world events a given generation experienced. A common differentiator is whether an individual remembers 9/11 or not. For example, I do not remember 9/11, so I would fall into the Gen Z category.

By either criteria, there are some defining cultural or world events that help shape Gen Z’s early makeup. As mentioned above, Generation Z only knows the post-9/11 world. While other generations remember the tragic event itself, Gen Z has only experienced its aftereffects. Gen Z also grew up during the Great Recession. They experienced all of the economic bust with little to no memory of the boom that preceded it. They’ve also grown up in a world that by and large recognized climate change as an existential threat. These events have left crucial impressions on Gen Z. 

Gen Z Values and Characteristics

Generation Z is the first digital-native generation. They have not known a world that was not deeply influenced by the internet. This does not mean that they never want to interact in-person (so your events don’t have to go away!). It does mean that they will be comfortable with digital channels, like social media platforms, at the start of their careers. 

ACase in point, any teen or early-20-something on TikTok can explain what The Algorithm is (and will have strong opinions about it). Other generations had to develop these skills over time. They’ve also been a first-party audience to new marketing techniques. Gen Z has matured alongside digital influencers, the rise of the YouTuber, and the cultural aging of Facebook.

Growing up in the Great Recession had a profound impact on Gen Z’s approach to finances. They have a stronger general aversion to debt. Instead, they tend to be fiscally conscious and save when possible. This behavior may be due to experiencing 3 “once in a lifetime” events (9/11, the Great Recession, COVID-19)  before many of them turned 20. In a professional sense, few Gen Zers will have prior experience managing a business budget. This lack of perspective may magnify existing inclinations in the workplace. 

Gen Z also has a higher bar for innovation they expect from companies. They were socialized in a world that has already seen innovation skyrocket. Smartphones, instant global connectivity, and big data went from hypotheticals to day-to-day assumptions within their (short) lifetimes. This pace of growth and change sets the floor for what Gen Z expects going forward. 

Millennials vs. Gen Z: How are these generations different?

Generation Z diverges from Millennials in a range of ways. There are a few key distinctions worth mentioning in a marketing and B2B context. First, Generation Z is more pragmatic, while Millennials are idealistic. It’s worth noting that “pragmatic” is not mutually exclusive with “socially conscious.” Both generations highly value corporate responsibility and social consciousness.

 Their Great Recession experiences highlight this variation. Both generations experienced the Recession itself. However, Millennials got to see the pre-Recession Boom, and older Millennials had to navigate it themselves. Gen Z for the most part lacked this experience. Instead, Gen Z was much more present to watch their families struggle from the sidelines. Gen Z was left with neither the “good times” to compare to, nor the practical experience of having navigated the recession. Gen Z has only the harsher lessons of the Recession, which fosters a more pragmatic outlook. 

Both Generation Z and Millennials are usually described as “hard-working.” However, their goals are slightly different. Gen Z tends to be more financially driven (with a strong asterisk on that claim). A more nuanced take could be that Gen Z places greater emphasis on financial security. Such security is not a given for many of them, so they can feel the need to ensure it for themselves. 

Some evidence suggests that Gen Z is less persuaded by customer experience than Millennials. Gen Z may be more focused on the financial or other concrete aspects of a product or service. Generation Z is also less likely than the Millennial Generation to trust companies. Brand loyalty, in B2B or otherwise, may take more trust-building from companies on the front end. This research is young, and will continue to develop as Gen Z enters the workforce in greater numbers

Does Marketing to Gen Z Matter Yet?

For the last decade and a half, Millennials have been the “new buyer on the block.” Gen X and Baby Boomer marketers have sought to understand them, for good reason. That work has paid off. Millennials are the largest B2B tech buyer group by age group as of last year.

Some will notice a new entry into the tech buyer pool. For the first time, we found Generation Z B2B buyers. The working Millennial population is entirely in the workforce at this point. Millennials will remain the primary technology buyer for years to come. 

Baby Boomers and Gen X are completing or starting their exit from the workforce, respectively. Gen Z will continue to join the workforce and rise to positions where they are the decision-making buyer. This means their impact on the buying process will only increase.

How do you market to Millennials and Gen Z?

In the short term, marketers can breathe a sigh of relief. Many of the practices that you’ve developed to market to Millennials will continue to serve you well. Gen Z hasn’t had the chance ot truly develop their own professional preferences. This leaves many of them defaulting to the norms set by Millennials in the short term. The digital transformation efforts taken during the COVID-19 pandemic will also pay dividends. 

There is some guidance available for future-thinking B2B marketers. Many of Gen Z’s professional and buyer habits have yet to be solidified. They will take clearer shape in the next few years, as they build up more professional experience. There are still some strategies and tactics that can help marketers as Gen Z becomes a stronger buying force. 

Strategies and North Star(s)

B2B companies, like any other company, should not assume they have Gen Z’s trust from the outset. Companies will have to earn it. This can take far longer than a single buying cycle, which is why early action will pay dividends down the road. 

The best strategy for building trust is to be authentic. Both Millennials and Gen Z care about what the brands they buy from represents. Gen Z escalates this concern to guide their purchase preferences.  Remember, prior generations only adopted the digital world– Gen Z was born in it, molded by it. They will recognize half-hearted attempts to appeal to the “young kids.” They also have an eye for organizations that only go through the motions of standing with a particular cause. If anything, authenticity efforts that fail to deliver on their promises can actively hurt a brand. However, brands that are able to truly be authentic and in good faith will reap the rewards– just ask Ben & Jerry’s

It remains an open question how this will play out in the B2B markets. Much of the existing research on Gen Z consumers focus on B2C. Gen Z B2B buyers may respond to how vendors treat their employees. For instance, they may look at Glassdoor or Comparably reviews to inform where to do business. This perspective is analogous to consumer concerns over the ethics of a retailer’s supply chain. Gen Z may bring those expectations and experiences to B2B buying journeys as well.

B2B marketers should also assume digital-first strategies for digital-native audiences. In other words, meet Generation Z where they are. This aligns well with broader trends towards digitization industry-wide, but is still a good principle to keep in mind. 

However, this doesn’t mean marketers should be digital-only. While Gen Z may be natives to the digital world, there is still a strong appreciation for face-to-face and in-person interactions. Connecting the dots, Gen Z wants to have a connection with the companies that they are buying from. There may be limits to how much connection can be achieved digitally. COVID-19 has already strained many folks’ patience with an all-digital life. In other words, event marketers: Fear not, Gen Z is not an existential threat to your career!

Tactical Marketing to Generation Z

There are a range of ways that B2B marketers can engage with Generation Z. On one hand, building authenticity is a company-specific endeavor. Each organization has to make that journey in its own way. However, there are plenty of tips to help marketers engage with Generation Z via digital channels. 

One factor that marketers should be aware of. Traditional advertising will not get you far. Ad-blockers are a given for many Gen Zers. They’re also less receptive to traditional advertising as a whole. This includes both TV commercials and online ads. Getting messaging in front of Gen Z will require either a higher/more engaging level of ad, or new methods. 

Instead, Gen Z tends to prefer social-media based videos and influencer marketing. Social media influencers pose a largely-untapped opportunity for B2B marketers. The economics and infrastructure for working with influencers have also become much more robust in recent years. 

There’s a good reason influencers are underused by B2B marketers. Leveraging social media influencers can be challenging for B2B. There’s not a lot of B2B tech that influencers would “naturally” use/sponsor. Productivity management software may have an easier time of things, for instance. Showing an influencer casually working with a database management system may be… let’s say, “difficult” to pull off authentically. B2B companies should look for more niche influencers that fit their brand. 

Still, social media influencers can be a valuable resource for B2B software companies that can find a good fit. Influencers maintain much of their social influence and power by having some elements of relatability. As Gen Z enters the workforce in larger numbers, corporate life itself can become a niche aspect of relatability. See the growth of TikTok accounts that comment on corporate life— all too painfully, at times. There are also technical influencers, such as Linus Media Group’s dominant presence on Youtube.

Speaking of TikTok and YouTube, a final piece of guidance. For Gen Z and Millennials alike, video content is king. More than half of Gen Z uses YouTube daily. They’re most likely not visiting YouTube seeking B2B content. However, their native understanding of the platform and format will reward companies that invest resources there. This is advice that TrustRadius itself has taken to heart, with outstanding initial results! 

The Future Is Now, Old Man

Gen X and Millennials remain the two largest demographics among B2B buyers. In the next few years, Boomers and Gen X will start to phase out of buying committees. As older generations leave the workforce, Gen Z will take their places. Sooner or later, marketers must respond to the buying power of Gen Z.

Marketers who move early to engage with younger buyers will benefit long-term. By meeting Gen Z where they are, with the right content, companies can find success rather than obstacles.

A key aspect of meeting Gen Z where they are is leveraging digital content effectively. According to The 2021 B2B Buying Disconnect, Gen Z are the least likely to use Analyst Rankings and Reports. Check out the full report for more insights into Millennial and Gen Z buying habits. 

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