(originally published on FleishmanHillard’s TRUE, an award-winning online magazine that features insights from thought leaders in the worlds of communications, marketing and media.)

Still thinking millennials are 18-34 year olds? Think again. Those at the younger end, 18 to 21, actually belong to Gen Z (born between 1995 and 2010). They think and behave a little differently than their older millennial brethren, and marketing to them will require a new ‒ or at least tweaked ‒ set of rules.

Generation Z (also called Centennials, Plurals, Generation Next, Generation We, Globals, or Post-Millennials) makes up more than a quarter of America’s population and has access to serious cash with an average weekly allowance of $17, collectively amounting to $44 billion a year. On top of that, they have unprecedented influence over their families’ spending habits; all told, they influence $600 billion in annual spending power. While they may not be buying your products today (although, they probably are, or at least influencing their parents’ purchases), tomorrow is just around the corner. But where do we start?

First, we can’t treat them exactly like millennials. While there are similarities between Gen Y and Gen Z, their differences are important for marketers to understand. For instance, Gen Y grew up with computers and multitasks via two screens; Gen Z grew up with touchscreens and smartphones and can multitask via five screens. Gen Y communicates via text; Gen Z communicates with images. Gen Y threw caution to the wind in subscribing to and sharing in social media; Gen Z (having learned important lessons from millennials’ mistakes) prefers incognito, temporary social media, such as SnapChat, Secret and Whisper, and they place a premium on personal privacy.

Screen Shot 2016-06-03 at 2.35.28 PM

Understanding these and other differences will help marketers adapt their millennial marketing strategies to engage Gen Z consumers, who are already demanding due to their exposure to so many brands on a daily basis (mobile banner ads, suggested posts on social media, commercials, etc.). That said, they aren’t put off by brands. Instead, they want to hear from and engage with them, especially those that have high value-for-their-money products that are multifunctional with simple and interactive designs, according to a recent Grail Research study; brands that speak and share authentically (by real people, with names and faces); brands that offer opportunities to co-create; and brands that give back. And, as outlined in the Grail Research study, 64% are more likely than other generations to trust somewhat or completely the content on mobile apps from brands, as well as text messages from brands. That’s all great news for marketers.

  • Connect through images. Growing up with constant stimulation in the form of video games, YouTube videos and TV has created a generation of visual learners. While Gen Y perfected the art of texting, Gen Z communicates with symbols, emoticons and emoji’s. Think about incorporating more images, gifs, memes, infographics and collages into your marketing materials.
  • Keep It Short. Remember, Gen Z has an eight second attention span – down from approximately 12 seconds for the older members of Gen Y – and the CDC reports that approximately 11% have ADHD. Get creative with punchy headlines and razor-sharp text.
  • Get real. According to a 2015 Deep Focus study, Gen Z is nearly twice as likely as millennials to want to see ‘real people’ than celebrities in advertising (63% vs. 37%). Instead, if you’re looking for the ‘face’ of your brand with Gen Z, consider partnering with a relatable brand ambassador – such as a prominent social media influencer – to create relevant, user-generated content they can embrace and trust.
  • Produce videos. Gen Z watches twice as many videos on mobile as any other demographic. Consider shorter, snackable clips; popular social channels for short video content include Vine (six seconds), Snapchat (10 seconds) and Instagram (previously restricted to 15 seconds, but recently expended to up to 60 seconds). While you don’t have to be active on all platforms, it’s certainly wise to have a meaningful presence on at least one.
  • Make an impact. Growing up during the Great Recession has made Gen Z more socially aware and concerned than any previous generation. They want to get involved with community and charity, and they love companies that care about those same values. Work social good into your business strategy.
  • Co-Create with them. While Gen Y wants to share content in social media, Gen Z loves to co-create that content. Help them fuel their personal brand and stand out by letting them co-create with you. Collaborate with them and help them collaborate with others.
  • Keep It Clean, and Compliant. Your campaign can be edgy, but remember, most Gen Z’ers are still just kids. This is a key reason your millennial marketing strategy can’t just be a plug-and-play with Gen Z. Most are still minors, and some are even under the age of 13, which requires COPPA and WOMMA compliance.

While we don’t have to employ every tactic outlined above, it’s time to snap to it and start seriously considering our strategies for engaging with Gen Z. They are smart, vocal, optimistic, diverse, influential ‒ and they have money to spend. What are we waiting for?