Reaching Generation Z: The Next Wave of Car-Buyers

Cathy Nesbit

I’ve been in research heaven discovering what defines Generation Z, learning which social media strategies influence this “generation next,” and what science says about how they buy.

For the most part, all generations are made up of 16 personalities, so to say a generation is defined by this personality trait or that one is junk. No generation is the “collaboration generation” or the “feelings generation.” Just because people are put in collaborative situations and told that extroversion is more desirable doesn’t mean that all of them enjoy it one bit. And as for feelings, there have always been those led by logic and those led by feelings, so there’s also not a feelings generation. Granted, some generations may be more self-important or more open, but they’re not overall more feeling.

So, how do we define a generation? We define them by the things we can’t possibly understand. The things a new generation grows up just knowing and understanding, but to which we have to evolve. The telephone, radio, television, computers, cell phones, rock ’n’ roll—you get the picture.

By 2020, Gen Z will account for 40 percent of all consumers, so we need to get on their radar ASAP. Within the next five years, they will become the fastest-growing generation in both the workplace and the marketplace. Some great things about Z are they are more involved in volunteering (one in four), and they very much value the opinions of their parents and close family (which is very, very good for you if you’re the go-to car gal for the parents). They are aware of the stigma about millennials and do not want to be labeled the same way. They are self-aware, self-reliant, innovative, and goal-oriented.

Gen Z doesn’t remember a time before social media. As a result, they document life, whether asking for recommendations or hyping their last big purchase, by sharing on social media. Given their age, their defining moments are still happening. Key things that have affected them as a generation include the Great Recession’s impact on their parents, student loan debt as a crisis in America, the Affordable Care Act, growing up with a black U.S. president, the legalization of gay marriage, the legalization of medical marijuana in many states, and the fact that there have “always” been twentysomething entrepreneurs who are billionaires. Also, social media has always existed for them, Baby Boomers are their grandparents, and they think millennials are old.

Where Do We Find Them?

They’re everywhere. They prefer Snapchat and Instagram, and increasingly, Instagram Stories. They view Facebook as something for older people, but they love their grandmas, and most of them (66 percent) have a Facebook profile.

As long as we exude the qualities they idealize, reaching them is as easy as finding them.

They don’t have an 8-second attention span; they have an 8-second BS meter, and once they decide you’re not authentic, they’re done.

They can learn anything on YouTube, from how to play a song on the violin to how to change their brakes. They will turn to those they trust, those who are authentic, and those who know their stuff.

They don’t want special treatment, but they are a more traditional group and expect common decency and excellent customer service.

They see themselves as the manager of their own personal brand, and they are willing to “endorse” people and businesses who are real, who they consider to be an expert, who provide excellent service, and who appreciate their business. The more endorsements, reviews, and recommendations you can get translates to more customers (and more money) for you.

Many in Gen Z are volunteers who believe it’s important for everyone to give back. They want to align themselves with people who are authentic in their giving-back efforts and who care about a cause enough to give back. They prioritize working with a company that shares their philanthropic outlook.

If you broadcast these qualities on social media channels, you will win your share of Gen Z customers. Overall you can see that reaching Z isn’t mysterious, hard to figure out, or even that different, at its core, from past generations. If we embrace these principles, we can engage this generation.

I’m excited to see Generation Z coming of age. Just like the generations before had to learn to accept rock ’n’ roll, we have to adapt to the ever-evolving mobile world in which we now live. There will always be a next new big app, but being real and building value never goes out of style.

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